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As the world burns, ICANN gives its richest execs huge pay rises

Kevin Murphy, June 24, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN has just given some of its highest-ranking and richest execs pay rises of up to 15%, even as the world stands on the brink of a global recession and ICANN is predicting its own budget is on the verge of huge shrinkage.

Its board of directors has approved a set of pay deals that would see the CFO, Xavier Calvez — a man who has, year-after-year, consistently failed to predict fluctuations in the domain name industry with any degree of accuracy — a pay rise of 15%.

John Jeffrey, the general counsel, is getting 3.5%, despite his record of losing legal cases and covering up incidents of sexual harassment among ICANN staff.

Theresa Swinehart, newly-minted senior vice president of the Global Domains Division, is getting a 10% pay increase on top of her base salary, which was $459,123 in FY19.

Not only that, but CEO Göran Marby has been granted broad discretion to increase salaries in the same range for other, non-officer ICANN employees.

Marby himself has been granted his second-half bonus, which amounts to over $100,000.

Based on disclosed salaries for ICANN’s fiscal 2019, we can take a punt on how much money this will cost ICANN — and by “ICANN” I of course mean “you”, the domain-registering public, who pays for every cent of ICANN’s budget.

According to ICANN’s fiscal 2019 form 990, Calvez had “reportable compensation” of $445,964. That’s not including another $62,000 in additional compensation.

For him, a 15% pay raise on the base number is an extra almost $68,000 a year, making his salary (excluding extras) now comfortably over half a million dollars a year.

I’m sure there are many readers of this blog who would consider $68k a nice-enough base salary. But no, that’s his annual raise this year.

This is the guy who, for the better part of a decade, has had to wildly meddle with the revenue half of ICANN’s budget every six months because he couldn’t seem to get a grip on how the new gTLD market was playing out.

He’s also the guy predicting an 8% decline in revenue for ICANN’s next fiscal year due to coronavirus, even as he admits its current revenue has been so far unaffected and most of its biggest funders say everything is going really rather well.

Swinehart is going to get an extra $46,000 a year.

Jeffrey’s raise amounts to an extra $21,000 on top of his $604,648 FY19 base salary.

Remember, he’s the guy in charge of ICANN’s legal department, which is consistently beaten in Independent Review Panel cases, and who is ultimately responsible for the decision to not disclose the existence of the sexual harassment cases that have been filed against ICANN by its own employees in recent years.

The reason these three in particular have been given angry-laughable pay rises is the recently-announced executive reshuffle, which I blogged about earlier this month.

The three of them have had their jobs merged with those of two recent departures — COO Susanna Bennett, who’s leaving for undisclosed reasons shortly, and GDD president Cyrus Namazi, who quit following (but, you know, not necessarily because of) sexual harassment allegations earlier this year.

Combined, Namazi and Bennett were taking $860,000 a year out of the ICANN purse, so ICANN is still saving money by increasing the salaries of their replacements by about $134,000.

But the question has to be asked: how much extra work are these execs doing for this money? How many extra hours a day are they putting in to earn what to many people would be a whole year’s salary?

I expect the answer is: none.

I expect the answer is that ICANN didn’t need the number of six-figure execs it had previously, and now that’s it’s lost a couple of them it’s handing out your cash to those who chose to stick around mainly because it can and it hopes nobody will notice or care.

ICANN’s board resolution says that its decision to raise salaries is based on “independent market data provided by outside expert compensation consultants”.

ICANN has long had a “philosophy” of paying its top people in the “50th to 75th percentile for total cash compensation based on comparable market data for the respective positions”.

It’s never been entirely clear which entities ICANN compares itself to when making these judgements.

Over 660,000 “coronavirus” domains registered

There have been hundreds of thousands of domains that appear to refer to coronavirus registered since the start of the outbreak, but the domain industry reckons only a tiny portion of them have been used maliciously.

Speaking on a recent webinar, ICANN security specialist Sion Lloyd said that up until the end of May, ICANN had found 662,111 domains that at first glance appeared to be related to the pandemic.

ICANN had cast a wide net, parsing the zone files for all of the gTLDs and a handful of ccTLDs for strings such as “covid”, “corona”, “mask”, “quarantine” and “lockdown” in multiple languages.

But it also searched for homoglyph variants, such as replacing the O in Covid with a 0, and this brought in hundreds of thousands of false positives.

The actual number of domains that appear to refer to the virus and its impact is more like 170,000, Lloyd said.

The word “mask” was more commonly found than “corona”, but less frequently than “covid”.

The research was done as part of ICANN’s attempt to provide registries and registrars with data they could use to mitigate abuse, such as the sale of fake vaccines, fraud or phishing attacks.

But ICANN said that after it ran thousands of daily registrations through various public threat lists, it found a few hundred per day were potentially suspicious. At the peak, roughly 10 per day were considered serious enough to refer to registrars. That’s now down to three or four a day, Lloyd said.

His research was backed up by similar studies, albeit using slightly different methodologies and different-sized nets, by registries and registrars.

Tucows’ Graeme Bunton showed data reflecting that the registrar was seeing about 300 coronavirus-related regs per day at its peak in March.

The company had its compliance team manually check each domain, and found that only 0.5% were being used for clearly malicious purposes. The large majority — around 70% — were parked or not resolving, he said.

Jim Galvin from Afilias said that at the March peak the registry was seeing almost 900 coronavirus domains across its 25 gTLDs every week. That had dropped to under 100 by the end of March.

Brian Cimbolic of Public Interest Registry said that there had been 14,700 total registrations by the end of May, with the early April peak seeing over 500 in a single day.

While all this work is an example of ICANN and the industry getting involved to some extent in content regulation, Tucows’ Bunton said that it was an “exceptional” circumstance that was unsustainable and of limited use.

More data and the webinar recording can be found here.

Coronavirus is saving ICANN millions of your money, but will it use the cash wisely?

Kevin Murphy, June 21, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN is saving millions this year due to the coronavirus-related shift to online-only public meetings.

But it’s thinking about using some of the cash to do things like pay for broadband upgrades and hotel rooms for some of its community volunteers.

During a conference call on Thursday, CFO Xavier Calvez gave out figures suggesting that the switch from in-person to Zoom meetings could save as much as $8 million of your money in 2020.

Calvez said that ICANN meetings usually cost an average of $4 million, but that the virtual ICANN 67 in March only cost the org $1.5 million to $2 million.

Because the face-to-face component was canceled only at the last minute, ICANN had already incurred some costs associated with a physical meeting.

The ICANN 68 meeting, which begins tomorrow, is expected to cost $1 million to $1.5 million, Calvez said.

If we assume that October’s ICANN 69, recently moved from Hamburg to Zoom, will see similar savings, then the total 2020 meetings bill could be down by between $6 million and $8 million.

Calvez added that ICANN’s funding during the coronavirus crisis has so far been holding steady.

No sooner had Calvez finished speaking than a pre-submitted community member question was read out wondering whether some of this cash could be redistributed to participants who are usually travel-subsidized.

Intellectual property expert Jonathan Zuck said that money could be handed out to volunteers in order to pay for things such as broadband upgrades and “finding quiet places to participate in the middle of the night”.

Perhaps surprisingly, Calvez and senior VP of global stakeholder engagement Sally Costerton did not rule this out.

In fact, she said such ideas are currently under active discussion and may be floated for public comment after ICANN 68.

One idea, I suggest, might be to compensate the 200-odd people who tuned into Thursday’s “Q&A” session for their time.

The session was scheduled to be an hour long, but the first 45 minutes were devoted to the 12 members of the ICANN executive team introducing themselves and patting themselves on the back for all the awesome work they’ve been doing.

ICANN decision to cancel Hamburg was NOT unanimous

Kevin Murphy, June 19, 2020, Domain Policy

Surprisingly, ICANN’s decision last week to cancel its Hamburg annual general meeting in favor of Zoom did not receive the unanimous support of its board of directors.

Two directors — Ihab Osman and Ron da Silva — voted against the majority in the June 11 resolution, minutes published last night show.

The resolution noted that the global path of the coronavirus pandemic is currently too unpredictable to ensure that an in-person ICANN 69 could go ahead safely or legally in October.

But the two directors dissented, pushing instead for a “hybrid” model meeting, with a greatly reduced in-person attendance propped up with online participation.

According to the minutes:

Ron expressed concerns that the decision to conduct ICANN69 as a purely virtual meeting is premature and indicated a preference for the President and CEO to explore with the SO and AC leadership the implications, costs and logistics around a hybrid approach for ICANN69. Ihab expressed concerns that the proposed resolution does not allow for the possibility of some sort of physical hybrid model for ICANN69.

Osman went further, arguing that ICANN should set an example by going ahead with Hamburg:

Ihab Osman pointed out that large parts of the world are moving towards opening up, and that ICANN, as global community and global player, has a responsibility to do its part to bring the world back to some level of normalcy.

While CEO Göran Marby came back with a bunch of reasons a physical meeting would be impractical and potentially unsafe, both directors were unconvinced and voted against the 13-person majority anyway.

Notes released alongside the minutes reveal that ICANN stands to save a lot of money by remaining online-only.

Not only will it not have to pay for hundreds of flights and hotel rooms for staff and subsidized community members, but it had not yet signed contracts with the venue or local hotels, so it won’t be losing any deposits either.

ICANN confirms Hamburg cancellation

Kevin Murphy, June 16, 2020, Domain Policy

With ICANN 68 due to start online next Monday, ICANN has confirmed that its annual general meeting in October is going to be online-only also.

ICANN 69 will now be held on Zoom, instead of at Hamburg’s new convention center, the organization confirmed on Friday.

It’s because of coronavirus, of course. ICANN’s taking the depressing yet realistic view that mass gatherings of international travelers will still be inadvisable and maybe even illegal four months hence.

It’s bad news for ICANN’s core staff in Los Angeles who, if ICANN sticks to the Hamburg time zone as it has with canceled meetings in Cancun and Kuala Lumpur, will start their working day at 0130 local time for a week straight.

It’s particularly bad news for me. I had a whole range of Ombudsman-enraging jokes lined up related to “sausage fests”, “69s”, etc.

Still, I suppose it could be wurst.

Will ICANN swap Hamburg for Zoom for 69?

Kevin Murphy, June 8, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN’s board of directors is meeting this week to discuss arrangements for ICANN 69, and I think there’s a reasonable chance it will decide to take the meeting online-only.

The last official word from ICANN was that it is working on the assumption that normality will have resumed by September, and that October’s meeting could go ahead in Hamburg, Germany as planned.

But will it?

Current German coronavirus-related travel restrictions, which have been in place since March, forbid non-citizen incoming travelers from pretty much anywhere, even elsewhere in the EU.

Some travelers are being asked to self-quarantine for 14 days upon entry, which is obviously impractical for conference travel.

However, German is loosening its rules next week for EU travelers and will treat countries on a case-by-case basis, based on how many infections they’re recording at the time.

Americans will still not be allowed to travel to Germany and there’s no word on when the ban will be lifted.

German guidelines also currently prohibit any large gatherings of people, including conferences, until at least the end of August.

ICANN’s obviously going to have to do a bit of crystal ball-gazing, to guess whether business travel is going to be safe and permitted in October.

It’s also going to have to guess whether a large enough number of people will actually want to attend to make an in-person meeting worthwhile.

With many medical experts predicting a third-quarter resurgence of the pandemic, the so-called “second wave”, inviting guests from every continent to gather in the same room might be seen as risky.

Conferences in other industries that had been due to take place in Germany in October have been canceled or postponed.

Notably, Oktoberfest in Munich (which starts in September but runs into October) is not going ahead this year, but I’ve found examples of conventions in publishing, gaming and catering sectors that have also been canceled.

However, some events due to take place in March and April have been postponed UNTIL October, suggesting a level of confidence that the virus will be low-risk by that time.

Verisign says its coronavirus fee waivers have saved businesses millions

Verisign has decided to extend the temporary fee waiver it introduced in April for another two months, declaring the scheme a success so far.

On April 2, the company said it would no longer charge a fee when a registrant restores a domain in the period between expiration and deletion. Many registrars passed this on to their customers.

The stated goal of the offer was to help out registrants laid low by coronavirus.

“We estimate these restore fee waivers have already saved several million dollars for registrants of all types, including hard hit small businesses,” Verisign said in a blog post yesterday.

The service typically retails for around $80, so we’re talking about tens of thousands of domains that have been restored post-expiration for free over the space of two months.

Now, Verisign says the offer, which had been due to expire at the start of June, will end on August 1.

The company added that it will also waive the restore fees for names in .cc, .tv, .name and its four IDN gTLDs effective June 1.

Aussie ccTLD surges under coronavirus lockdown

Australia’s .au ccTLD may have been in decline recently, but it saw a surge in new domain registrations during its coronavirus lockdown, according to registry stats.

auDA said that 48,754 new .au domains were registered in April, a more than 23% increase on its April 2019 number.

The registry called this leap “the biggest month for new domain name creations we’ve seen in a while”. It averages about 40,000 per month, with seasonality.

The overall number of extant registrations was down a bit to 3,168,883, but auDA chalks this up to the expiration of domains registered during registrar promotions a year ago.

Australia was under its lockdown, which was less severe than in other countries, for the whole month of April. The measures were put in place March 21 and relaxed last week.

Numbers for March show a year-over-year decline of 1.4% in new adds.

While auDA does not attribute its April growth to lockdown, I think the numbers show that the movement restrictions imposed certainly didn’t hurt .au’s business.

Portugal ccTLD says growth better than expected during pandemic

The Portuguese ccTLD operator has become the latest registry to say that it is still seeing growth despite the coronavirus pandemic.

Associação DNS.PT recently said (via Google Translate) that “the registration in .pt is increasing considerably, we would even say above the expected”.

For the period of January 1 to April 27, .pt added 32,671 new domains, DNS.PT said.

However, that appears to be a considerable drop in regs when compared to the first quarter of 2019 (almost a month shorter period), when it saw 36,930 new registrations. It added 121,359 in the whole of 2019.

The registry said that 359 of these domains — about 1% — appeared to be directly related to the pandemic. About half a dozen have been deleted for violating DNS.PT’s terms of service.

The whole .pt space comprised over 1.2 million domains as of February.

Coronavirus has had a relatively small impact on health in Portugal, compared to other European countries. So far, it’s recorded a little over 1,000 deaths from the disease, from a population of 10.8 million.

ICANN may scrap its $0.18 reg tax in coronavirus “solidarity”

Kevin Murphy, April 28, 2020, Domain Registrars

ICANN is thinking about whether to temporarily waive the $0.18 it charges registrars (and therefore registrants) whenever a gTLD domain name is registered.

Execs said the idea was being considered during a conference call explaining ICANN’s new budget this afternoon.

The idea was floated by GoDaddy policy head James Bladel during the call, and supported by others, but it appears it had already also occurred to ICANN.

Bladel suggested that it might not make a big impact on registrants’ wallets, but that it would be a show of “solidarity” with registrars and registries that have waived domain recovery fees to help registrants that have been hit by coronavirus.

ICANN said it was looking at the idea but did not commit one way or the other.

Should such a waiver come into effect, it’s not clear whether it would be uniformly passed on to registrants.