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DotKids signs very weird new gTLD contract

Kevin Murphy, August 24, 2021, Domain Registries

New gTLD registry hopeful DotKids Foundation has become the latest to sign its ICANN Registry Agreement, and it’s a bit odd.

The signing means that DotKids only needs to have its registry back-end, managed by Donuts/Afilias, pass the formality of its pre-delegation testing before .kids finds its way into the DNS root.

It’s going to be a regulated TLD, with strict rules about what kind of content can be posted there. It’s designed for under-18s, so there’ll be no permitted violence, sex, drugs, gambling etc.

DotKids plans to enforce this with a complaint-response mechanism. There won’t be any pre-vetting of registrants or content.

There are a few notable things about .kids worth bringing up.

First, the contract was signed August 13 by DotKids director Edmon Chung, best known as CEO of DotAsia. A few days later, he was selected for the ICANN board of directors by the Nominating Committee.

Second, it’s the first and only new gTLD to have been acquired on the cheap — DotKids got over $130,000 of support from ICANN as the only outfit to successfully apply under the Applicant Support program.

Third, DotKids’ Public Interest Commitments are mental.

PICs are the voluntary, but binding, rules that new gTLD registries opt to abide by, but the DotKids PICs read more like the opening salvo in a future lawsuit than clauses in a registry contract.

Three PICs in particular caught my eye, such as this one that seems to suggest DotKids wants to restrict its channel to only a subset of accredited registrars, and then doesn’t:

Notwithstanding Section 1 above, the Registry Operator makes a commitment to support ICANN’s overarching goals of the new gTLD program to enhance competition and consumer choice, and enabling the benefits of innovation via the introduction of new gTLDs. The Registry Operator further acknowledges that at the time of this writing, it is uncertain whether or not the limiting of distribution of new gTLDs to only a subset of ICANN Accredited Registrars would undermine ICANN’s own public interest commitments to enhance competition and consumer choice. In the absence of the confirmation from ICANN and the ICANN community that such undertaking would not run counter to ICANN’s overarching goals of the new gTLD program, or in the case that ICANN and/or the ICANN community confirms that indeed such arrangement (as described in 1. above) runs counter to ICANN’s public interest commitments and overarching goals, the Registry Operator shall refrain from limiting to such subset as described in 1. above.

I’ve read this half a dozen times and I’m still not sure I know what DotKids is getting at. Does it want to have a restricted registrar base, or not?

This paragraph is immediately followed by the equally baffling commitment to establish the PICs Dispute Resolution Procedure as a formal Consensus Policy:

Notwithstanding Section 2 and 4 above, the Registry Operator makes a commitment to support, participate in and uphold, as a stakeholder, the multi-stakeholder, bottom-up policy development process at ICANN, including but not limited to the development of Consensus Policies. For the avoidance of doubt, the Registry Operator anticipates that the PICDRP be developed as a Consensus Policy, or through comparably open, transparent and accountable processes, and commits to participating in the development of the PICDRP as a Consensus Policy in accordance to Specification 1 of this Agreement for Consensus Policies and Temporary Policies. Furthermore, that any remedies ICANN imposes shall adhere to the remedies specified in the PICDRP as a Consensus Policy.

The problem with this is that PICDRP is not a Consensus Policy, it’s just something ICANN came up with in 2013 to address Governmental Advisory Committee concerns about “sensitive” TLDs.

It was subject to public comments, and new gTLD registries are contractually obliged to abide by it, but it didn’t go through the years-long process needed to create a Consensus Policy.

So what the heck is this PIC doing in a contract signed in 2021?

The next paragraph is even more of a head-scratcher, invoking a long-dead ICANN agreement and seemingly mounting a preemptive legal defense against future complaints.

Notwithstanding Section 2 above, the Registry Operator makes a commitment to support ICANN in its fulfillment of the Affirmation of Commitments, including to promote competition, consumer trust, and consumer choice in the DNS marketplace. The Registry Operator further makes an observation that the premise of this Specification 11 is predicated on addressing the GAC advice that “statements of commitment and objectives to be transformed into binding contractual commitments, subject to compliance oversight by ICANN”, which is focused on statements of commitment and objectives and not business plans. As such, and as reasonably understood that business plans for any prudent operation which preserves security, stability and resiliency of the DNS must evolve over time, the Registry Operator will operate the registry for the TLD in compliance with all commitments and statements of intent while specific business plans evolve. For the avoidance of doubt, where such business plan evolution involves changes that are consistent with the said commitments and objectives of Registry Operator’s application to ICANN for the TLD, such changes shall not be a breach by the Registry Operator in its obligations pursuant to 2. above.

If you’re struggling to recall what the Affirmation of Commitments is, that’s because it was scrapped four years ago following ICANN’s transition out from under US government oversight. It literally has no force or meaning any more.

So, again, why is it showing up in a 2021 Registry Agreement?

The answer seems to be that the PICs were written in March 2013, when references to the AoC and the PICDRP as a potential Consensus Policy made a whole lot more sense.

While a lot of this looks like the kind of labyrinthine legalese that could only have been written by an ICANN lawyer, nope — these PICs are all DotKids’ handiwork.

ICANN seems to have been quite happy to dump a bunch of irrelevant nonsense into DotKids’s legally binding contract, and sign off on it.

But given that ICANN doesn’t seem convinced it even has the power to enforce PICs in contracts signed after 2016, does it even matter?

Amazon and Google have been BEATEN by a non-profit in the fight for .kids

Kevin Murphy, August 5, 2019, Domain Registries

One of the longest-fought new gTLD contests has finally been resolved, with a not-for-profit bid beating out Google and Amazon.

Amazon last week withdrew its application for .kids, leaving Hong Kong-based DotKids Foundation the only remaining applicant.

DotKids now has a clear run at the gTLD, with only ICANN contracting and technical testing before .kids goes live in the DNS root. We could be looking at a commercial launch within a year.

It’s a surprising outcome, not only because Amazon has all the money in the world, but also because it actually has a product called the Echo Dot Kids Edition, a candy-striped, parentally-controlled version of its creepy corporate surveillance device.

The fight between the two applicants was settled privately.

While ICANN has scheduled them in for a “last resort” auction more than once, the contention set was “On Hold” due to DotKids’ repeated use of ICANN appeals processes to delay.

My understanding is that it was not an auction. I don’t know whether any money changed hands to settle the dispute. It may just be a case of DotKids beating Amazon in a war of attrition.

DotKids, much like ultimately successful .music applicant DotMusic, pulled every trick in the book to delay .kids going to auction.

It’s filed no fewer than four Requests for Reconsideration with ICANN over the last five years, challenging almost every decision the organization made about the contention set.

Last year, DotKids (which had a reduced application fee under ICANN’s applicant support program) even asked ICANN for money to help it fight Amazon and Google at auction, then filed an RfR when ICANN refused.

The company has been in a Cooperative Engagement Process — a precursor to more formal appeals — with ICANN since February.

DotKids until recently also faced competition from Google, which had applied for the singular .kid but withdrew its application last October.

DotKids Foundation is run by Edmon Chung, perhaps best-known as the founder and CEO of 2003-round gTLD .asia.

I can’t help but feel that he has grasped a poison chalice.

The two examples we have of child-friendly domains to date are .kids.us, which was introduced by point-scoring US politicians under the Bush administration and promptly discarded when (almost literally) nobody used it, and .дети, the Russian equivalent, which usually has fewer than a thousand names in its zone file.

I believe that would-be registrants are broadly wary of signing up to vague content restrictions that could prove PR disasters if inadvertently violated.

In its 2012 application, DotKids said that .kids “will have a core mandate to advocate the production and publishing of more kids friendly content online”.

But what is a “kid”? DotKids said it would adopt the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child definition as “every human under 18 years old”.

Because the parents of every five-year-old would be happy for their kid to view sites designed for 17-year-olds, right?

It’s going to be challenging to get this one right, I think.

Google abandons its .kid gTLD bid

Kevin Murphy, October 10, 2018, Domain Registries

Google has retreated from the interminable three-way battle for the .kids/.kid gTLDs.

The company this week withdrew its application for .kid, leaving the fight for .kids a two-horse race between Amazon and the not-for-profit DotKids Foundation.

Google’s application was intertwined with the two .kids applications due to a String Confusion Objection, which it won, drawing its bid into contention with DotKids and Amazon.

The contention set was, and arguably still is, due to be settled by an ICANN last-resort auction, but has been repeatedly postponed due to appeals to ICANN by DotKids, which doesn’t think it has the financial clout to beat its rivals.

Most recently, the auction was put on ice again after DotKids asked for ICANN money, then filed a Request for Reconsideration when ICANN refused.

Google’s .kid application had proposed an area for “kid-friendly content”. Registrants would have been vetted in advance of their domains going live to ensure they were established providers of such content.

Chutzpah alert! DotKids wants ICANN handout to fight gTLD auction

Kevin Murphy, September 24, 2018, Domain Policy

New gTLD applicant DotKids Foundation has asked ICANN for money to help it fight for .kids in an auction against Amazon and Google.

The not-for-profit was the only new gTLD applicant back in 2012 to meet the criteria for ICANN’s Applicant Support Program, meaning its application fee was reduced by $138,000 to just $47,000.

Now, DotKids reckons ICANN has a duty to carry on financially supporting it through the “later stages of the process” — namely, an auction with two of the world’s top three most-valuable companies.

The organization even suggests that ICANN dip into its original $2 million allocation to support the program to help fund its bids.

Because .kids is slated for a “last resort” auction, an ICANN-funded winning bid would be immediately returned to ICANN, minus auction provider fees.

It’s a ludicrously, hilariously ballsy move by the applicant, which is headed by DotAsia CEO Edmon Chung.

It’s difficult to see it as anything other than a delaying tactic.

DotKids is currently scheduled to go to auction against Google’s .kid and Amazon’s .kids application on October 10.

But after ICANN denied its request for funding last month, DotKids last week filed a Request for Reconsideration (pdf), which may wind up delaying the auction yet again.

According to DotKids, the original intent of the Applicant Support Program was to provide support for worthy applicants not just in terms of application fees, but throughout the application process.

It points to the recommendations of the Joint Applicant Support working group of the GNSO, which came up with the rules for the support program, as evidence of this intent.

It says ICANN needs to address the JAS recommendations it ignored in 2012 — something that could time quite some time — and put the .kids auction on hold until then.

.kids auction is off

Kevin Murphy, December 12, 2017, Domain Registries

ICANN has postponed the planned auction of the .kid(s) gTLDs after an appeal from one of the applicants.

The last-resort auction had been penciled in for January 25, and there was a December 8 deadline for the three participants to submit their info to the auctioneer.

But DotKids Foundation, the shallowest-pocketed of the three, filed a Request for Reconsideration last Wednesday, asking ICANN to put the contention set back on hold.

The cancellation of the January auction appears to be to give ICANN’s board of directors time to consider the RfR under its usual process — it has not yet ruled on it.

DotKids and Amazon have applied for .kids and Google has applied for .kid. A String Confusion Objection won by Google put the two strings in the same contention set, meaning only one will eventually go live.

DotKids comprehensively lost a Community Priority Evaluation, which would negate an auction altogether, but it thinks the CPE got it wrong and wants to be treated the same way as other gTLD applicants whose CPE results are currently under review.

Reconsideration requests take between 30 and 90 days to process, and they rarely go the way of the requester, so the delay to the auction will likely not be too long.

DotKids doesn’t want .kids auction to go ahead

Kevin Murphy, December 7, 2017, Domain Registries

One of the applicants for the .kids gTLD has asked ICANN to stop the planned last-resort auction.

DotKids Foundation is competing with Amazon for .kids and, because the two strings were ruled confusingly similar, with Google’s application for the singular .kid.

ICANN last month set a January 25 date for the three contenders to go to auction, having unfrozen DotKids’ application back in October.

DotKids’ bid had been put on hold due to it losing a Community Priority Evaluation — which found overwhelmingly that the organization did not represent a proper community — and its subsequent appeals of that ruling.

But the foundation now says that its application should be treated the same as .music, .gay, and a few others, which are currently on hold while ICANN waits for the results of a third-party review of the CPE process.

DotKids filed a Request for Reconsideration (pdf) with ICANN yesterday, immediately after being told that there were no plans to put the contention set back on hold.

Tomorrow is the deadline for the three applicants to submit their information to ICANN to participate in next month’s auction.

An ICANN last-resort auction sees the winning bid being placed in a fund for a yet-to-be-determined purpose, as opposed to private auctions where the losing bidders share the loot.