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Three ways ICANN could gut Whois

Kevin Murphy, January 15, 2018, Domain Policy

ICANN has published three possible models of how Whois could be altered beyond recognition after European privacy law kicks in this May.

Under each model, casual Whois users would no longer have access to the wealth of contact information they do under the current system.

There may also be a new certification program that would grant access to full Whois records to law enforcement, consumer protection agencies and intellectual property interests.

The three models are each intended to address the General Data Protection Regulation, EU law that could see companies fined millions if they fail to protect the personal data of European citizens.

While GDPR affects all data collection on private citizens, for the domain name industry it’s particularly relevant to Whois, where privacy has always been an afterthought.

The three ICANN models, which are now subject to a short public comment period, differ from each other in three key areas: who has their privacy protected, which fields appear in public Whois by default, and how third parties such as law enforcement access the full records.

Model 1 is the most similar to the current system, allowing for the publication of the most data.

Under this model the name and postal address of the registrant would continue to be displayed in the public Whois databases.

Their email address and phone number would be protected, but the email and phone of the administrative and technical contacts — often the same person as the registrant — would be published.

If the registrant were a legal entity, rather than a person, all data fields would continue to be displayed as normal.

The other two models call for more restricted, or at least different, public output.

Under Model 2, the email addresses of the administrative and technical contacts would be published, but all other contact information, including the name of the registrant, would be redacted.

Model 3 proposes a crazy-sounding system whereby everything would be published unless the registrar/registry decided, on a domain-by-domain basis, that the field contained personal information.

This would require manual vetting of each Whois record and is likely to gather no support from the industry.

The three models also differ in how third parties with legitimate interests would access full Whois records.

Model 1 proposes a system similar to how zone files are published via ICANN’s Centralized Zone Data Service.

Under this model, users would self-certify that they have a legit right to the data (if they’re a cop or an IP lawyer, for example) and it would be up to the registry or registrar to approve or decline their request.

Model 2 envisages a more structured, formal, centralized system of certification for Whois users, developed with the Governmental Advisory Committee and presumably administered by ICANN.

Model 3 would require Whois users to supply a subpoena or court order in order to access records, which is sure to make it unpopular among the IP lobby and governments.

Each of the three models also differs in terms of the circumstances under which privacy is provided.

The models range from protecting records only when the registrant, registry, registrar or any other entity involved in the data processing has a presence in the European Economic Area to protecting records of all registrants everywhere regardless of whether they’re a person or a company.

Each model has different data retention policies, ranging from six month to two years after a registration expires.

None of the three models screw with registrars’ ability to pass data to thick-Whois registries, nor to their data escrow providers.

ICANN said it’s created these models based on the legal analyses it commissioned from the Hamilton law firm, as well as submissions from community members.

One such submission, penned by the German trade associated Eco, has received broad industry support.

It would provide blanket protection to all registrants regardless of legal status or location, and would see all personally identifiable information stripped from public Whois output.

Upon carrying out a Whois query, users would see only information about the domain, not the registrant.

There would be an option to request more information, but this would be limited to an anonymized email address or web form for most users.

Special users, such as validated law enforcement or IP interests, would be able to access the full records via a new, centralized Trusted Data Clearinghouse, which ICANN would presumably be responsible for setting up.

It’s most similar to ICANN’s Model 2.

It has been signed off by registries and registrars together responsible for the majority of the internet’s domain registrations: Afilias, dotBERLIN, CentralNic, Donuts, Neustar, Nominet, Public Interest Registry (PIR), Verisign, 1&1, Arsys, Blacknight, GoDaddy, Strato/Cronon, Tucows and United Domains.

ICANN said in a blog post that its three models are now open for public comment until January 29.

If you have strong opinions on any of the proposals, it might be a good idea to get them in as soon as possible, because ICANN plans to identify one of the models as the basis for the official model within 48 hours of the comment period closing.

Final .eco applicant completes evaluation

Planet Dot Eco has finally passed its ICANN evaluation, meaning the four-way contention set for one of the oldest public new gTLD ideas, .eco, can move forward a little.

In its Initial Evaluation last August, the company scored a miserable 1 point on its financial evaluation, failing to hit the target of 8 points, and scored a 0 on one of its technical criteria.

But with the Extended Evaluation results published today (pdf), Planet Dot Eco managed to scrape passing scores on both parts of the evaluation.

This means that the .eco contention set, which also includes Donuts, Minds + Machines and Big Room, is no longer being held up by evaluations.

However, Big Room’s is a Community application and the company has indicated that it will go for a Community Priority Evaluation.

Unless Big Room wins the CPE (which strikes me as unlikely), that will also delay any possibility of contention resolution.

Iranian org not happy about .eco bids

Kevin Murphy, February 20, 2013, Domain Policy

The Iran-based treaty organization ECO, the Economic Cooperative Organization, has registered its displeasure with ICANN that several companies have applied for .eco as a gTLD.

ECO is a multinational IGO focused on development formed by Iran, Pakistan and Turkey in 1985. It has seven other Asian and Eurasian member states.

In a letter to ICANN brass this week, the organization said it “expresses its disapproval and non-endorsement to all the applications for .ECO gTLD and requests the ICANN and the new gTLD application evaluators to not approve these applications.”

.eco has been proposed as a gTLD for environmental causes by four companies. It was one of the first new gTLD ideas to emerge, several years ago, and was once backed by Al Gore.

Under changes to the application rules currently under development at ICANN, ECO may enjoy a second-level ban on the string “eco”, possibly only temporarily, under all new gTLDs.

The criteria for this IGO name protection is expected to be based on the criteria for registering a .int domain name, which are reserved for certain categories of international treaty organizations.

Unless ICANN really pulls the rug out from under applicants, the protection would not extend to the top-level in the current application round, however.

ECO notes in its letter that as it qualifies for a .int, it should be protected.

However, eco.int is not registered and ECO uses a .org domain for its web site, begging the question of how seriously it takes its domain name brand protection strategy.

Read ECO’s letter here.

TLDH applies for 92 gTLDs, 68 for itself

Top Level Domain Holdings is involved in a grand total of 92 new generic top-level domain applications, many of them already known to be contested.

Sixty-eight applications are being filed on its own behalf, six have been submitted via joint ventures, and 18 more have been submitted on behalf of Minds + Machines clients.

Here’s the list of its own applications:

.abogado (Spanish for .lawyer), .app, .art, .baby, .beauty, .beer, .blog, .book, .casa (Spanish for .home), .cloud, .cooking, .country, .coupon, .cpa, .cricket, .data, .dds, .deals, .design, .dog, .eco, .fashion, .fishing, .fit, .flowers, .free, .garden, .gay, .green, .guide, .home, .horse, .hotel, .immo, .inc, .latino, .law, .lawyer, .llc, .love, .luxe, .pizza, .property, .realestate, .restaurant, .review, .rodeo, .roma, .sale, .school, .science, .site, .soccer, .spa, .store, .style, .surf, .tech, .video, .vip, .vodka, .website, .wedding, .work, .yoga, .zulu, 网址 (.site in Chinese), 购物 (.shopping in Chinese).

There’s a lot to note in that list.

First, it’s interesting to see that TLDH is hedging its bets on the environmental front, applying for both .eco (which we’ve known about for years) and .green.

This puts it into contention with the longstanding Neustar-backed DotGreen bid, and possibly others we don’t yet know about, which should make for some interesting negotiations.

Also, both of TLDH’s previously announced Indian city gTLDs, .mumbai and .bangaluru, seem to have fallen through, as suspected.

Other contention sets TLDH is now confirmed to be involved in include: .blog, .site, .immo, .hotel, .home, .casa, .love, .law, .cloud, .baby, .art, .gay, .style and .store.

The company said in a statement:

During the next six months, TLDH will focus its efforts on marketing and operations for geographic names such as dot London and dot Bayern where it has the exclusive support of the relevant governing authority, as well as any other gTLDs that TLDH has filed for that are confirmed to be uncontested on the Reveal Date. Discussions with other applicants regarding contested names will be handled on a case-by-case basis.

Three-way legal fight over .eco breaks out

Planet.eco, an emergent .eco gTLD applicant with a trademark on “.eco” is suing two rival applicants for trademark infringement and cybersquatting in a California court.

The company sued DotEco (affiliated with Minds + Machines and Top Level Domain Holdings), along with CEO Fred Krueger, and Canada-based Big Room on March 2.

It’s looking for millions of dollars of damages and an injunction preventing both rival applicants from applying for .eco.

In late March, DotEco filed a counter-suit, alleging that Planet.eco’s .eco trademark was fraudulently obtained and that the company is trying to illegally stifle competition for the .eco gTLD.

That’s the short version. It’s a complex story with a great deal of history and more than a little bogus behavior.

DomainIncite PRO subscribers can read the full DI analysis, along with more PDFs than you could ever possibly need, here.

(Thanks to reader Tom Gilles for the tip)

Even without Al Gore, don’t count Minds + Machines out of the .eco race

Kevin Murphy, September 29, 2011, Domain Registries

Minds + Machines may have lost the support of Al Gore for its .eco bid, but it should not necessarily be dismissed as a contender for the .eco top-level domain.

The Guardian today reported that the former US vice president’s Alliance for Climate Protection campaign has dropped its support for the M+M-backed Dot Eco LLC .eco bid.

It noted that the other public .eco applicant, Big Room, is backed by former Russian premier Mikhail Gorbachev, and it made some tenuous Cold War allusions accordingly:

The global power struggle, with echoes of the cold war, is over control of the new .eco internet domain which could be up and running by 2013.

But the Guardian has learned that Gore’s group has quietly dropped its plan, leaving the door open for Big Room to act as the registry for the new domain.

The reality is of course not quite as exciting, at least not to a general readership. Big Room in fact quickly distanced itself from the hyperbole in a blog post today.

Gore’s group did in fact stop supporting M+M’s .eco bid earlier this year. The site previously dedicated to the project, SupportDotEco.com, went dark for a while before being redirected to M+M in June.

It seems that the once-public M+M .eco project may now be a regular will-they-won’t-they bid.

So while The Guardian fairly reported that Gore is no longer in the running for .eco, that does not necessarily mean Big Room is a shoo-in either.

As I’ve previously commented, publicly announcing a gTLD application means absolutely nothing.

Big Room may secure .eco. M+M may. Any one of a number of potential candidates could win the contract.

Big Room, which has secured support from many organizations in the environmental community, intends to file its bid with as a self-designated “community” application.

Such a designation can enable applicants for contested gTLDs to avoid an auction, if they can score 14 out of a possible 16 points against the very strict criteria set by ICANN.

Big Room has spent a great deal of time building up support and setting proposed policies governing how .eco will be managed. It has some potentially innovative ideas about how to promote corporate responsibility using domain names.

“I hope people don’t try to hold the community hostage about this, I think our community been very transparent about their intentions,” said Big Room co-founder Trevor Bowden. “If this thing goes to auction, this community has no voice whatever. If they have no voice then the potential of .eco will be diminished.”

Minds + Machines, on the other hand, is on-record saying that it does not believe that .eco could possibly qualify as a community bid.

In July, CEO Antony Van Couvering published a piece on CircleID estimating that, with just nine points out of the 14 required to pass a Community Priority Evaluation, it would not.

It seems that “community” backing, even from an environmentalist as high-profile as Al Gore, may not be part of the M+M .eco application strategy.

With M+M parent Top Level Domain Holdings funded sufficiently to apply for gTLDs into double figures, I would not be at all surprised if .eco is among its target strings.

UPDATE (30/9/11): TLDH has confirmed that Dot Eco LLC will apply for .eco. The characteristically blunt press release also has a few choice words about gTLD applications backed by “celebrities”.

Round-up of the ICANN new TLDs comment period

Today is the deadline to file comments on version four of ICANN’s Draft Applicant Guidebook for prospective new top-level domain registries.

Of the few dozen comments filed, the majority involve special pleading in one way or another – everybody has something to lose or gain from the contents of the DAG.

That said, I’ve read all the comments filed so far (so you don’t have to) and lots of good points are raised. It’s clear that whatever the final Applicant Guidebook contains, not everybody will get what they want.

Here’s a non-comprehensive round-up, organized by topic.

Trademark Protection

Trademark holders were among the first to file comments on DAG v4. As I’ve previously reported, Lego was first off the mark with an attempt to convince ICANN that the concerns of the IP lobby have not yet been resolved.

Since then, a few more of the usual suspects from the IP constituency, such as Verizon and InterContinental Hotels, have filed comments.

The concerns are very similar: the Universal Rapid Suspension process for trademark infringements is too slow and expensive, the Trademark Clearinghouse does not remove cost or prevent typosquatting, not enough is done to prevent deadbeat registries.

Verizon, a long-time opponent of the new TLD program and a rigorous enforcer of its trademarks, used its letter to raise the issue of cybercrime and hit on pressure points relating to compliance.

It brings up the KnujOn report (pdf) released in Brussels, which accused ICANN registrars of being willfully blind to customer abuses, and the fact that ICANN compliance head David Giza recently quit.

Two IP-focused registrars also weighed in on trademark protection.

Com Laude’s Nick Wood filed a very good point-by-point breakdown of why the URS process has become too bloated to be considered “rapid” in the eyes of trademark holders.

Fred Felman of MarkMonitor covers the same ground on rights protection mechanisms, but also questions more fundamentally whether ICANN has shown that the new TLD round is even economically desirable.

Felman has doubts that new gTLDs will do anything to create competition in the domain name market, writing:

the vast majority of gTLDs currently being proposed in this round are gTLDs that hide traditional domain registration models behind a veil of purported innovation and creativity

Well, I guess somebody had to say it.

Fees

There are concerns from the developing world that $185,000, along with all the associated costs of applying for a TLD, is too steep a price to pay.

The “African ICANN Community” filed a comment a month ago asking ICANN to consider reducing or waiving certain fees in order to make the program more accessible for African applicants.

Several potential TLD registries also think it’s unfair that applicants have to pay $185,000 for each TLD they want to run, even if it’s basically the same word in multiple scripts.

Constantine Roussos, who intends to apply for .music, reiterated the points he brought up during the ICANN board public forum in Brussels last month.

Roussos believes that applicants should not have to pay the full $185,000 for each non-ASCII internationalized domain name variant of their primary TLD.

He wrote that he intends to apply for about six IDN versions of .music, along with some non-English Latin-script variants such as .musique.

Antony Van Couvering of registry consultant Minds + Machines and .bayern bidder Bayern Connect both echo this point, noting that many geographical names have multiple IDN variants – Cologne//Koeln/Köln, for example.

Roussos also notes, wisely I think, that it appears to be a waste of money paying consultants to evaluate back-end registry providers for applicants who choose to go with an recognized incumbent such as VeriSign, NeuStar or Afilias.

Another request for lower fees comes from the Japan Internet Domain Name Council, which thinks geographical TLD applications from small cities should receive a discount, as well as a waiver of any fees usually required to object to a third-party application.

Contended Strings and Front-Running

Of the known proposed TLDs, there are several strings that will very likely be contended by multiple bidders. This has led to maneuvering by some applicants designed to increase their chances of winning.

Roussos suggested that applicants such as his own .music bid, which have made their plans public for years, should be awarded bonus points during evaluation.

This would help prevent last-minute con artists stepping in with “copy-paste” bids for widely publicized TLDs, in the hope of being paid off by the original applicant, he indicated.

Roussos thinks the amount of work his .music has done in raising community awareness around new TLDs has earned the company extra credit.

It’s a thought echoed by Markus Bahmann, dotBayern’s chairman, and his counterpart at dotHamburg.

The opposing view is put forward by rival .bayern bidder Bayern Connect’s Caspar von Veltheim. He reckons such a system would put “insiders” at an unfair advantage.

M+M’s Van Couvering also said he opposes any applicant getting special treatment and added that M+M wants an explicit ban on trademark front-running included in the DAG.

Front-running is the practice of registering a TLD as a trademark in order to gain some special advantage in the new TLD evaluation process or in court afterward.

(M+M’s owner, Top Level Domain Holdings, has reportedly been front-running itself – attempting to defensively register trademarks in the likes of .kids, .books and .poker, while simultaneously trying to fight off similar attempts from potential rivals.)

Roussos of .music responded directly to M+M this afternoon, presenting the opposite view and promising to use its trademarks to defend itself (I’m assuming he means in court) if another .music applicant prevails.

Rest assured that if we, as .MUSIC are faced with the possibility of being gamed and abused in a manner that we find illegal, we will use our trademarks and other means necessary to do what we have to do to protect ourselves and our respective community.

He said .music is trademarked in 20 countries.

Morality and Public Order

This was a hot topic in Brussels, after the ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee agreed that it did not like the “MOPO” objection provisions of DAG v4, but could not think of a better replacement.

MOPO would give a way for governments to scupper bids if they do not like the morality implications. Anybody applying for .gay, for example, would have to deal with this kind of nonsense.

Jacob Malthouse of BigRoom, one of the would-be .eco bidders, reckons ICANN should treat the GAC the same as it treated the GNSO on the issue of vertical integration – remove MOPO from the DAG entirely in order to force the GAC to come up with something better.

The GAC had previously said it would address the MOPO issue in its comments on DAGv4, but its filing has not yet appeared on the ICANN site.

There’s a GNSO working group over here, but M+M’s Van Couvering notes that no GAC members have got involved post-Brussels.

Terrorism

Two commentators objected to the idea that an applicant could be rejected for involvement in “terrorism”, a term that DAGv4 does not define.

I reported on this a few days ago, but since then Khaled Fattal of the Multilingual Internet Group has filed a surprising rant that seems to indicate he has way more beef than really necessary.

Here’s a few quotes mined from the full comment:

it will alienate many in the international community who will choose not to take part in future ICANN processes including its New gTLDs, distrusting ICANN’s motives, or actively choosing to boycotting it, and causing many to seriously start re-considering alternatives.

as a Syrian born Arab American would I pass the IvCANN terrorism verification check as they are? After all Syria, my country of birth, is on the U.S. Government list of states sponsor of terrorism? And I admit, I do know an “Osama”, does that disqualify me? I Forgot to add, “Osama Fattal” a cousin. So would I pass or fail this check?

The arbitrary inclusion of terrorism as a measuring stick without any internationally recognized laws or standards is wrong and offensive to many around the world. If acted upon, it will be seen by millions of Muslims and Arabs as racist, prejudicial and profiling and would clearly indicate that ICANN has gone far beyond its mandate.

Vertical Integration and .brand TLDs

The issue of whether registries and registrars should be allowed to own each other is a thorny one, but there’s barely any mention at all of it in the DAGv4 comments filed so far.

The DAGv4 language on VI, which effectively bans it, is a place-holder for whatever consensus policy the GNSO comes up with (in the unlikely event that its working group ever gets its act together).

Most efforts on VI are therefore currently focused in the GNSO. Nevertheless, some commentators do mention VI in their filings.

Roussos of .music wants .music to be able to vertically integrate.

Abdulaziz Al-Zoman of SaudiNIC said VI limits should be removed to help applicants who need to turn to third-party infrastructure providers.

From the IP lobby, Celia Ullman of cigarette maker Philip Morris notes that there’s nothing in DAGv4 about single-registrant .brand TLDs. She writes:

would this mean that trademark owners owning a gTLD would need to open the registration procedure to second-level domain names applied for to third unrelated parties? In this case, what would be the incentive of actually registering and operating such a gTLD?

Clearly, the idea that a .brand would have to be open to all ICANN registrars on a non-discriminatory basis is enough to make any trademark attorney choke on their caviare.

JPNIC, the .jp ccTLD operator, also points out that DAGv4 says next to nothing about .brand TLDs and strongly suggests that the final Applicant Guidebook spells out just what a registry is allowed to do with its namespace (lawsuits are mentioned)

Disclaimer

I’ve paraphrased almost everybody in this article, and I’ve done it rather quickly. Despite my best efforts, some important nuance may have been lost in the act.

If you want to know what the commentators I’ve cited think, in their own words, I’ve linked to their comments individually throughout.

I may update this post as further comments are filed.

TLDH sells off domain portfolio, waits for new TLDs

Kevin Murphy, April 15, 2010, Domain Registries

Top Level Domain Holdings has reported blah revenue for its fiscal 2009, as it reorganized itself in preparation for ICANN’s forthcoming new gTLD round.

The company, which owns registry services firm Minds + Machines and has interests in dotNYC and DotEco, is listed on London’s low-cap AIM market.

It today reported revenue for the 12 months to October 31, 2009 of £315,000 ($487,000), up from £232,000 ($358,000) a year earlier, with an operating loss of £1.4 million, ($2.2 million) down from £1.5 million ($2.3 million).

TLDH also revealed that it sold off its entire parked domain name portfolio for $250,000 last November, after the end of its financial year, after it found parking revenue on the decline:

The Company’s domain name portfolio comprising mainly German and other European parked domain names that receive direct navigation and search traffic which can be monetized through search links to generate click-through advertising revenues generated a lower revenue in the period and were subsequently sold following the period end for US$250,000 in cash.

TLDH recorded an impairment charge of £154,000 ($238,000) for this transaction, suggesting the company sold its portfolio for approximately half of its previously reported paper value.

The firm says its strategy is “to build a portfolio of gTLD applicants and infrastructure technologies”, and believes ICANN’s recent Nairobi meeting decisions continued “a trend of increasing the barriers to application for non-experts”.

TLDH still looks like it has more than enough cash on hand to see it through to when ICANN begins officially accepting new TLD applications, barring further delays, with £4.3 million ($6.6 million) in the bank at the end of October.

Contested TLDs by the social media numbers

There are a surprising number of new TLD proposals with two or more would-be applicants. Quite a few are also playing the social media marketing game to win support.

A quick and dirty analysis of the contested TLDs show that .gay and .eco have the largest show of popular support, while some TLDs have seemingly no following at all.

The numbers are not earth-shattering, but I’ve made the table now so I may as well share it.
(continue reading)