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Ted Cruz slams Chehade over Chinese “conflict”

Kevin Murphy, February 5, 2016, Domain Policy

US presidential hopeful Ted Cruz has taken time out of his busy primaries schedule to lay into ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade over his new job on a Chinese policy panel.

Cruz said in a letter to Chehade that China is known for its terrible track record on freedom of speech, and wondered aloud whether Chehade’s involvement in the panel constituted a conflict of interest.

Chehade said in December that he’d joined, as co-chair, an advisory committee of the World Internet Conference.

Also known as the Wuzhen Summit, the WIC is an annual conference organized by the Chinese government in order to push its agenda of national sovereignty over the internet.

The conference, apparently regarded as a bit of a joke even in China, actually has little international participation from government leaders.

It’s also been criticized by Reporters Without Borders, which called for a boycott of the 2015 conference after some Western news outlets were barred from attending.

While Chehade stressed that his involvement is in a personal capacity, that his panel is not due to meet until mid-2016 (after he will have left ICANN), and that he remains committed to ICANN’s “one internet” mantra, Cruz doesn’t believe him.

Cruz said in his letter (pdf) that he was “surprised and dismayed” to learn of Chehade’s involvement in Wuzhen, writing:

your participation as a co-chair of the committee raised concerns about a personal conflict of interest while you serve as the Chief Executive Officer of ICANN under contract with the United States Government.

Cruz poses nine key questions that appear to be designed to get Chehade to admit that his conduct in some way represents a conflict of interest, or that he’s a loose cannon operating without the approval of his board of directors.

He wants to know whether, for example, Wuzhen has already discussed the IANA transition, which will see the US government sever formal oversight of the DNS root zone later this year.

It’s a view common to US Republican politicians, of which Cruz is one, that the transition will open the door to China, Russia and other boogeymen to initiate a crackdown on free speech, which has always seemed a little far-fetched.

Cruz is currently considered one of the front-runners for the Republican nomination in the presidential race, following his victory over Donald Trump in Iowa this week.

His letter, which demands answers before February 19, was also signed by fellow Republican senators James Lankford and Michael Lee.

Chehade is due to leave ICANN at the end of March.

ICANN reveals $1m of not-lobbying lobbying expenses

Kevin Murphy, November 20, 2015, Domain Policy

ICANN has revealed how much it has spent so far on a few controversial professional services firms that have been accused of “lobbying” the US government on behalf of the organization.

It said today that between July 2015 and September 2015 it spent $1,070,438 on six companies providing “Education/Engagement” services related to the transition of IANA from US government oversight.

Two of the payees are consulting firms run by former high-level US officials.

One is Albright Stonebridge Group LLC, founded by Clinton-era secretary of state Madeleine Albright.

The other is Rice Hadley Gates LLC, which counts W-era officials Condoleeza Rice, Stephen Rice and Robert Gates as its principles.

The $1 million figure also includes payouts to PR firm Edelman, which has been working with ICANN for as long as I can remember, a video production company, and two other consultants.

It’s substantially less than the $2.4 million spend estimated by Kieren McCarthy, whose public-forum questions at the last two ICANN meetings and subsequent The Register article seem to be responsible for the latest disclosures.

McCarthy, in heated public clashes with ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade, had argued that these payouts were essentially “lobbying” expenses that had not been disclosed because they fall into a “loophole” in US regulations that require lobbyists to disclose their clients.

ICANN said it spent $765,829 on external lobbying services — both related to the IANA transition and not — over the same period.

Its in-house lobbyist, James Hedlund, has separately disclosed a spend of $890,000 over the period.

McCarthy had argued that ICANN was trying to hide the true extent of its lobbying, because it’s trying to make a case with US authorities for ICANN the organization that is at odds with what the community-led IANA transition process is trying to achieve.

Today’s disclosures show that ICANN spent $4,809,949 — almost half of its transition-related professional services spend — on the two law firms that have been advising the two volunteer groups developing the IANA transition proposals.

It spent a more modest $1,150,213 on its own legal advisers, Jones Day.

DI will be live-blogging ICANN 54

Kevin Murphy, October 16, 2015, Domain Policy

I’m going to be doing something a little different for ICANN’s latest public meeting.

For various tedious reasons I was unable to attend in person ICANN 54, which started in Dublin this morning, so I thought I’d try to make the best of the advantages of remote participation and a friendly time zone to try something new.

Namely, live-blogging.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, a live-blog is essentially a single blog post that is updated and amended in real-time as a quickly developing news story continues to roll.

You can think of it a little like a Twitter feed, but without the restrictions.

If you have your browser open to the live-blog post, the updates should be automatically pushed to you in near real-tie without the need to manually refresh the page.

I say “should” because I’ve never done this before and, despite a bit of testing, the back-end software may not function precisely as I expect.

The auto-refresh function only seems to work, by design, in single-post view. If you’re looking at the DI front page you probably won’t get the auto-updates unless you manually refresh.

It’s all very experimental and I may quickly abandon the idea if it doesn’t seem to be working. Feedback is welcome.

The intention in some cases is to live-blog individual sessions, when they’re important enough to warrant my undivided attention — such as the opening ceremony or the meeting between the ICANN board and the Governmental Advisory Committee.

In other cases, the blog may dip in and out of conflicting sessions depending on what seems most interesting at the time.

While ICANN 54 doesn’t officially start until Monday, long-time ICANN watchers know that the real discussions begin much earlier.

In fact, in Dublin, they’ve already started.

A three-hour session of the community working group tasked with improving ICANN’s accountability, known as the CCWG, showed strong indications this morning that it may be ready to be the first blink in its ongoing confrontation with the ICANN board.

You can expect a lot of coverage of the accountability discussions, which have multiple sessions devoted to them, over the coming seven days.

Chehade outlines five ways ICANN could die

Kevin Murphy, October 7, 2015, Domain Policy

Aarrgh! We’re all going to die!!!!1

ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade has outlined five ways in which the internet could fall to pieces if the IANA transition fails, and they all seem really horrible.

Chehade presented the list at a telephone meeting of leaders of ICANN supporting organizations and advisory committees yesterday.

I don’t know what was said yet, but I can guess the tone from one of Chehade’s accompanying slides:

5 Risks we face if the IANA Stewardship Transition is Delayed/Fails:

I. ICANN’s community may fracture or fray slowly, becoming divided, acrimonious, bitter — potentially risking ICANN’s stability, effectiveness — and impacting the participation of global stakeholders

II. The technical operating communities using IANA may go separate ways, with the IETF and the Numbering communities choosing to take their business elsewhere — ending the integrity of the Internet’s logical infrastructure

III. Governments (encouraged by G77) may lead an effort starting at this year during the WSIS review to shift Internet Governance responsibilities to a more stable and predictable inter-governmental platform

IV. Key economies that shifted positions since NTIA’s announcement in March 2014 may reverse their support for ‘one Internet’ logical infrastructure coordinated by ICANN

V. The resilience and effectiveness of the multistakholder model will be questioned by those seeking solutions to the emerging Internet Governance issues in the economic and societal layer (e.g. cyber security, trade, privacy, copyright protections, etc.)

Judging by the slides, ICANN reckons that the community needs to have its transition proposal delivered by December, if ICANN is to meet the current September 30, 2016 transition deadline.

There are a whole host of sessions devoted to the transition at the forthcoming public meeting in Dublin.

The transition process is currently in a very tricky spot because the ICANN board of directors does not agree with the community proposals to restructure ICANN.

ICANN just gave a company a new gTLD for free

Kevin Murphy, September 10, 2015, Domain Policy

The Tor Project Inc, a Massachusetts non-profit software maker, just got a new gTLD reserved for its own exclusive use, by ICANN, for free.

Tor did this without engaging in the ICANN new gTLD program, paying any ICANN application fees, or following any of the rules in the ICANN Applicant Guidebook.

It basically circumvented the entire ICANN process, and it only took six months from asking.

Neat trick, right?

Tor develops the software that creates the Tor “anonymity network” used by people who wish to obfuscate their internet usage (legal or otherwise) by routing their traffic via a series of proxies or relays.

The free software, which plugs into browsers, uses meaningless, hashed “.onion” domains because the routing method is known as “onion routing”.

IANA, an ICANN department, last night placed .onion on its list of Special Use Domains, meaning it cannot be delegated to the DNS.

If anyone were to apply for it today — assuming that were possible — they’d be out of luck. It seems .onion now has the same protected status as .example and .localhost.

The reservation was made at the instruction of the Internet Engineering Task Force, which published a new Internet Draft reserving the .onion gTLD for use with Tor.

An Internet Draft is a “work in progress” standards track document with a six-month shelf life, not yet a finalized Request For Comments (RFC).

This one was written by engineers from Tor and Facebook.

The Internet Engineering Steering Group, the IETF’s coordinating body, approved the draft last week.

Of the 13 IESG members who voted on the document, the first draft of which was published six months ago, five voted “Yes”, seven offered “No Objection” and only one abstained.

The abstainer, Barry Leiba, standards guru at Huawei Technologies, wrote:

I believe the IETF shouldn’t be involved with registering special-use TLDs for things that were used outside of IETF protocols, and should not be wading into territory that belongs to ICANN. I know there are a bunch of other such TLDs that people/organizations would have us snag for them, and I very much want to avoid doing a batch of others.

That said, I well understand the deployed code involved and the importance of keeping things working in this case, and I don’t want to stand in the way. So I’m standing aside with an “Abstain” ballot.

The logic behind the reservation is that if ICANN were to delegate .onion to somebody else (for example, The Onion) there would be a risk that the improved privacy offered by Tor would be compromised.

Voting in favor of the draft, Cisco engineer Alissa Cooper wrote:

Registering this name seems warranted in light of the potential security impact. We need to make our processes work for the Internet, not vice versa.

Another affirmative vote came from Oracle engineer Ben Campbell. He wrote:

This one took some soul searching. But I think the arguments have been made, and that on the whole this registration does more good than harm.

A number of IESG members suggested that the IETF should revisit and possibly amend the RFC in which it originally granted itself the power to reserve gTLDs.

That’s RFC6761, entitled “Special-Use Domain Names”, which dates to February 2013.

RFC6761 lays out a seven-point test that a string must pass before it can be considered “special use” and thereby reserved.

The tests cover whether humans, applications and various types of DNS software are expected to handle the string differently to a regular TLD.

The RFC also notes:

The IETF has responsibility for specifying how the DNS protocol works, and ICANN is responsible for allocating the names made possible by that DNS protocol… Reservation of a Special-Use Domain Name is not a mechanism for circumventing normal domain name registration processes.

I think reasonable people could disagree on whether that’s what has just happened in the case of .onion.

Indeed, there was some discussion on the IETF’s “dnsop” working group mailing list about whether Tor was “squatting” .onion, and whether it was appropriate to reserve its chosen TLD string.

I wonder what kind of precedent this could set.

The Tor Project Inc is a Massachusetts non-profit company. It’s primarily funded by US government grants, according to its 2013 financial statements, the most recent available. It doesn’t sell .onion domains — they’re auto-generated by the software.

Part of the argument in favor of allowing the new Internet Draft is that .onion substantially pre-dates the creation of RFC6761 — it’s not an attempt to game the RFC.

Why wouldn’t that same argument apply to, for example, alternate root operator Name.Space, which has been offering hundreds of pseudo-gTLDs since 1996?

Name.Space could argue that its strings pre-date .onion by eight years, and that the security of its registrants and users could be compromised if ICANN were to delegate them to the DNS.

What about NameCoin, another alternate root provider? It also pre-dates RFC6761 and, like Tor, uses browser software to work around the DNS.

I don’t know enough about the IETF’s processes, to be honest, to say whether it would be forced to apply its .onion logic to these other namespaces. But it’s an interesting question.

And as somebody who has spent the last five years immersed in the minutiae of the rules ICANN has created to govern the allocation of words, it’s jarring to see those rules circumnavigated so completely.