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ICANN dragged into Gamergate as Whois reform cast as misogynist threat

Kevin Murphy, July 2, 2015, Domain Policy

What do ICANN’s current Whois privacy reform proposals have to do with the “Gamergate” controversy?

Quite a lot, according to the latest group to slam the proposals as an enabler for “doxing… harassment… swatting… stalking… rape and death threats.”

The Online Abuse Prevention Initiative was formed in March by female software developers in the wake of a sexism slash online abuse scandal that continues to divide the video game community.

Led by Randi Harper, OAPI’s first public move was to today write to ICANN to complain about the GNSO Privacy & Proxy Services Accreditation Issues (PPSAI) Working Group Initial Report.

The report, as previously reported, contains a minority opinion that would ban transactional e-commerce sites from using Whois privacy services.

OAPI said today that this posed a risk of “doxing” — the practice of publishing the home address and other personal information about someone with the aim to encourage harassment — and “swatting”, where people call up America’s notoriously trigger-happy cops to report violent crimes at their intended victim’s home address.

Harper, who was one of the targets of the Gamergate movement (Google her for examples of the vitriol) claims to have been a victim of both. The OAPI letter says she “was swatted based on information obtained from the WHOIS record for her domain.”

The letter, which is signed by groups including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the National Council of Women’s Organizations, and dozens of noted digital rights voices, says:

We strongly oppose the Working Group’s proposal, which will physically endanger many domain owners and disproportionately impact those who come from marginalized communities. People perceived to be women, nonwhite, or LGBTQ are often targeted for harassment, and such harassment inflicts significant harm

Even the most limited definition of a “website handling online financial transactions for commercial purpose” will encompass a wide population that could be severely harmed by doxing, such as:

  • women indie game developers who sell products through their own online stores
  • freelance journalists and authors who market their work online
  • small business owners who run stores or businesses from their homes
  • activists who take donations to fund their work, especially those living under totalitarian regimes
  • people who share personal stories online to crowdfund medical procedures

To make things worse, the proposed definition of what constitutes “commercial purpose” could be expanded to include other types of activity such as running ads or posting affiliate links.

The letter does not directly refer to Gamergate, but some of the signatories are its most prominent victims and the allusions are clearly there.

Gamergate is described somewhere in its 9,000-word Wikipedia article as “part of a long-running culture war against efforts to diversify the traditionally male video gaming community, particularly targeting outspoken women.”

At its benign end, it was a movement for stronger ethics in video game journalism. At its malignant end, it involved quite a lot of male gamers sending abuse and violent threats to female players and developers.

The PPSAI report is open for comment until July 7. It has so far attracted over 10,000 emails, most of them rustled up by registrar letter-writing campaigns here and here.

New gTLD sales miss ICANN estimates by a mile

New gTLD registration volumes failed to live up to ICANN’s expectations by a long, long way in its fiscal 2015.

When ICANN’s FY15 ended on Tuesday, new gTLDs had fewer than 6 million domains in their collective zone files.

That’s just 18% of ICANN’s original early 2014 estimate of 33 million domains and just 39% of its revised March 2015 estimate of 15 million names.

It’s going to be harder to compare future new gTLD performance to ICANN’s projections, as the program enters its second year of live activity.

The organization’s recently published draft fiscal 2016 budget does not have a “total registrations” number to compare to the 15/33 million projection in last year’s budget.

It does, however, predict 12.5 million billable registrar transactions in FY16, which began yesterday.

Billable registrar transactions include renewals and transfers, however, so ICANN is not saying that there will be 12.5 million extant new gTLD registrations this time next year.

You might be surprised how many new gTLDs have changed hands already

At least 86 new gTLD registry contracts have changed hands since the end of 2013, I have discovered.

ICANN calls the transfer of a Registry Agreement from one company to another an “assignment”. Global Domains Division staff said in Buenos Aires last week that it’s one of the more complex and time-consuming tasks they have to perform.

So I thought I’d do a count, and I discovered some interesting stuff.

Donuts/Rightside

The biggest beneficiary of incoming assignments so far is of course Rightside, aka United TLD Holdco, which has so far taken over 23 of the gTLDs applied for by Donuts.

The two companies have had an agreement since the start that allows Rightside to take on as many as 107 of Donuts’ original 307 applications.

Interestingly, Rightside sold .fan to AsiaMix Digital after Donuts had transferred the gTLD to it.

Amazon

We also discover that Amazon is repatriating its gTLD contracts en masse.

So far, 21 gTLDs applied for by Amazon EU Sarl — the Luxembourg-based company Amazon uses to dodge tax in other European countries — have been transferred to US-based Amazon Registry Services Inc.

Amazon EU has made money losing new gTLD auctions.

Given the company’s usual MO, I have to wonder whether Amazon Registry Services, under the US tax regime, plans to make any money at all from its new raft of gTLDs.

Subsidiary changes

Speaking of tax, four gTLDs associated with the Hong Kong-based Zodiac group of applicants have been transferred to new Cayman Islands companies with similar names.

A bunch of the other assignments appear to be registries shifting contracts between various subsidiaries.

IG Group, a large UK derivatives trader, has assigned seven gTLDs (such as .forex, .markets and .spreadbetting) to newly created UK subsidiaries, for example.

Also, Ireland-based Afilias transferred the .green RA to a new Irish subsidiary, while Germany-based .srl applicant mySRL has sent its contract to a Florida-based sister company from the InternetX stable.

There are several other example of this kind of activity.

Actual acquisitions

As best as I can tell, there have been only eight actual post-contracting acquisitions so far: .trust, .fan, .meet, .reise, .xn--ses554g, .rent, .theatre, and .protection.

The only one of those I didn’t know about — and haven’t seen reported anywhere — was .meet, which Afilias seems to have sold to Google back in February.

It should be noted that while I’ve counted 86 assignments, I may have missed some. At least one — XYZ.com’s acquisition of .security from Symantec, does not appear have been completed yet, judging by ICANN’s web site.

Bulgaria looking for an IDN registry operator

The Bulgarian government is looking for a company to run the registry for its recently awarded .бг internationalized domain name.

.бг is the Cyrillic equivalent of .bg, the nation’s existing ccTLD.

After a tortuous battle through ICANN’s IDN ccTLD Fast Track process — where it was repeatedly rejected for looking too much like Brazil’s .br — the string was finally approved after an appeal last October.

The RFP is being carried out by the Ministry of Transport, Information Technology and Communications and will be open for the next 90 days.

MTITC says the winner will be registry whose proposal most closely adheres to a “principles and requirements” document, which is currently a dead link on the ministry web site.

There’s no government money on offer, but the winner will be supported in its request to IANA for delegation of the TLD.

I gather that the bidding is open to any European Union company.

Go Daddy advertising privacy petition on Facebook

Go Daddy appears to be putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to arguments about domain privacy.

The company is paying for “sponsored” posts on Facebook that promote the ongoing petition against proposed changes to Whois policy at ICANN.

This has been appearing on Facebook for me all day, seriously interrupting my Farmville time:

Go Daddy ad

Clicking the ad takes you directly to the Save Domain Privacy petition, rather than a Go Daddy sales pitch.

As I reported last week, thousands of internet users have blasted ICANN with template comments complaining about proposed limits on Whois privacy.

There are currently over 10,000 such comments, I estimate, with over a week left until the filing deadline.

Registrars, Go Daddy among them, are largely concerned about a minority proposal emerging from in a proxy/privacy service accreditation working group that would ban transactional e-commerce sites from having private registrations.

They’re also bothered that intellectual property owners could get more rights to unmask privacy users under the proposals.

Despite Go Daddy’s outreach, Repect Our Privacy, letter-writing campaign, backed by NameCheap and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, seems to be responsible for most of the comments filed to date.

Not that it’s necessarily relevant today, but NameCheap and Go Daddy were on opposing sides of the Stop Online Piracy Act debate — a linked controversy — a few years back.