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As .boots self-terminates, ICANN will not redelegate it

The dot-brand .boots may become the first single-dictionary-word gTLD to be taken off the market, as The Boots Company told ICANN it no longer wishes to be a registry.

Boots, the 168-year-old British pharmacy chain, told ICANN in April that it is unilaterally terminating its Registry Agreement for .boots and ICANN opened it up for comment this week.

As with the 22 self-terminating dot-brands before it, .boots was unloved and unused, with just the solitary, ICANN-mandated nic.boots in its zone file.

Boots, as well as being a universally known brand name in the UK and Ireland, is of course a generic dictionary word representing an unrelated class of goods (ie footwear).

It’s the first dying dot-brand to have this kind of dual use, making it potentially modestly attractive as a true generic TLD.

However, because it’s currently a dot-brand with no third-party users, it will not be redelegated to another registry.

Under Specification 13 of the Registry Agreement, which gives dot-brands special rights, ICANN has the ability to redelegate dot-brands, but only if it’s in the public interest to do so. That’s clearly not the case in this instance.

These rules also state that ICANN is not allowed to delegate .boots to any other company for a period of two years after the contract ends.

Given that there’s no chance of ICANN delegating any gTLDs in the next two years, this has no real impact. Perhaps, if the ICANN community settles on a rolling gTLD application process in future, this kind of termination may be of more interest.

Zero registrars pass ICANN audit

Some of the biggest names in the registrar game were among a bewildering 100% that failed an ICANN first-pass audit in the latest round of random compliance checks.

Of the 55 registrars picked to participate in the audit, a resounding 0 passed the initial audit, according to data released today.

Among them were recognizable names including Tucows, Register.com, 1&1, Google and Xin Net.

ICANN found 86% of the registrars had three or more “deficiencies” in their compliance with the 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement.

By far the most problematic area was compliance with sections 3.7.7.1 to 3.7.7.12 of the RAA, which specifies what terms registrars must put in their registration agreements and how they verify the contact details of their customers.

A full three quarters of audited registrars failed on that count, according to ICANN’s report (pdf).

More than half of tested registrars failed to live up to their commitments to respond to reports of abuse, where they’re obliged among other things to have a 24/7 contact number available.

There was one breach notice to a registrar as a result of the audit, but none of the failures were serious enough for ICANN to terminate the deficient registrar’s contract. Two registrars self-terminated during the process.

ICANN’s audit program is ongoing and operates in rounds.

In the current round, registrars were selected from those which either hadn’t had an audit in a couple of years, were found lacking in previous rounds, or had veered dangerously close to formal breach notices.

The round kicked off last September with requests for documents. The initial audit, which all registrars failed, was followed by a remediation phase from January to May.

Over the remediation phase, only one third of the registrars successfully resolved all the issues highlight by the audit. The remainder issued remediation plans and will be followed up on in future rounds.

The 0% pass rate is not unprecedented. It’s the same as the immediately prior audit (pdf), which ran from May to October 2016.

Zone file access is crap, security panel confirms

Kevin Murphy, June 20, 2017, Domain Policy

ICANN’s Centralized Zone Data Service has some serious shortcomings and needs an overhaul, according to the Security and Stability Advisory Committee.

The panel of DNS security experts has confirmed what CZDS subscribers, including your humble correspondent, have known since 2014 — the system had a major design flaw baked in from day one for no readily apparent reason.

CZDS is the centralized repository of gTLD zone files. It’s hosted by ICANN and aggregates zones from all 2012-round, and some older, gTLDs on a daily basis.

Signing up for it is fairly simple. You simply fill out your contact information, agree to the terms of service, select which zones you want and hit “submit”.

The purpose of the service is to allow researchers to receive zone files without having to enter into separate agreements with each of the 1,200+ gTLDs currently online.

The major problem, as subscribers know and SSAC has confirmed, is that the default subscription period is 90 days.

Unless the gTLD registry extends the period at its end and in its own discretion, each subscription ends after three months — cutting off access — and the subscriber must reapply.

Many of the larger registries exercise this option, but many — particularly dot-brands — do not.

The constant need to reapply and re-approve creates a recurring arse-ache for subscribers and, registry staff have told me, the registries themselves.

The approval process itself is highly unpredictable. Some of the major registries process requests within 24 hours — I’ve found Afilias is the fastest — but I’ve been waiting for approval for Valuetainment’s .voting since September 2016.

Some dot-brands even attempt to insert extra terms of service into the deal before approving requests, which defeats the entire purpose of having a centralized service in the first place.

Usually, a polite email to the person handling the requests can produce results. Other times, it’s necessary to report them to ICANN Compliance.

The SSAC has evidently interviewed many people who share my concerns, as well as looking at data from Compliance (where CZDS reliably generates the most complaints, wasting the time of Compliance staff).

This situation makes zone file access unreliable and subject to unnecessary interruptions. The missing data introduces “blind spots” in security coverage and research projects, and the reliability of software – such as security and analytics applications – that relies upon zone files is reduced. Lastly, the introduced inefficiency creates additional work for both registry operators and subscribers.

The SSAC has no idea why the need to reapply every 90 days was introduced, figuring it must have happened during implementation.

But it recommends that access agreements should automatically renew once they expire, eliminating the busywork of reapplying and closing the holes in researchers’ data sets.

As I’m not objective on this issue, I agree with that recommendation wholeheartedly.

I’m less keen on the SSAC’s recommendation that registries should be able to opt out of the auto-renewals on a per-subscriber basis. This will certainly be abused by the precious snowflake dot-brands that have already shown their reluctance to abide by their contractual obligations.

The SSAC report can be read here (pdf).

Ombudsman steps in after harassment claims in Whois group

Kevin Murphy, June 16, 2017, Domain Policy

ICANN Ombudsman Herb Waye has started monitoring an ICANN mailing list after multiple complaints of disrespectful behavior.

Waye this week told participants in the Registration Data Services working group that he is to trawl through their list archives and proactively monitor the group following “multiple complaints regarding behavior that contravenes the ICANN Expected Standards of Behavior and possibly the Community Anti-Harassment Policy”.

The RDS working group is exploring the possibility of replacing the current Whois system, in which all data is completely open, with something “gated”, restricting access to authenticated individuals based on their role.

Law enforcement agencies, for example, may be able to get a greater level of access to personal contact information than schmucks like me and you.

Privacy advocates are in favor of giving registrants more control over their data, while anti-abuse researchers hate anything that will limit their ability to stop spam, phishing and the like.

It’s controversial stuff, and arguments on the RDS WG list have been been very heated recently, sometimes spilling over into ad hominem attacks.

The Expected Standards of Behavior requires all ICANN community members to treat each other with civility.

I haven’t seen anything especially egregious, but apparently the disrespect on display has been sufficiently upsetting that the Ombudsman has had to step in.

It’s the first time, that I’m aware of, that the ICANN Ombudsman has proactively monitored a list rather than simply responding to complaints.

Waye said that he plans to deliver his verdict before ICANN 59, which kicks off in a little over a week.

US “threatens” Costa Rica over Pirate Bay domains

Kevin Murphy, June 16, 2017, Domain Policy

The US government has been threatening to “close down” Costa Rica’s .cr registry over its refusal to take down a Pirate Bay domain name, according to the registry.

Representatives of the US embassy in Costa Rica have been badgering NIC.cr to take down thepiratebay.cr since 2015, according to a letter from Pedro León Azofeifa, president of Academia Nacional de Ciencias, which runs the registry.

The letter claims:

These interactions with the United States Embassy have escalated with time and include great pressure since 2016 that is exemplified by several phone calls, emails and meetings urging our ccTLD to take down the domain, even though this would go against our domain name policies

According to the letter, a US official “has mentioned threats to close our registry, with repeated harassment regarding our practices and operation policies and even personal negative comments directed to our Executive Director”.

The letter was sent to the chair of ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee 10 days ago, CC’d to senior ICANN, Costa Rican and US governmental figures, and has been circulated this week in the Latin American domain name community.

The form of the alleged threats to close the registry is not clear, but it should be noted that prior to October 1 last year the US Department of Commerce, via its now-relinquished oversight of ICANN, played a key role in the administration of the DNS root zone.

The Pirate Bay is of course a popular directory of BitTorrent links largely used to disseminate pirated copies of movies and music, much of it American-made.

The site has been TLD-hopping for years, as registries around the world shut down its domains for violations of their own local rules. It has been live on thepiratebay.cr since December 2014, when its Swedish operation was shut down by authorities.

The NIC.cr letter says that its own policies follow international “best practices” and allow it to take down domains when presented with a Costa Rican court order, but that “the pressure and harassment [from the US] to take down the domain name without its proper process and local court order persists”.

The US Department of Commerce even pressured its Costa Rican counterpart to investigate NIC.cr, but that probe concluded that the registry was acting within its procedures, according to the letter.

It’s not the first attempt to get rid of the Pirate Bay this year.

Public Interest Registry in February announced a “UDRP for copyright” proposal that would allow copyright holders to have piracy disputes heard by independent arbitrators. It looked like a way to get unloved thepiratebay.org domain taken down without PIR having to take unilateral action.

That proposal was shelved after an outcry from the industry and civil rights watchdogs.

In April, one of the Pirate Bay’s founders launched a piracy-friendly domain registration service.

Just this week, the European Court of Justice ruled, after seven years of legal fights, that the Pirate Bay infringes copyright, raising the possibility of the site being blocked in more European countries.

The NIC.cr letter is dated June 6. It has not yet been published by ICANN or the GAC.