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As the world burns, ICANN gives its richest execs huge pay rises

Kevin Murphy, June 24, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN has just given some of its highest-ranking and richest execs pay rises of up to 15%, even as the world stands on the brink of a global recession and ICANN is predicting its own budget is on the verge of huge shrinkage.

Its board of directors has approved a set of pay deals that would see the CFO, Xavier Calvez — a man who has, year-after-year, consistently failed to predict fluctuations in the domain name industry with any degree of accuracy — a pay rise of 15%.

John Jeffrey, the general counsel, is getting 3.5%, despite his record of losing legal cases and covering up incidents of sexual harassment among ICANN staff.

Theresa Swinehart, newly-minted senior vice president of the Global Domains Division, is getting a 10% pay increase on top of her base salary, which was $459,123 in FY19.

Not only that, but CEO Göran Marby has been granted broad discretion to increase salaries in the same range for other, non-officer ICANN employees.

Marby himself has been granted his second-half bonus, which amounts to over $100,000.

Based on disclosed salaries for ICANN’s fiscal 2019, we can take a punt on how much money this will cost ICANN — and by “ICANN” I of course mean “you”, the domain-registering public, who pays for every cent of ICANN’s budget.

According to ICANN’s fiscal 2019 form 990, Calvez had “reportable compensation” of $445,964. That’s not including another $62,000 in additional compensation.

For him, a 15% pay raise on the base number is an extra almost $68,000 a year, making his salary (excluding extras) now comfortably over half a million dollars a year.

I’m sure there are many readers of this blog who would consider $68k a nice-enough base salary. But no, that’s his annual raise this year.

This is the guy who, for the better part of a decade, has had to wildly meddle with the revenue half of ICANN’s budget every six months because he couldn’t seem to get a grip on how the new gTLD market was playing out.

He’s also the guy predicting an 8% decline in revenue for ICANN’s next fiscal year due to coronavirus, even as he admits its current revenue has been so far unaffected and most of its biggest funders say everything is going really rather well.

Swinehart is going to get an extra $46,000 a year.

Jeffrey’s raise amounts to an extra $21,000 on top of his $604,648 FY19 base salary.

Remember, he’s the guy in charge of ICANN’s legal department, which is consistently beaten in Independent Review Panel cases, and who is ultimately responsible for the decision to not disclose the existence of the sexual harassment cases that have been filed against ICANN by its own employees in recent years.

The reason these three in particular have been given angry-laughable pay rises is the recently-announced executive reshuffle, which I blogged about earlier this month.

The three of them have had their jobs merged with those of two recent departures — COO Susanna Bennett, who’s leaving for undisclosed reasons shortly, and GDD president Cyrus Namazi, who quit following (but, you know, not necessarily because of) sexual harassment allegations earlier this year.

Combined, Namazi and Bennett were taking $860,000 a year out of the ICANN purse, so ICANN is still saving money by increasing the salaries of their replacements by about $134,000.

But the question has to be asked: how much extra work are these execs doing for this money? How many extra hours a day are they putting in to earn what to many people would be a whole year’s salary?

I expect the answer is: none.

I expect the answer is that ICANN didn’t need the number of six-figure execs it had previously, and now that’s it’s lost a couple of them it’s handing out your cash to those who chose to stick around mainly because it can and it hopes nobody will notice or care.

ICANN’s board resolution says that its decision to raise salaries is based on “independent market data provided by outside expert compensation consultants”.

ICANN has long had a “philosophy” of paying its top people in the “50th to 75th percentile for total cash compensation based on comparable market data for the respective positions”.

It’s never been entirely clear which entities ICANN compares itself to when making these judgements.

“Horrifying” Zoombombing attack on ICANN meeting, again

Kevin Murphy, June 22, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN’s eleventh-hour decision to remove password requirements for ICANN 68 was proved wrong almost immediately after the meeting got underway on Zoom today.

According to participants and ICANN itself, several sessions were “zoombombed” this morning, with apparently pornographic content.

Zoombombing is where trolls disrupt public, open Zoom meetings with content designed to offend.

ICANN 68 is taking place on Zoom, but on Kuala Lumpur time. I was asleep during the attacks and ICANN has yet to post the recordings of any of today’s sessions, so I can’t give you any of the details first-hand.

But judging by a handful of social media posts that reference the attack, it seems to have been pornographic in nature. ICANN said it comprised “audio, images and video”.

One participant described it as “funny at first…until it was not”, while another said it was “horrifying” and left her feeling “completely vulnerable”.

ICANN said in a blog post that the trolls were swiftly removed from the sessions.

It added that it has changed the format of the remainder of ICANN 68, unplugging certain interactive components and requiring passwords to be entered before access is granted.

This means you’re going to have to register for each session and click emailed confirmation links, it appears.

Only the Governmental Advisory Committee is staying on the platform with its original vulnerable configuration.

ICANN had been planning to require passwords since a similar attack at an inter-sessional meeting in March, but changed its mind last week after security upgrades made by Zoom gave leaders a greater sense of confidence in the platform.

It appears that confidence was misplaced.

Coronavirus is saving ICANN millions of your money, but will it use the cash wisely?

Kevin Murphy, June 21, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN is saving millions this year due to the coronavirus-related shift to online-only public meetings.

But it’s thinking about using some of the cash to do things like pay for broadband upgrades and hotel rooms for some of its community volunteers.

During a conference call on Thursday, CFO Xavier Calvez gave out figures suggesting that the switch from in-person to Zoom meetings could save as much as $8 million of your money in 2020.

Calvez said that ICANN meetings usually cost an average of $4 million, but that the virtual ICANN 67 in March only cost the org $1.5 million to $2 million.

Because the face-to-face component was canceled only at the last minute, ICANN had already incurred some costs associated with a physical meeting.

The ICANN 68 meeting, which begins tomorrow, is expected to cost $1 million to $1.5 million, Calvez said.

If we assume that October’s ICANN 69, recently moved from Hamburg to Zoom, will see similar savings, then the total 2020 meetings bill could be down by between $6 million and $8 million.

Calvez added that ICANN’s funding during the coronavirus crisis has so far been holding steady.

No sooner had Calvez finished speaking than a pre-submitted community member question was read out wondering whether some of this cash could be redistributed to participants who are usually travel-subsidized.

Intellectual property expert Jonathan Zuck said that money could be handed out to volunteers in order to pay for things such as broadband upgrades and “finding quiet places to participate in the middle of the night”.

Perhaps surprisingly, Calvez and senior VP of global stakeholder engagement Sally Costerton did not rule this out.

In fact, she said such ideas are currently under active discussion and may be floated for public comment after ICANN 68.

One idea, I suggest, might be to compensate the 200-odd people who tuned into Thursday’s “Q&A” session for their time.

The session was scheduled to be an hour long, but the first 45 minutes were devoted to the 12 members of the ICANN executive team introducing themselves and patting themselves on the back for all the awesome work they’ve been doing.

Virtual cocktails coming to ICANN meetings. Really.

Kevin Murphy, June 18, 2020, Domain Policy

Fancy a virtual coffee? How about a virtual cocktail? These are both real events coming to ICANN’s public meetings, which for the rest of the year are online-only due to coronavirus restrictions.

It’s part of an effort to better capture the sense of socializing and community-building found at normal, in-person ICANN meetings.

The schedule for ICANN 68, which kicks off on Monday, has just been updated to include several 30-minute “virtual coffee” sessions, which of course will be conducted over Zoom.

ICANN’s calling these “Fika” sessions.

It’s not an acronym, but rather a reference to the Swedish workplace tradition of taking a break to drink coffee, eat cake, and chat with colleagues. I’m guessing Swedish CEO Göran Marby had a hand in the naming.

Each Fika session comes with a number of sub-rooms, in which participants can discuss issues such as “Bingeworthy: My Favorite Shows and Movies During Quarantine” or “I’ve Got the Time Now: Quarantine DIY Projects”.

It’s all very sweet and cuddly.

There’s no confirmed “virtual cocktail” sessions (which strike me as an exceptional excuse for day-drinking, depending on your time zone) on the ICANN 68 schedule yet, but the idea has been floated as part of ICANN org’s plan for enhancing its virtual meetings.

This plan is part of a draft four-phase plan to eventually re-open physical meetings when it becomes safe and permitted.

In the current Phase 0, ICANN’s going to encourage greater use of remote video — by all participants, not just the ICANN hosts — and sponsorship opportunities in a virtual “exhibition hall”.

ICANN’s even thinking about arranging for the shipping of schwag bags filled with sponsor loot.

Phase 1 would see the return of in-person meetings, but only at the local or regional level, Phase 2 would see a return to in-person ICANN public meetings, but with a “hybrid” approach that would retain the current online components.

Phase 3 would be essentially a return to business as usual.

The decision to enter a new phase would be guided by issues such as pandemic status, government guidelines, venue safety, and so on.

There’s no chance of up-phasing public meetings this year. ICANN has already confirmed that ICANN 69, originally set for Hamburg, will also be online-only.

But it does seem that this year’s meetings will be slightly friendlier affairs.

Fortunately for female participants, haptic technology has not sufficiently advanced to accurately replicate the experience of being sexually harassed in a hotel bar by a bearded middle-aged man who stinks of virtual vodka.

You won’t need a password for ICANN 68 after all

Kevin Murphy, June 17, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN has ditched plans to require all ICANN 68 participants to enter a password whenever they enter one of the Zoom sessions at the meeting next week.

The org said today that it will use URLs with embedded passwords, removing the need for user input, after reviewing changes Zoom made last month.

These included features such as a waiting room that enables meeting hosts to vet participants manually before allowing them to enter the meeting proper.

ICANN said: “Please use these links cautiously, only share them on secure channels such as encrypted chat or encrypted e-mail, and never post them publicly.”

ICANN had said last month, before the Zoom changes, that it would require passwords in order to limit the risk of Zoombombing — where trolls show up and spam the meeting with offensive content. One ICANN Zoom session had been trolled in this way in March.

The org also said today that participants will be asked to give their consent to be recorded upon entry to a session.

“It is our hope that this small change empowers attendees by providing quick access and more control over the acceptance of our policies as it relates to attending virtual meetings,” ICANN lied, to cover for the obvious piece of legal ass-covering.

Refuse consent and see how far you get.

After Zoom trolling, ICANN 68 will be password-protected

Kevin Murphy, May 6, 2020, Domain Policy

If you want to show up to ICANN 68, which will be held online next month, you’re going to need a password.

ICANN said this week that it’s updating its Zoom software and standard configuration to require passwords. In a blog post outlining a number of changes to its Zoom instance, ICANN said:

The most impactful change is the new requirement that all meetings be secured with a password. This is the first step recommended by security professionals to keep meetings secure, and one which we had largely adopted org-wide prior to making it a requirement for all. We will make another announcement in the coming weeks regarding how this may impact joining meetings during ICANN68, as we work towards the best overall solution.

Quite how this could work while maintaining the usual openness of ICANN’s public meetings — which have always been free to attend basically anonymously — remains to be seen.

At ICANN 67, Zoom sessions that were open to the public simply required you to enter a name. Any name. At in-person public meetings, I don’t think you even need to show ID to get a hall pass.

The changes come in the wake of a “Zoombombing” incident during a minor meeting in March, during which trolls showed up via a publicly-posted link and flooded the session with “inappropriate and offensive” audio and imagery.

Kuala Lumpur meeting cancelled and ICANN 68 could be even trickier online

Kevin Murphy, April 9, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN has as expected cancelled its in-person ICANN 68 meeting, which had been due to take place in Kuala Lumpur in June, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision, which was never really in any doubt, was taken by its board of directors yesterday. The board considered:

Globally, a high number of people are under some form of a “stay at home” or lock-down order, directed to avoid contact with others except to receive essential services such as medical care or to purchase supplies. Schools and offices are closed, gatherings are prohibited, and international travel is largely on pause. We do not know when travel or in-person meetings will be authorized or possible. As it relates to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia has a Movement Control Order in force at least until 14 April 2020 that prohibits meetings such as ICANN68. The duration of the Movement Control Order has already been extended once.

It appears that the four-day meeting, which will instead go ahead virtually (presumably on the Zoom conferencing service) might be even more disjointed than ICANN 67.

ICANN 67, which took place online in March, did have a centralized component — a bunch of ICANN staffers on location at its headquarters in Los Angeles — but that may not be possible this time around.

The board said that “due to current social distancing requirements, ICANN org is unable to execute a virtual meeting from a single location, and that a decentralized execution model might necessitate changes to the format.”

It added that there is support for “a flexible, modified virtual meeting format that focuses on cross-community dialogues on key policy topics, supplemented by a program of topical webinars and regular online working meetings scheduled around the key sessions.”

While there has been a lot of criticism of the Zoom platform in recent weeks due to security and privacy concerns, ICANN indicated this week that it’s not particularly concerned and will carry on using the service.

ICANN to consider cancelling ICANN 68 tomorrow

Kevin Murphy, April 7, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN is to consider whether to cancel its in-person ICANN 68 gathering at a meeting of its board of directors tomorrow.

The agenda for its meeting tomorrow has one line item: “Impact of COVID-19 on ICANN68”.

The four-day Policy Forum is currently scheduled to take place from June 22 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

I think the chances of this event going ahead in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic are zero point zero.

March’s ICANN 67 meeting was replaced with a series of virtual Zoom rooms on February 19, when cases of Covid-19 had been reported in just 26 countries and it was still widely thought of as a Chinese problem.

According to today’s data from the European Centre For Disease Prevention and Control, coronavirus cases have been reported in 204 countries and territories. That’s pretty much all of them.

Even if some currently hard-hit countries in North America and Europe are over the hump by June, you can guarantee that somewhere in the world there’ll be a horrific Biblical epidemic going on. I can’t see ICANN taking the risk of opening its doors to the world at a time like that.

Frankly, I think ICANN 69, the annual general meeting slated for Hamburg in October, has a big question mark hanging over it as well.

Germany may have been handling its crisis relatively well compared to other nations, but ICANN has participants from 150 countries and it may well have to make its call based not on the strongest national response but the weakest.

WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE! In other news, ICANN 67 was… “muted”

Kevin Murphy, March 13, 2020, Domain Policy

Without wishing to scaremonger about Covid-19, I don’t mind admitting that I’ve never been so terrified of anything as much in my adult life.

I have relatives in their nineties or with existing lung conditions, and I’m generally a pretty unhealthy middle-aged bloke myself. In the last few days, I’ve become increasingly concerned that not every member of the clan is going to make it out of 2020 alive.

I’m sure many readers are feeling the same way right now.

The UK government’s response may or may not be scientifically sound, but it seems to me the underlying strategy is not to prevent people from getting the disease, which may well no longer be possible, but rather to spread out infections over as long a period as possible, so as to reduce the peak strain on the National Health Service.

My feeling, which I don’t think is particularly paranoid, is that Boris Johnson, in apparent contrast to other world leaders, has made the call to throw a generation of British grannies under the bus in the name of herd immunity.

We’re living in dark times, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

I hope all my readers stay safe. And, in all seriousness, keep washing those hands and stay at home if you start coughing!

Awkward segue incoming.

There was little doubt in my mind that ICANN made the correct decision three weeks ago when it cancelled the in-person Cancun public meeting and quickly organized a much-truncated online-only ICANN 67 instead. There seemed a possibility that it was acting through an over-abundance of caution.

But, given the developments in the coronavirus pandemic since ICANN pulled the plug on Cancun, all such doubt has surely been eliminated. ICANN made entirely the right call.

That’s not to say that 67 was a roaring success. It suffered from the entirely predictable and unavoidable limitations of online conferencing.

When I say it was “muted”, I mean that in two senses of the word.

Watching the American late-night talk show hosts last night performing to empty audiences this morning was a surreal experience. Like watching survivors of the zombie apocalypse broadcasting a plaintive SOS into an eerily silent ether.

I kinda felt the same listening to ICANN 67.

While I’m no stranger to remote participation — that’s how I experience most ICANN meetings — there’s usually a detectable sense of place, of a jostling community on the other side of the Zoom room. I hesitate to use a word as strong as “vibrancy”, but you probably know what I’m getting at.

There was none of that at 67, which largely played out in much the same way as a regular policy working group call.

And that’s when we get to the other sense of the word “muted” — I lost count of the amount of time squandered to technical issues such as dropped or laggy connections, background noise, and, most commonly, people not realizing that they have to unmute their lines before speaking.

I don’t think a single session I attended was not plagued by periods of uncomfortable silence.

As I said, this was entirely predictable and largely unavoidable. I don’t think the fact that each session’s Zoom room appeared to be configured differently helped, but it’s probably a problem that will be mitigated as people become more accustomed to the Zoom platform.

The next ICANN meeting, numbered 68, is currently still scheduled to take place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, from June 22, but I think that it’s almost inevitable that we’ll be looking at another online-only session.

Malaysia currently has 158 confirmed cases of coronavirus, suggesting that it’s still in the relatively early stages of the pandemic compared to, say, Europe.

With UK experts predicting peak infections here around late May, it’s entirely possible ICANN 68 would take place while Malaysia’s problem is significantly worse than it is today.