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ICANN may not meet again for a looong time

Kevin Murphy, October 21, 2020, Domain Policy

The grim reality of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic seems to be sinking in at ICANN.

Management and board all but confirmed yesterday that ICANN 70, currently still scheduled for Cancun, Mexico next March, will instead take place online via Zoom.

“We would all like to get back to face-to-face, but at this moment Cancun is not looking good for now,” chair Maarten Botterman said during a community discussion about meetings at ICANN 69, also online-only.

CEO Goran Marby said that there’s a “high probability” that Cancun will be virtual.

The session, “Board/Community Focus on ICANN Meetings” was notable for being extremely depressing rather than merely boring.

Several participants spoke in terms of ICANN meetings being virtual “for the foreseeable future”.

“With the world as it is right now, it’s very hard to say when we come back to full-fledged physical meetings,” CEO Göran Marby said.

He said there’s a possibility of “hybrid” meetings, where a face-to-face gathering could take place in a part of the world where the pandemic was under control, but he noted that this would put online participants at a disadvantage.

The overall vibe of the session was that things probably aren’t going to be back to “normal” for some time.

Even though coronavirus vaccines are already reportedly rolling off the presses right now and will be in the hands of governments by the start of 2021, many experts say the logistical problem of distributing vaccine widely enough to ensure herd immunity is tough enough that the “return to normal” is still a long way off.

Meeting participant Susan Anthony predicted that airline fares will be sky-high next year, limiting the ability of many would-be participants, particularly the smaller, less well-funded ones, to show up in person.

She said virtual or hybrid meetings could be around for “the indefinite future”.

Afilias director Jonathan Robinson concurred, saying “the world may have changed immeasurably and somewhat permanently”.

ICANN director Tripti Sinha later compared the post-pandemic world to the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

There was lots of talk about dumping 2020’s practice of holding the meetings during the time zone of the originally planned host country — the Hamburg time zone has been particularly tough on those in the Americas, who have to start their working day at about midnight — in favor of a utilitarian approach that is least inconvenient for the largest number of participants.

It seems to me that one reason that ICANN has yet to formally cancel Cancun — it’s not even on the board’s agenda this week — is that it’s toying with longer-term plan that may mean standard face-to-face ICANN meetings are a long way off indeed.

It’s difficult to believe that it was only June when some ICANN directors thought Hamburg would be sufficiently safe to return to face-to-face meetings this week.

Holy Scheisse! Did you know ICANN 69 starts TOMORROW?

Kevin Murphy, October 12, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN is starting its ICANN 69 public annual general meeting four days earlier than originally planned, and it appears to have only publicly announced the date change 24 hours in advance.

How’s that for transparency?

Usually, ICANN AGMs kick off formally on the Monday morning and run through the Thursday afternoon, but meetings between community groups start taking place the previous Friday, leading to a seven-day continuous meeting.

For ICANN 69, originally planned for Hamburg but now of course an online-only experience, ICANN has removed the Friday and weekend sessions and split the week in two.

There’ll be three “Community Days” from October 13 (which is tomorrow when I’m posting this but possibly today by the time you read it), three days off, and then four days of “Plenary Sessions”, beginning with the opening ceremony on Monday morning.

The community days include stuff like policy working group meetings, but they also include the top-level interactions between each constituency group, including the Governmental Advisory Committee, and the ICANN board of directors.

These traditional airing of grievances, usually on “constituency day” Tuesday, are where the tensions and hot topics of interest for the whole community are raised, and always worth listening to.

The decision to shake up the schedule appears to have been made some time in September. Last time I checked ICANN’s meetings page, September 2, it still showed the old October 17 start date.

What I find utterly baffling is that ICANN does not seem have made a formal public announcement of the date change, despite having blogged or made announcements about various aspects of the meeting several times.

I genuinely only found out today, reading this blog post that ICANN put out today, just one day before the meeting starts.

It certainly seems that the information has filtered out to the parts of the community that actually need to participate in the various sessions.

But what about the rest of us? Unless you’ve registered and logged in to the ICANN 69 web site since the changes were made, I’m not sure how you were meant to know.

Did you know?

I had plans to get my toenails done tomorrow.

ICANN 69 returning to YouTube

Kevin Murphy, September 25, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN is to make its annual general meeting next month available streaming on YouTube, the org has announced.

That’s in addition to the Zoom rooms that have been used exclusively for meetings since the coronavirus pandemic hit at the start of the year.

The YouTube streams will be listen/view only and will have up to 30 seconds delay compared to the live Zoom rooms, which will of course continue to have interactivity.

The move will be a welcome return for those of us who need to listen in to sessions and not necessarily engage.

Unfortunately, only five “high-interest” sessions will be available, and there won’t be any live interpretation for the non-English speakers.

For the Zoom rooms, they’ll be mandatory registration before you can even view the meeting schedule. The links will be hidden behind a login screen.

This is largely due to repeated incidents of “Zoom-bombing”, where trolls interrupt proceedings with inflammatory off-topic material.

ICANN will spend $51,000 on your broadband

Kevin Murphy, September 2, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN has set aside up to $51,000 to reimburse community members for their broadband costs during its next public meeting.

Under the newly agreed Pandemic Internet Access Reimbursement Program Pilot, participants in ICANN 69 will get a maximum of $60 each to cover the costs of increased bandwidth or data caps during the month of October.

The pilot is limited to only those who already have their travel funded from the ICANN budget, such as members of important committees and the Fellowship program.

They’ll have to provide receipts from a legit ISP showing how much they paid to participate in the meeting, which will be the third in a row to be carried out via Zoom.

Anyone who wants the reimbursement will have to apply before October 2, and payouts will be made in November.

ICANN will also publish the names of those who receive the payments, as it does with travel reimbursements, which should discourage abuse.

As I’ve previously noted, ICANN is saving millions this year by eschewing in-person meetings, and $51,000 really is a drop in that ocean.

ICANN 69 runs from October 17 to October 22. It had originally been scheduled to run in Hamburg.

ICANN decision to cancel Hamburg was NOT unanimous

Kevin Murphy, June 19, 2020, Domain Policy

Surprisingly, ICANN’s decision last week to cancel its Hamburg annual general meeting in favor of Zoom did not receive the unanimous support of its board of directors.

Two directors — Ihab Osman and Ron da Silva — voted against the majority in the June 11 resolution, minutes published last night show.

The resolution noted that the global path of the coronavirus pandemic is currently too unpredictable to ensure that an in-person ICANN 69 could go ahead safely or legally in October.

But the two directors dissented, pushing instead for a “hybrid” model meeting, with a greatly reduced in-person attendance propped up with online participation.

According to the minutes:

Ron expressed concerns that the decision to conduct ICANN69 as a purely virtual meeting is premature and indicated a preference for the President and CEO to explore with the SO and AC leadership the implications, costs and logistics around a hybrid approach for ICANN69. Ihab expressed concerns that the proposed resolution does not allow for the possibility of some sort of physical hybrid model for ICANN69.

Osman went further, arguing that ICANN should set an example by going ahead with Hamburg:

Ihab Osman pointed out that large parts of the world are moving towards opening up, and that ICANN, as global community and global player, has a responsibility to do its part to bring the world back to some level of normalcy.

While CEO Göran Marby came back with a bunch of reasons a physical meeting would be impractical and potentially unsafe, both directors were unconvinced and voted against the 13-person majority anyway.

Notes released alongside the minutes reveal that ICANN stands to save a lot of money by remaining online-only.

Not only will it not have to pay for hundreds of flights and hotel rooms for staff and subsidized community members, but it had not yet signed contracts with the venue or local hotels, so it won’t be losing any deposits either.

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.

ICANN confirms Hamburg cancellation

Kevin Murphy, June 16, 2020, Domain Policy

With ICANN 68 due to start online next Monday, ICANN has confirmed that its annual general meeting in October is going to be online-only also.

ICANN 69 will now be held on Zoom, instead of at Hamburg’s new convention center, the organization confirmed on Friday.

It’s because of coronavirus, of course. ICANN’s taking the depressing yet realistic view that mass gatherings of international travelers will still be inadvisable and maybe even illegal four months hence.

It’s bad news for ICANN’s core staff in Los Angeles who, if ICANN sticks to the Hamburg time zone as it has with canceled meetings in Cancun and Kuala Lumpur, will start their working day at 0130 local time for a week straight.

It’s particularly bad news for me. I had a whole range of Ombudsman-enraging jokes lined up related to “sausage fests”, “69s”, etc.

Still, I suppose it could be wurst.

Will ICANN swap Hamburg for Zoom for 69?

Kevin Murphy, June 8, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN’s board of directors is meeting this week to discuss arrangements for ICANN 69, and I think there’s a reasonable chance it will decide to take the meeting online-only.

The last official word from ICANN was that it is working on the assumption that normality will have resumed by September, and that October’s meeting could go ahead in Hamburg, Germany as planned.

But will it?

Current German coronavirus-related travel restrictions, which have been in place since March, forbid non-citizen incoming travelers from pretty much anywhere, even elsewhere in the EU.

Some travelers are being asked to self-quarantine for 14 days upon entry, which is obviously impractical for conference travel.

However, German is loosening its rules next week for EU travelers and will treat countries on a case-by-case basis, based on how many infections they’re recording at the time.

Americans will still not be allowed to travel to Germany and there’s no word on when the ban will be lifted.

German guidelines also currently prohibit any large gatherings of people, including conferences, until at least the end of August.

ICANN’s obviously going to have to do a bit of crystal ball-gazing, to guess whether business travel is going to be safe and permitted in October.

It’s also going to have to guess whether a large enough number of people will actually want to attend to make an in-person meeting worthwhile.

With many medical experts predicting a third-quarter resurgence of the pandemic, the so-called “second wave”, inviting guests from every continent to gather in the same room might be seen as risky.

Conferences in other industries that had been due to take place in Germany in October have been canceled or postponed.

Notably, Oktoberfest in Munich (which starts in September but runs into October) is not going ahead this year, but I’ve found examples of conventions in publishing, gaming and catering sectors that have also been canceled.

However, some events due to take place in March and April have been postponed UNTIL October, suggesting a level of confidence that the virus will be low-risk by that time.

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.

ICANN chief tells industry to lawyer up as privacy law looms

Kevin Murphy, November 10, 2017, Domain Services

The domain name industry should not rely on ICANN to protect it from incoming EU privacy law.

That’s the strong message that came out of ICANN 60 in Abu Dhabi last week, with the organization’s CEO repeatedly advising companies to seek their own legal advice on compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation.

The organization also said that it will “defer taking action” against any registrar or registry that does not live up its contractual Whois commitments, within certain limits.

“GDPR is a law. I didn’t come up with it, it didn’t come from ICANN policy, it’s the law,” Marby said during ICANN 60 in Abu Dhabi last week.

“This is the first time we’ve seen any legislation that has a direct impact on our ability to make policies,” he said.

GDPR is the EU law governing how companies treat the private information of individuals. While in force now, from May next year companies in any industry found in breach of GDPR could face millions of euros in fines.

For the domain industry, it is expected to force potentially big changes on the current Whois system. The days of all Whois contact information published freely for all to see may well be numbered.

But nobody — not even ICANN — yet knows precisely how registries and registrars are going to be able to comply with the law whilst still publishing Whois data as required by their ICANN contracts.

The latest official line from ICANN is:

At this point, we know that the GDPR will have an impact on open, publicly available WHOIS. We have no indication that abandoning existing WHOIS requirements is necessary to comply with the GDPR, but we don’t know the extent to which personal domain registration data of residents of the European Union should continue to be publicly available.

Marby told ICANNers last week that it might not be definitively known how the law applies until some EU case law has been established in the highest European courts, which could take years.

A GNSO working group and ICANN org have both commissioned legal studies by European law experts. The ICANN one, by Swedish law firm Hamilton, is rather more comprehensive and can be read here (pdf).

Even after this report, Marby said ICANN is still in “discovery” mode.

Marby encouraged the industry to not only submit their questions to ICANN, to be referred on to Hamilton for follow-up studies, but also to share whatever legal advice they have been given and are able to share.

He and others pointed out that Whois is not the only point of friction with GDPR — it’s a privacy law, not a Whois law — so registries and registrars should be studying all of their personal data collection processes for potential conflicts.

Because there is very likely going to be a clash between GDPR compliance and ICANN contract compliance, ICANN has suspended all enforcement actions against Whois violations, within certain parameters.

It said last week that: “ICANN Contractual Compliance will defer taking action against any registry or registrar for noncompliance with contractual obligations related to the handling of registration data.”

This is not ICANN saying that registries and registrars can abandon Whois altogether, the statement stresses, but they might be able to adjust their data-handling models.

Domain firms will have to show “a reasonable accommodation of existing contractual obligations and the GDPR” and will have to submit their models to ICANN for review by Hamilton.

ICANN also stressed that registries may have to undergo a Registry Services Evaluation Process review before they can deploy their new model.

The organization has already told two Dutch new gTLD registries that they must submit to an RSEP, after .amsterdam and .frl abruptly stopped publishing Whois data for private registrants recently.

General counsel John Jeffrey wrote to the registries’ lawyer (pdf) to state that an RSEP is required regardless of whether the “new registry service” was introduced to comply with local law.

“One of the underlying purposes of this policy is to ensure that a new registry service does not create and security, stability or competition concerns,” he wrote.

Jeffrey said that while Whois privacy was offered at the registry level, registrars were still publishing full contact details for the same registrants.

ICANN said last week that it will publish more detailed guidance advising registries and registrars how to avoid breach notices will be published “shortly”.