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ShortDot bought another gTLD. Guess what .sbs stands for now?

Kevin Murphy, March 29, 2021, Domain Registries

Growing new gTLD portfolio registry ShortDot has acquired another unwanted dot-brand, .sbs, which it intends to repurpose as an open, generic TLD.

.sbs was originally owned by SBS, for Special Broadcasting Service, an Australian public-service broadcaster. But the company never used it.

Now, while launch plans are still in development, ShortDot intends to relaunch .sbs to mean something entirely different, much as it recently did with .cfd.

“.sbs will be branded as shorthand for ‘Side by Side’, perfect for social causes, charitable organizations and other philanthropic initiatives,” ShortDot COO Kevin Kopas told us.

That does not appear to be a meaning of the acronym in common usage.

ShortDot is currently two weeks away from general availability for its next most-recent acquisition, .cfd, which originally stood for the financial term “contracts for difference” but is now being marketed as “clothing and fashion design”.

The company, best known for high-volume .icu, which has sold and lost over five million registrations over the last two years, now has five gTLDs in its stable, including unused dot-brand .bond and .cyou.

As Net4 goes dark, NIXI says customers won’t lose their expired domains

Kevin Murphy, March 29, 2021, Domain Registrars

Indian ccTLD registry NIXI has thrown a life vest to the owners of some 73,000 .in domain names, giving them a way to transfer out of slowly sinking registrar Net 4 India.

NIXI also said that it will not cancel expired domains that registrants have been unable to renew due to Net4’s ongoing problems.

“NIXI has decided not to discontinue the .IN Services for those .IN domain end users whose renewal is due,” the company said in a statement (pdf).

It sounds rather like registrants will be able to renew directly with the registry. They’ll also be able to transfer to a new registrar by emailing NIXI from the address in the Whois or mailing proof of company identity.

Why NIXI has chosen to act now, when Net4’s troubles have been known for almost year, is not clear.

“In the recent days, NIXI was informed that Net 4 India, who is one of the registrars of NIXI for Country code domain “.IN” has some issues in maintaining domains,” its statement says.

Net4’s web site isn’t resolving right now, at least for me, which probably has something to do with it.

The company has been in insolvency proceedings since 2017, a fact ICANN discovered when it started missing payments two years ago, but it was not until mid-2020 that Net4’s customers started complaining en masse about problems renewing and transferring their domains.

ICANN has processed thousands of complaints since then.

The registrar was told last month that ICANN was terminating its accreditation to sell gTLDs. Registrants of names in .com for example should be pretty safe, with their names automatically transferred to a new registrar, should ICANN follow through on its threat.

The termination was challenged in the insolvency court shortly before it would have become effective two weeks ago.

While ICANN does not believe it is subject to the court’s jurisdiction, it has decided to wait for an official ruling on the matter.

ICANN rules out vaccine passports, kinda, but warns in-person meetings may be a long way off

Kevin Murphy, March 24, 2021, Domain Policy

The odds of a return to in-person ICANN meetings this year is “fifty-fifty”, but the Org has no plans to introduce so-called “vaccine passports” to hasten the process.

That’s what emerged during a session at ICANN 70, the fourth consecutive remote public meeting since the coronavirus pandemic began, yesterday.

ICANN’s mid-year meeting, originally slated for The Hague, was recently confirmed to be online-only this June, and the final meeting of the year, scheduled for October in-person in Seattle, is still far from certain.

Speaking to the Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group, CEO Göran Marby yesterday gave the odds of a Seattle meeting as 50:50, and said in-person meetings will only go ahead when global pandemic restrictions are at a point where people from all parts of the world are able to attend. He said:

We cannot go to a country or a region that sets up too many obstacles for ICANN people to travel there.

It could be technically possible for us to have a meeting somewhere with a very limited participation, but then we really have to ask “Should we have that?”, because if we can’t people into the meeting from different parts of the world, we probably shouldn’t do the meeting.

Since the beginning of this, we always said that the decisions are made by the people who come to the meetings, and if we can’t have enough participation from different stakeholder groups in different parts of the world, then there’s not going to be an ICANN meeting.

The return to normality will be dictated largely by vaccine roll-out worldwide, he indicated, but benchmarked against the slowest-to-jab nations.

While the US and UK are making rapid progress getting shots in arms, other nations are barely getting started with their programs.

But Marby ruled out the idea of ICANN-specific “vaccine passports”, saying: “It’s not for ICANN to set them up, it’s going to be the governments and the hotels and the airlines to set them up.”

The ICANN board and NCSG also acknowledged a certain degree of volunteer burnout and reduced participation over the last 12 months, which was broadly chalked down to the crippling time-zone problems online meetings entail.

Because ICANN rotates its meetings through broadly speaking three time zones (Americas, Europe, East Asia) with about eight hours between them, at any given meeting roughly two thirds of the community is going to be working well outside of their usual business hours for a week or more, which takes its toll.

IP lobby demands halt to Whois reform

Kevin Murphy, March 17, 2021, Domain Policy

Trademark interests in the ICANN community have called on the Org to freeze implementation of the latest Whois access policy proposals, saying it’s “not yet fit for purpose”.

The Intellectual Property Constituency’s president, Heather Forrest, has written (pdf) to ICANN chair Maarten Botterman to ask that the so-called SSAD system (for Standardized System for Access and Disclosure) be put on hold.

SSAD gives interested parties such as brands a standardized pathway to get access to private Whois data, which has been redacted by registries and registrars since the EU’s Generic Data Protection Regulation came into force in 2018.

But the proposed policy, approved by the GNSO Council last September, still leaves a great deal of discretion to contracted parties when it comes to disclosure requests, falling short of the IPC’s demands for a Whois that looks a lot more like the automated pre-GDPR system.

Registries and registrars argue that they have to manually verify disclosure requests, or risk liability — and huge fines — under GDPR.

The IPC has a few reasons why it reckons ICANN should slam the brakes on SSAD before implementation begins.

First, it says the recommendations sent to the GNSO Council lacked the consensus of the working group that created them.

Intellectual property, law enforcement and security interests — the likely end users of SSAD — did not agree with big, important chucks of the working group’s report. The IPC reckons eight of the 18 recommendations lacked a sufficient degree of consensus.

Second, the IPC claims that SSAD is not in the public interest. If the entities responsible for “policing the DNS” don’t think they will use SSAD due to its limitations, then why spend millions of ICANN’s money to implement it?

Third, Forrest writes that emerging legislation out of the EU — the so-called NIS2, a draft of a revised information security directive —- puts a greater emphasis on Whois accuracy

Forrest concludes:

We respectfully request and advise that the Board and ICANN Org pause any further work relating to the SSAD recommendations in light of NIS2 and given their lack of community consensus and furtherance of the global public interest. In light of these issues, the Board should remand the SSAD recommendations to the GNSO Council for the development of modified SSAD recommendations that meet the needs of users, with the aim of integrating further EU guidance.

It seems the SSAD proposals will be getting more formal scrutiny than previous GNSO outputs.

When the GNSO Council approved the recommendations in September, it did so with a footnote asking ICANN to figure out whether it would be cost-effective to implement an expensive — $9 million to build, $9 million a year to run — system that may wind up being lightly used.

ICANN has now confirmed that SSAD and the other Whois policy recommendations will be one of the first recipients of the Operational Design Phase (pdf) treatment.

The ODP is a new, additional layer of red tape in the ICANN policy-making sausage machine that slots in between GNSO Council approval and ICANN board consideration, in which the Org, in collaboration with the community, tries to figure out how complex GNSO recommendations could be implemented and what it would cost.

ICANN said this week that the SSAD/Whois recommendations will be subject to a formal ODP in “the coming months”.

Any question about the feasibility of SSAD would be referred back to the GNSO, because ICANN Org is technically not supposed to make policy.

Donuts adds another TLD to its stable as Richemont finally bows out of new gTLD program

Kevin Murphy, March 17, 2021, Domain Registries

Luxury goods maker Richemont, an early and strong proponent of the new gTLD concept, has got rid of the final string of the 14 it originally applied for.

According to ICANN records, the registry agreement for .watches was officially transferred to Afilias at the end of December, one day before it was in turn acquired by Donuts.

The domain nic.watches current resolves to a placeholder bearing the Afilias branding.

Richemont, the company behind luxury brands such as Cartier and Piaget, now has no TLDs left.

It had applied for nine dot-brands, along with five generic dictionary terms that it at first intended to maintain as single-registrant spaces, before that use case was banned by ICANN.

At the start of the decade, the company was an enthusiastic endorser of new gTLDs, even sending speakers to conferences to promote the concept.

Richemont was also the first registrant of second-level domains in third-party new gTLDs, when it registered Arabic versions of some of its famous brands in December 2013.

But its enthusiasm waned gradually over the last eight years.

Its dot-brands were discarded in tranches, either during the application process or after contracting. Donuts beat it to .jewelry at auction, and it terminated its contracts for Chinese versions of .jewelry and .watches last year.

There’s not much money in internationalized domain names, so now it seems likely these Chinese IDNs were shopped around but failed to find a buyer.

.watches, however, is right in Donuts’ wheelhouse, a niche generic English string related to a specific product or service.

Last month, I reported that Donuts had acquired .markets, .forex, .broker and .trading from Boston Ivy as it exited the new gTLD game, while letting the less-attractive .spreadbetting die on the vine.

As .gov changes hands, would Verisign run it for free?

Kevin Murphy, March 15, 2021, Domain Registries

The .gov top-level domain is moving for the first time since 1997, and the new owner is promising some pricing changes from next year.

The US General Services Administration has been running .gov, one of the original gTLDs, for almost a quarter-century, but next month it will be taken over by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

No changes have been made at IANA yet, but CISA is talking of the handover as if it is a done deal.

It will be the first time ICANN has been asked to redelegate what is essentially an uncontracted gTLD with some of the characteristics of a ccTLD. To be honest, I’ve no idea what rules even apply here.

The move was mandated by the DOTGOV Act of 2019, which was incorporated in a recently passed US spending bill.

Legislators wanted to improve .gov’s usefulness by increasing its public profile and security.

The bill was quite adamant that .gov domains should be priced at “no cost or a negligible cost”, but there’s a catch — Verisign runs the technical infrastructure for the domain, and currently charges $400 per domain per year.

According to CISA, “The way .gov domains are priced is tied closely with the service contract to operate the TLD, and change in the price of a domain is not expected until next year.”

So we’re looking at either a contract renegotiation or a rebid.

Frankly, given the really rather generous money-printing machine the US government has granted Verisign with its perpetual right to run .com and increase its profit margins in most years, it seems to me the company should be running it for free.

The .gov zone currently has domains measured in the low thousand.

ICANN 71 is online-only, because of course it is

Kevin Murphy, March 15, 2021, Domain Policy

ICANN has called off plans to conduct its 71st public meeting in the Netherlands this June.

Blaming the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the risk to safety and travel restrictions, ICANN confirmed last week that the venue will again be Zoom, rather than The Hague.

It will be the fifth consecutive meeting to go online-only.

The dates will remain the same — June 14 to June 17 — and the European time zone of course means that folks at ICANN HQ in Los Angeles will once again be working throughout the night.

ICANN 70, relocated from Cancun, begins next Monday.

ICANN 70 has virtual schwag, other new stuff

Kevin Murphy, March 10, 2021, Domain Policy

It may not make up for the lack of sun, sea, sand and sexual abstinence, but the ICANN 70 meeting, taking place this month on Zoom instead of Cancun, Mexico, does have a few new enticements that may tickle your fancy.

It’s also beginning to look like ICANN 70 won’t be the last of ICANN’s public meetings this year to be online-only.

At the trivial end of the spectrum, attendees get a virtual schwag bag containing unsponsored, printable collectibles including: two versions of a do-not-disturb door sign, a name badge, and two types of origami paper airplanes.

Equally trivially, ICANN appears to trying to foster a sense of remote community by encouraging attendees to take photographs of their food and post them to social media with the hashtag #icannchef. Because it’s 2009, apparently.

A bit more substance comes with the promise of private breakout rooms, which ICANN described in a blog post.

Apparently attendees will be able to create their own private rooms, containing multiple parties, whether it’s for social or business or policy-making purposes.

While ICANN 70 Prep Week started this week, that feature doesn’t appear to be live yet, or is so well-hidden that I couldn’t find it.

I can see this being potentially useful for meetings that take longer than the time allotment Zoom gives you for free, but I’m not sure I’d want to hold any super-sensitive meetings on a platform configured by ICANN, given its track record.

Other new features include the ability to listen in to live interpretation in the supported languages during the supported sessions, natively via the Zoom interface.

ICANN’s also turning on Zoom’s often hilarious, automated real-time transcription service, for sessions that don’t receive the usual human-assisted scribe service.

The Org has been adding features to its online platform bit-by-bit since the coronavirus pandemic forced the community into virtual mode a year ago.

It’s unlikely to be the last time ICANN meets in an online-only fashion. The board of directors is to meet tomorrow to consider the fate of ICANN 71, which is currently scheduled to take place in The Hague in June.

While some countries may well be approaching some level of pre-pandemic normality by then, ICANN is an international organization and the maxim “Nobody’s safe until we’re all safe” probably applies here.

Pirate Bay founder says ICANN won’t let him be a registrar

Peter Sunde, co-founder of the controversial Pirate Bay file-sharing web service, says ICANN is unfairly refusing him a registrar accreditation and he’s not happy about it.

Sunde told DI at the weekend that his application for his new registrar, Sarek.fi, to obtain accreditation was recently denied after over 18 months on the grounds that he lied about his criminal convictions on his application form.

He denies this, saying that his crimes were not of the type ICANN vets for, and in any event they happened over a decade ago.

He thinks ICANN is scared about doing business with a disruptive and “annoying” “pain in the ass” with a history of criticizing the intellectual property industry.

Would-be registrars have to select “Yes” or “No” to the question of whether any officer or major shareholder of the company has:

within the past ten (10) years, has been convicted of a felony or of a misdemeanor related to financial activities, or has been judged by a court to have committed fraud or breach of fiduciary duty, or has been the subject of a judicial determination that is similar or related to any of these;

Sunde was convicted by a Swedish court of enabling copyright infringement via the Pirate Bay in 2009, and was sentenced to a year in prison — later reduced to eight months on appeal — and hundreds of thousands of dollars of fines.

The Pirate Bay was a web site that collected links to BitTorrent files, largely copyrighted movies and music.

Because he was not based in Sweden, Sunde avoided jail for several years despite an Interpol arrest warrant.

He eventually served five months of his sentence after being arrested in 2014.

He checked “No” on his registrar accreditation application form, on the basis that he had not been convicted of fraud or any of the other listed financial crimes, and certainly not within the last 10 years.

But ICANN took a broader interpretation, and refused him accreditation due to the Pirate Bay conviction and his Interpol status in 2014, he says.

Since then, the Org, including CEO Göran Marby (with whom he had a brief email exchange) have been ignoring his emails, he says.

Sarek.fi has already been accredited to sell ccTLD domains by the likes of Nominet, Verisign and Donuts, but ICANN’s rejection means the company won’t be able to sell gTLD names.

Sunde says he’s now faced with the likelihood of having to leave his own company in order to secure accrediation, though he’s not ruled out pursuing ICANN through its own appeals process.

He says he suspects ICANN just doesn’t want to do business with him due to his reputation as a disrupter. He’s attended ICANN meetings in the past but wants to get more involved in the policy process.

“it’s really a way for ICANN to make sure that an annoying person with media influence and with a dislike for centralised organisations and monopolies to be there to raise concerns — that they just proved valid,” he told DI in an email.

I take quite an offence to their denial. Not just on the basis of their interpretation of the law (copyright infringement is not fraud, i would have been convicted of fraud then…) Not just because it seems that it’s ok to be a murderer the past 10 years. Or a wife beater. Or a neonazi. These things that are a bit worse than being an internet activist, caring about the free and open internet. The biggest offence I take is to their obligation to the general public to have a broader membership than what they allow today.

Sarek.fi’s business model is to charge a flat fee above wholesale cost for every domain registered.

It’s Sunde’s second domain business. He launched Njalla, a Tucows reseller with a focus on protecting the privacy of registrants, in 2017.

ICANN finally cans Net 4 India

iCANN has terminated Net 4 India’s registrar accreditation, after many months of criticism and foot-dragging and a recent sharp uptick in customer complaints.

The move comes after an unprecedented four concurrent public breach notices over 20 months, almost four years after the company entered insolvency proceedings — grounds for termination which ICANN became aware of almost two years ago.

ICANN has received over 2,600 customer complaints over the last year, and almost 1,000 of these were submitted in February alone, according to the organization.

“The termination of the RAA is due to Net 4 India’s repeated and consistent breaches of the RAA and failure to cure such breaches despite multiple notices from ICANN and opportunity to cure,” ICANN said in its ginormous 59-page execution warrant (pdf).

Among the charges ICANN levels at Net4 is its failure to operate a functioning Whois service, something it’s warned the company about 30 times since November.

This hindered ICANN’s ability to investigate the more serious charges — that Net4 transferred some of its customers’ domains to a different registrar, OpenProvider, without their knowledge or consent, in violation of ICANN transfer policies.

The registrar also failed to enable its customers to renew their expired domains or transfer them to other registrars, also in violation of binding policy, ICANN said.

ICANN said:

Currently, more than 400 cases remain unresolved; and hundreds of complaints are still under review, which, once vetted, will become more new cases. In addition, ICANN Contractual Compliance continues to receive more than 20 new complaints each day. And it is not known how many more complaints are pending with Net 4 India that have not yet been brought to ICANN’s attention.

The termination notice contains 10 pages of complaints from Net4 customers, saying their domains could not be renewed or transferred. Some came from non-profits and hospitals. One registrant said he was contemplating suicide.

Net4’s customer service was non-responsive in each of these cases, the complainants said.

While some of Net4’s problems could be chalked down to coronavirus-related restrictions, the company has been in trouble for much longer.

It entered insolvency proceedings in 2017 after a debt recovery company called Edelweiss bought roughly $28 million of unpaid debt from the State Bank of India and took Net4 to court.

ICANN did not find out about this until April 2019 — it’s probably not a coincidence that this was the same month Net4 was late paying its first ICANN invoice — and it issued its first public breach notice in June that year.

Insolvency is grounds for termination in itself under the Registrar Accreditation Agreement.

It’s never been clearly stated why ICANN did not escalate at that time. Had it done so, it could have saved Net4’s customers from a world of hurt.

The Indian insolvency court admitted last month that it had no jurisdiction over ICANN or the Registrar Accreditation Agreement, both of which are governed primarily by California law.

Nevertheless, the court asked ICANN to not terminate Net4’s contract until after April 25, to give the company time to get its house in order.

But the termination notice, issued on Friday, will see the RAA cut off March 13. ICANN notes that it hasn’t heard from the court-appointed resolution professional, to whom previous breach notices were addressed, since mid-January.

Affected domains — there are still thousands under Net4’s accreditation — will be moved to another registrar under ICANN’s De-Accredited Registrar Transition Procedure.

Net4 could have a say in where its domains wind up. It’s already an OpenProvider reseller so that’s a possibility. Otherwise, ICANN will pick a beneficiary from a queue of qualified candidates.