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ICANN urged to crack down on new gTLD abuse

Kevin Murphy, November 29, 2017, Domain Registries

Registries selling dirt-cheap new gTLD domains should be rewarded with lower ICANN fees when they get proactive about abuse, while registrars that turn a blind eye to spammers should be suspended, an ICANN working group will recommend.

In its second batch of findings, the Competition, Consumer Trust, and Consumer Choice Review Team (CCT) said that financial incentives and a new complaints procedure should be used to persuade registries and registrars to fight DNS abuse.

The CCT said it “proposes the development of incentives to reward best practices preventing technical DNS abuse and strengthening the consequences for culpable or complacent conduits of technical DNS abuse” in a paper published today.

The review, which drew on multiple sources of market and abuse data, original research, and analysis of third-party research, is probably the most comprehensive study into the impact of the new gTLD program to date.

It concluded that overall rates of DNS abuse did not increase as a result of the program, but that bad actors are increasingly migrating away from legacy gTLDs such as .com to 2012-round TLDs such as .top, .gdn and Famous Four Media’s stable.

Indeed, much of the paper appears to be a veiled critique of FFM’s practices.

The registrar AlpNames, known to be affiliated with FFM and responsible for most of its retail sales, is singled out as the currently accredited registrar particularly favored by abusers.

The CCT report notes that AlpNames regularly sells domains for under $1, or gives them away for free, and offered a tool allowing registrants to randomly generate up to 2,000 available domains in 27 different gTLDs, pretty much inviting abuse.

“Certain registries and registrars appear to either positively encourage or at the very least willfully ignore DNS abuse. Such behavior needs to be identified rapidly and action
must be taken by ICANN compliance as deemed necessary,” the paper says.

The review found that gTLDs with no registration restrictions and the lowest prices had the most abuse. Duh.

“Generally, the DNS Abuse Study indicates that the introduction of new gTLDs did not increase the total amount of abuse for all gTLDs,” its report says. “[F]actors such as registration restrictions, price, and registrar-specific practices seem more likely to affect abuse rates.”

Drawing on data provided by 11 domain block-lists (SURBL, SpamHaus, etc), the paper states that at least one TLD (FFM’s .science) had an abuse rate excess of 50%.

Using SpamHaus data, the paper identities FFM’s .science, .stream, .trade, .review, .download and .accountant as having over 10% abuse during the period of its study. Also on that list: Uniregistry’s low-price .click and the China-based .top and .gdn.

One thing they all have in common is that AlpNames is a leading registrar, usually accounting for at least a quarter of domains under management.

There’s no way AlpNames/FFM is not aware of the amount of bad actors in its customer base, the question is what can ICANN do about it?

The CCT team recommends that registries and registrars with over 10% of their names used for abusive purposes should be tasked by ICANN with proactively cleaning up their zones. Those that fail to do so should be subject to a new Domain Abuse Dispute Resolution Process, it said.

These companies should have their contracts suspended when they’re “associated with unabated, abnormal and extremely high rates of technical abuse”, the report recommends.

There’s a big boilerplate specifying, tellingly, that registry operators that control registrars are affected by this recommendation too.

It should be noted that there was not a full consensus of support for the idea of a DADRP. Half a dozen working group members filed minority statements opposing it.

It’s not all stick in the report, however. There’s some carrot, too.

The CCT report recommends financial incentives such as fee reductions for registries that have “proactive anti-abuse measures” in place.

It noted that there is precedent for ICANN doing this kind of thing when it implemented an anti-tasting policy that seriously restricted registrars’ ability to get registry refunds.

The CCT Review Team was formed to figure out what impacts the 2012 new gTLD round had on the domain name market.

The completion of its work is one of several gating factors to the next new gTLD application round under ICANN’s new bylaws and the old Affirmation of Commitments with the US government.

It published initial recommendations earlier this year. This new set of recommendations is now open for public comment until January 8.

Aussie gov refuses to spill the beans on ICANN vice chair’s firing

Kevin Murphy, November 21, 2017, Domain Policy

The Australian government has refused to release documents concerning alleged “financial irregularities” at local ccTLD manager auDA that have been linked to the firing of former CEO Chris Disspain.

A request under the Freedom of Information Act sought documents detailing Disspain’s March 2016 termination, as well as high levels of travel expenses and apparent under-reporting of “fringe benefit tax” under his watch.

The request was filed in September by by industry consultant Ron Andruff, who is known to have beef with Disspain after having been passed over for an important ICANN leadership role.

One of the specific documents sought by Andruff was an unpublished audit by PPB Advisory known to have uncovered slack historical expenses management practices and high levels of travel expenditure.

While rumors have circulated, there have been no substantiated allegations of wrongdoing by Disspain.

The Australian Department of Communications and the Arts told Andruff this weekend that 13 relevant documents had been identified and reviewed, but that all were exempt from disclosure under the FOI Act.

Reasons given include the right to privacy of the individual concerned and the fact that the information could fuel “unsubstantiated allegations of misconduct”.

The Department also thought that disclosing the documents could make it harder to it to obtain information from auDA in future, particularly relevant given that it recently kicked off a review of the organization.

While acknowledging there were some public interest reasons to publish the documents, on balance it said that the public interest reasons not to publish were more numerous.

auDA has been plagued by problems such as high turnover of staff and board, unpopular policies, and the member-instigated ouster of its chair, since Disspain left.

Separately, Disspain became ICANN’s vice chair earlier this month, having sat on the board for the last seven years as a representative of the ccTLD community.

He’s one of four community-nominated ICANN directors who have agreed to undergo the same background checks as their Nominating Committee-appointed counterparts, in part due to pressure applied by Andruff.

The FOI response can be viewed here (pdf).

Hurricane victims get a renewal pass under ICANN rules

Kevin Murphy, November 20, 2017, Domain Policy

ICANN has given registries and registrars the ability to delay the cancellation of domain names owned by victims of Hurricane Maria and other similar natural disasters.

In a note to contracted parties, published by Blacknight boss Michele Neylon this weekend, Global Domains Division president Akram Atallah said:

registrars will be permitted to temporarily forebear from canceling domain registrations that were unable to be renewed as a result of the natural disaster.

Maria and other hurricanes caused widespread damage to infrastructure in the Caribbean earlier this year — not to mention the loss of life — making it difficult for many people to get online to renew their registrations.

ICANN’s Registrar Accreditation Agreement ties registrars to a fairly strict domain name renewal and expiration life-cycle, but there’s a carve out for certain specified “extenuating circumstances” such as bankruptcy or litigation.

Atallah’s note makes it clear that ICANN considers hurricane damage such a circumstance, so its contractual compliance department will not pursue registrars who fail to expire domains on time when the registrant has been affected by the disaster.

He added that perhaps it’s time for the ICANN community to come up with a standardized policy for handling such domains. There’s already been mailing list chatter of such an initiative.

ICANN is heading to Puerto Rico, which was quite badly hit by Maria, for its March 2018 public meeting.

While attendees have been assured that the infrastructure is in place for the meeting to go ahead, large parts of the island are reportedly still without power.

Even post-Weinstein, no sexual harassment complaints at ICANN

Kevin Murphy, November 14, 2017, Domain Policy

There have been no formal complaints of sexual harassment in the ICANN community since the organization introduced a zero tolerance policy back in March, according to the Ombudsman.

That’s even after the current media storm about such behavior, precipitated by the revelations about movie producer Harvey Weinstein, which has given men and women in many industries the confidence to level accusations against others.

“There have been no complaints of sexual harassment since the implementation of the Community Anti-Harassment Policy nor the uptake of [post-Weinstein] media coverage,” ICANN Ombudsman Herb Weye told DI in response to an inquiry today.

The anti-harassment policy was adopted in March, and there have been three full, in-person ICANN meetings since then.

Face-to-face meetings are of course where one would expect to see such incidents, if any were to occur.

The policy bans everything from groping to wolf-whistling to dirty jokes to repeated, unwanted requests for dates.

At the time the policy was approved, ICANN general counsel John Jeffrey noted that there had been more than one such complaint since the infamous Cheesesandwichgate incident in March 2016.

No complaints since March does not necessarily mean no incidents, of course.

One recent recommendation to reform the office of the Ombudsman (or Ombudsperson, or simply Ombuds, in recent ICANN documentation) is to ensure a gender-mixed staff to perhaps make it more likely for issues related to gender to be reported.

A recent, non-scientific survey of ICANN participants found that about a third of women had knowledge or experience of sexism in the community.

Weye said that most complaints about non-sexual “harassment” occur at social events where alcohol is involved. He said that ICANN participants should be discreet when discussing “sensitive” cultural issues in such contexts, lest they inadvertently offend those within earshot.

There is “no place for disrespect in ICANN’s multi-cultural diverse environment” he said.

Amazon and Google to fight over .kids at auction

Kevin Murphy, November 14, 2017, Domain Registries

Amazon, Google and a third applicant are scheduled to fight for control of the new gTLDs .kid or .kids at auction.

It’s the first ICANN gTLD auction to be scheduled since a Verisign puppet paid $135 million for .web in July 2016.

According to ICANN documentation, .kid and .kids will go to auction January 25, 2018.

The winning bid will be added to ICANN’s quarter-billion-dollar stash of auction proceeds, rather than shared out between the applicants.

Even though two different strings are at stake, it will be a so-called “direct contention” auction, meaning only .kids or .kid will ultimately go live.

Google, the sole applicant for .kid, had filed String Confusion Objections against .kids applications from Amazon and DotKids Foundation and won both, meaning the three applications were lumped into the same contention set.

Unless DotKids has a secret sugar daddy, it seems probable that the internet will next year either get a .kid gTLD operated by Google or a .kids gTLD operated by Amazon.

DotKids had applied as a “community” application and attempted to shut out both rivals and avoid an auction by requesting a Community Priority Evaluation.

However, it comprehensively lost the CPE.

Child-friendly domain spaces have a poor track record, partly due to the extra restrictions registrants must agree to, and are unlikely to be high-volume gTLDS no matter who wins.

Neustar operated .kids.us for 10 years, following US legislation, but turned it off in 2012 after fewer than 100 web sites used the domain. It made the decision not to reintroduce it in 2015.

The Russian-language equivalent, .дети, has been live for over three years but has only around 1,000 domains in its zone file.

The .kids/.kid auction may not go ahead if the three applicants privately negotiate a deal soon, but they’ve had over a year to do so already and have apparently failed to come to an agreement.