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Four more dot-brands call it quits

Four more dot-brand gTLDs are to disappear after their operators decided they don’t want them any more.

These are the latest victims of the voluntary cull:

  • High-priced bling-maker Richemont, an enthusiastic new gTLD early adopter, is dumping .panerai (a watch brand) and .jlc (for Jaeger-LeCoultre, another watch brand), the sixth and seventh of its fourteen originally applied-for gTLDs to be abandoned.
  • Norwegian energy company Equinor, which changed its name from Statoil a few months ago, is getting rid of .statoil for obvious reasons. Will it bother to apply for .equinor next time around? We’ll have to wait (and wait) and see.
  • Online printing outfit Vistaprint no longer wants .vista, one of its two delegated TLDs. It still has .vistaprint, and is in contracting with ICANN for its bitterly-won .webs, which matches its Webs.com brand.

The three companies informed ICANN of their intention to scrap their registry agreements between May 14 and June 14, but ICANN only published their requests on its web site in the last few hours.

Needless to say, none of the four TLDs had any live sites beyond their contractually mandated minimum.

The number of delegated new gTLD registries to voluntarily terminate their contracts now stands at 36, all dot-brands.

Under ICANN procedures, the termination requests and ICANN’s decision not to re-delegate the strings to other registries are now open for public comment.

Plural gTLDs to be banned over confusion concerns

Kevin Murphy, July 10, 2018, Domain Policy

Singular and plural versions of the same word are likely to be banned as coexisting gTLDs in future.

The ICANN community working group looking at rules for subsequent application rounds reckons having both versions of the same word online — something that is happening with more than 30 gTLDs currently — leads to “consumer confusion” and should not be permitted.

It’s one of the surprisingly few firm recommendations in the Initial Report on the New gTLD Subsequent Procedures Policy Development Process, which says:

If there is an application for the singular version of a word and an application for a plural version of the same word in the same language during the same application window, these applications would be placed in a contention set, because they are confusingly similar. An application for a single/plural variation of an existing TLD would not be permitted.

It adds that the mere addition of an S should not be disqualifying; .news would not be considered the plural of .new, for example.

Interestingly, the recommendation is based on advice received from existing registries, many of which fought for singular/plural coexistence during the 2012 round and already operate many such string pairs.

According to my database, these are the 15 plural/singular English string pairs (there are more if you include other languages) currently live in the DNS root:

.careers/.career
.photo/.photos
.work/.works
.cruise/.cruises
.review/.reviews
.accountant/.accountants
.loan/.loans
.auto/.autos
.deal/.deals
.gift/.gifts
.fan/.fans
.market/.markets
.car/.cars
.coupon/.coupons
.game/.games

Some of them are being managed by the same registries; others by competitors.

It’s tempting to wonder whether the newfound consensus that these pairs are confusing represents an attempt by 2012-round registries to slam the door behind them, if for no other reason than to avoid chancers trying to extort money from them by applying for plural or singular versions of other strings they currently manage.

But at an ICANN policy level, the plurals issue was indeed a gaping hole in the 2012 round.

All such clashes were resolved by String Confusion Objections, but only if one of the applicants chose to file such an objection.

These rulings mostly came down on the side of coexistence, but sometimes did not — .kid, .pet and .web were among those placed in direct contention with plural equivalents following aberrant SCO decisions.

Digital archery ruled out for next new gTLD round

Kevin Murphy, July 10, 2018, Domain Tech

The oft-mocked “digital archery” system will not be making a return when ICANN finally starts taking more new gTLD applications.

That’s the current thinking of the ICANN community working group looking at subsequent application procedures.

Readers with long memories may recall digital archery as a hack for Californian gambling laws that ICANN org pressed for in 2012 as a way to form its 1,930 applications into an orderly queue for processing.

The idea was that applicants would fire off a bit of data to an ICANN site at a predetermined time and the applicants whose packets arrived closet to the target time, measured by the millisecond, would receive priority in the queue.

It was a bit like drop-catching, and the concept advanced to the stage where companies skilled in such things were offering digital archery services.

But after ICANN changed CEOs later that year, it turned out gambling wasn’t as illegal in California as former management thought it was. The org got itself a license to run a one-off lottery and sold tickets for $100 per application.

That’s now the preferred method for ordering the queue for the next rounds of applications, whenever those may be, according to last week’s Initial Report on the New gTLD Subsequent Procedures Policy Development Process.

Unlike 2012, the WG is proposing that portfolio applicants should be able to swap around their priority numbers according to their commercial interests.

So, if Donuts gets priority #1 for .crappy and #4,000 for .awesome, it would be able to switch priorities to get the better string evaluated earlier.

The WG is also not convinced that internationalized domain names, which received automatic priority in 2012, should get the same preferential treatment this time around.

That’s one of several questions it poses for the community in its public comment period.

While a better place in the evaluation queue had time-to-market advantages in 2012 — Donuts’ .guru sold a tonne of domains largely due to its first-mover status — that’s probably not going to be as big a deal next time around due to domainer skepticism about new gTLDs.

Euro-Whois advice still as clear as mud

Kevin Murphy, July 6, 2018, Domain Policy

European privacy chiefs have again weighed in to the ongoing debate about GDPR and Whois, offering another thin batch of vague advice to ICANN.

The European Data Protection Board, in its latest missive (pdf), fails to provide much of the granular “clarity” ICANN has been looking for, in my view.

It does offer a few pieces of specific guidance, but it seems to me that the general gist of the letter from EDPB chair Andrea Jelinek to ICANN CEO Goran Marby is basically: “You’re on your own buddy.”

If the question ICANN asked was “How can we comply with GDPR?” the answer, again, appears to be generally: “By complying with GDPR.”

To make matters worse, Jelinek signs off with a note implying that the EDPB now thinks that it has given ICANN all the advice it needs to run off and create a GDPR-compliant accreditation system for legitimate access to private Whois data.

The EDPB is the body that replaced the Article 29 Working Party after GDPR came into effect in May. It’s made up of the data protection authorities of all the EU member states.

On the accreditation discussion — which aims to give the likes of trademark owners and security researchers access to Whois data — the clearest piece of advice in the letter is arguably:

the personal data processed in the context of WHOIS can be made available to third parties who have a legitimate interest in having access to the data, provided that appropriate safeguards are in place to ensure that the disclosure is proportionate and limited to that which is necessary and the other requirements of GDPR are met, including the provision of clear information to data subjects.

That’s a fairly straightforward statement that ICANN is fine to go ahead with the creation of an accreditation model for third parties, just as long as it’s quite tightly regulated.

But like so much of its advice, it contains an unhelpful nested reference to GDPR compliance.

The letter goes on to say that logging Whois queries should be part of these controls, but that care should be taken not to tip off registrants being investigated by law enforcement.

But it makes no effort to answer Marby’s questions (pdf) about who these legit third-parties might be and how ICANN might go about identifying them, which is probably the most important outstanding issue right now.

Jelinek also addresses ICANN’s lawsuit against Tucows’ German subsidiary EPAG, and I have to disagree with interpretations of its position published elsewhere.

The Register’s Kieren McCarthy, my Chuckle Brother from another Chuckle Mother, reckons the EDPB has torpedoed the lawsuit by “stating clearly that it cannot force people to provide additional ‘admin’ and ‘technical’ contacts for a given domain name”.

Under my reading, what it actually states is that registrants should be able to either use their own contact data, or anonymized contact information identifying a third party, in these records.

The EDPB clearly anticipates that admin and technical contacts can continue to exist, as long as they contain non-personal contact information such as “admin@example.com”, rather than “kevin@example.com”.

That’s considerably more in line with ICANN’s position than that of Tucows, which wants to stop collecting that data altogether.

One area where EDPB does in fact shoot down ICANN’s new Whois policy is when it comes to data retention.

The current ICANN contracts make registrars retain data for two years, but the EDPB notes that ICANN does not explain why or where that number comes from (I hear it was “pulled out of somebody’s ass”).

The EDPB says that ICANN needs to “re-evaluate the proposed data retention period of two years and to explicitly justify and document why it is necessary”.

Finally, the EDPB weighs in on the issue of Whois records for “legal persons” (as opposed to “natural persons”). It turns out their Whois records are not immune to GDPR either.

If a company lists John Smith and john.smith@example.com in its Whois records, that’s personal data on Mr Smith and therefore falls under GDPR, the letter says.

That should provide a strong incentive for registries and registrars to stop publishing potentially personal fields, if they’re still doing so.

New gTLD fees could be kept artificially high

Kevin Murphy, July 6, 2018, Domain Policy

More windfalls for ICANN? It’s possible that application fees for new gTLDs could be artificially propped up in order to discourage gaming.

In the newly published draft policy recommendations for the next new gTLD round, ICANN volunteers expressed support for keeping fees high “to deter speculation, warehousing of
TLDs, and mitigating against the use of TLDs for abusive or malicious purposes”.

It’s one of the ideas posed in the the Initial Report on the New gTLD Subsequent Procedures Policy Development Process, published this week.

It recommends that ICANN continues to price its application fees on a revenue-neutral basis, but with one big exception.

The report notes that there’s support for an “application fee floor” — a minimum fee threshold that would not be crossed no matter how cheap application processing actually becomes:

there might be a case where a revenue neutral approach results in a fee that is “too low,” which could result in an excessive amount of applications (e.g., making warehousing, squatting, or otherwise potentially frivolous applications much easier to submit), reduce the sense of responsibility and value in managing a distinct and unique piece of the Internet, and diminish the seriousness of the commitment to owning a TLD.

The subgroup looking at fees was “generally supportive” of the notion of a floor, the report says.

If the fee floor were used, excess funds would have to be pumped into efforts such as “universal acceptance”, the ongoing outreach project that hopes to persuade developers to ensure their software supports all TLDs.

It could also be used to support applications from the poorer regions of the world.

I wonder how much of a deterrent to warehousing an artificially high application fee would be; deep-pocketed Google and Amazon appear to have warehoused dozens of TLDs they applied for in the 2012 round.

The application fee in 2012 was $185,000 per string, priced on a “cost recovery” basis. The idea was that ICANN shouldn’t use the fees to subsidize its regular operations and vice versa.

But with roughly one third of that amount earmarked for unexpected contingencies — basically a legal defense fund — ICANN currently has close to $100 million in unspent fees sitting idle in a dedicated bank account.

The Initial Report also discusses whether application fees should be varied based on application type, as well as posing dozens of other questions for the community on the rules for the next round of new gTLDs.

Comment here.