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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.

Half as many women apply for ICANN leadership jobs

Kevin Murphy, June 19, 2020, Domain Policy

This year’s ICANN Nominating Committee has released data showing a drop in the number of applicants for ICANN leadership positions, with a noticeable decline in the number of female applicants.

The NomCom is responsible for picking members of the ICANN board, GNSO Council, PTI board, ALAC and ccNSO Council.

There were 96 applicants this year, down from 127 in the 2019 round, including only 18 women, down from 42 a year ago.

I can think of two possible reasons for this apparent decline.

First, applicants this year got the option not to disclose their gender for the first time. The “did not disclose” box was checked by 13 people.

Second, both of the director positions opening up this October are currently occupied by women who are not term-limited — Avri Doria and Sarah Deutsch.

There’s a reasonable chance both of them could be reappointed.

ICANN’s board has told NomCom that it can use gender as a criterion when appointing directors, saying last December:

Without compromising the fundamental requirement to have Board members with the necessary integrity, skills, experience, the Board would find it helpful to have greater gender diversity on the Board.

It appears that’s not going to happen this year.

The other three ICANN directors whose current terms end in October are Chris Disspain, Matthew Shears and León Sánchez. Disspain is being replaced by the ccNSO with a man and Sánchez and Shears have been confirmed for second terms by ALAC and GNSO respectively.

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.

More dot-brands dump their gTLDs

A further three new gTLDs have applied to ICANN for self-termination over the last few months, bringing the total to 76.

They’re all dot-brands: .sbs, .rightathome and .symantec.

The most recent application came from the Australian broadcaster SBS, for Special Broadcasting Service. This seems to be a case of a brand owner briefly experimenting with redirects to its .au domain, then deciding against it.

.symantec is biting the dust because the security company Symantec recently rebranded as NortonLifeLock Inc.

.rightathome also appears to be a case of a discontinued brand, in this case formerly used by consumer products firm SC Johnson.

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.

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.

Three big registries will take down opioid domains for US govt

Verisign, Public Interest Registry and Neustar (now part of GoDaddy) will suspend domain names being used to illegally sell opioids under a pilot scheme with the US government.

The Food and Drug Administration announced this week that this new “trusted notifier” program will go into effect for 120 days.

When the FDA finds a site suspected of selling opioids illegally, it will notify the registry as well as the web site’s owner and hosting provider.

The registries will then be able to decide whether to suspend the domain or not. It’s voluntary.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration will also take part in the project.

Verisign runs .com and .net, PIR runs .org and Neustar runs .us, .co and .biz.

Opioids are legal, pharmaceutical pain-killers derived from opium. They’re ridiculously addictive and account for as many drug overdose deaths in the US as heroin, but are over-prescribed by US doctors.

It’s not the first time registries have agreed to trusted notifier programs. Some new gTLD registries have deals with the movie and music industries to suspend domains involved in copyright infringement.

The announcement comes just a few weeks after ICANN rejected a deal that would have seen PIR create a community oversight body with responsibilities to monitor domain-suspension policies in .org.

ICANN board tries to redefine mediocrity — literally

Kevin Murphy, June 9, 2020, Domain Policy

After 21 years of covering this stuff, the volume and extent of ICANN’s navel-gazing no longer amazes me, but every now and then I stumble upon something that forces a little angry smile from my lips.

It appears the ICANN board of directors is seeking to redefine mediocrity itself, in a very literal way, and it may well cost your money to do so.

I’ll explain.

Every two years, the board conducts a self-evaluation via a survey put together by ICANN staff. That survey recently came up for review by the board’s seven-person Board Governance Committee.

According to the meeting’s minutes, the BGC decided it was unhappy with the word “neutral” to describe a score of #3 on what I’m guessing is a five-point scale used for rating directors’ performances.

The word “seems somewhat vague”, the BGC noted, asking staff to “consult with external resources and suggest replacement for the term ‘neutral’ on the rating scale”.

I really hope “consult with external resources” means “google it” rather than “piss away registrants’ money on pricey consultants”, but I’m not confident.

The word I’d use is “mediocre”. If you have a better suggestion there’s a comments section below.

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.