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The Amazon is burning. Is this good news for .amazon?

Kevin Murphy, August 26, 2019, Domain Policy

With the tide of international opinion turning against Brazil due to the ongoing forest fires in the Amazon, could we see governments change their tune when it comes to Amazon’s application for .amazon?

A much higher number of forest fires than usual are currently burning in the region, largely in Brazil, which critics led by environmentalists and French president Emmanuel Macron have blamed on relaxed “slash and burn” farming policies introduced by new Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro.

The rain forest is an important carbon sink, said to provide 20% of the world’s oxygen. The more of it is lost, the harder it is to tackle climate change, the argument goes.

It’s been an important topic at the Macro-hosted G7 summit, which ends today. Even the bloody Pope has weighed in.

Arguably, the stakes are nothing less than the survival of human civilization and life on Earth itself.

And this is a story about domain names. Sorry. This is a blog about domain names. My hands are tied.

Amazon the company has been fighting governments over its application for .amazon, along with the Chinese and Japanese translations, for over six years.

ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee was responsible for killing off .amazon in 2013 after it decided by consensus that Amazon’s application should not proceed.

That decision was only reached after the US, under the Obama administration, decided to abstain from discussions.

The US had been protecting Amazon by blocking GAC consensus, but changed its tune partly in order to throw a bone to world leaders, including then-president of Brazil Dilma Rousseff, who were outraged by CIA analyst Edward Snowden’s revelations of widespread US digital espionage.

After ICANN dutifully followed the GAC advice and rejected Amazon’s gTLD applications, Amazon appealed via the Independent Review Process and, in 2017, won.

The IRP panel ruled that the GAC’s objection had no clear grounding in public policy that could be gleaned from the record. It told ICANN to re-open the applications and evaluate them objectively.

Ever since then, the GAC’s advice to ICANN has been that it must “facilitate a mutually acceptable solution” between Amazon and the eight nations of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization.

ICANN has been doing just that, or at least attempting to, for the last couple of years.

But the two parties failed to come to an agreement. ACTO wants to have essential veto power over Amazon’s use of .amazon, whereas Amazon is only prepared to offer lists of protected names, a minority position in any policy-setting body, and some sweeteners.

In May this year, ICANN’s board of directors voted to move .amazon along towards delegation, noting that there was “no public policy reason” why it should not.

In June, the government of Colombia filed a Request for Reconsideration with ICANN, demanding it reevaluate that decision.

The RfR was considered by ICANN’s Board Accountability Measures Committee at its meeting August 14, but its recommendation has not yet been published. I’m expecting it to be posted this week.

There’s still opportunity for the GAC to cause mischief, or act as a further delay on .amazon, but will it, in light of some country’s outrage over Brazil’s policy over the rain forest?

One could argue that if the nation that has the largest chunk of Amazon within its borders seems to have little regard to its international importance, why should its claim to ownership of the string “amazon” get priority over a big brand that has offered to protect culturally significant words and phrases?

Remember, as the example of the US in 2012/13 shows us, it only takes one government to block a GAC consensus. If Brazil or Peru continue to pursue their anti-Amazon path, could France throw a spanner in the works, smoothing .amazon’s road to delegation?

Anything’s possible, I suppose, but my feeling is that most governments back ACTO’s position largely because they’re worried that they could find themselves in a similar position of having to fight off an application for a “geographic” string in the next gTLD application round.

China’s MySpace trainwreck sells its gTLD

Kevin Murphy, August 23, 2019, Domain Registries

A once-hot Chinese social networking company that now sells used cars instead has offloaded its gTLD.

The registry contract for .ren, the Pinyin for the Chinese “人”, meaning “people”, has been transferred from Beijing Qianxiang Wangjing Technology Development Co to ZDNS International.

The original registry is better known by the name Renren.

At the time the new gTLD was applied for in 2012, Renren was at the peak of its powers, discussed in the same breath as Facebook.

A social networking site with close to 60 million active monthly users in China, it had recently raised $800 million by floating on the New York Stock Exchange.

But it has fallen on hard times since, and the site was sold for just $20 million in cash and $40 million of stock last November.

A number of articles around the same time chart its downfall, calling it a “trainwreck”, a “digital ghost town” and, even more embarrassingly, “China’s answer to MySpace”

You get the idea.

Renren the company is still a going concern due to its now-core business of selling used cars in China, but the NYSE threatened to delist its stock a couple of weeks ago because its share price had been below $1 for more than 30 days.

Now, it seems it’s getting rid of its gTLD too.

.ren has been bought (presumably) by ZDNS International, the Hong Kong-based arm of DNS service provider ZDNS.

It’s not a dot-brand. The space is open to all-comers and is currently priced competitively with .com.

The gTLD’s fortunes tracked the site’s declining popularity. It’s been on the slide, volume-wise, for years.

It peaked at around 320,000 zone file domains in November 2016, comparable to other TLDs popular in China, but today stands at around 17,000.

It’s the second registry contract ZDNS has taken over recently. A month ago, I reported it has taken over .fans from CentralNic.

ZDNS was already providing back-end services for .ren.

ICANN names new directors, replaces Facebook exec

Kevin Murphy, August 20, 2019, Domain Policy

ICANN’s Nominating Committee has picked two new directors to join the board of directors this November.

They are: Mandla Msimang, a South African technology policy consultant, and Ihab Osman, a serial director who ran Sudan’s ccTLD two decades ago but whose main current gig appears to be managing a Saudi Arabian dairy company.

Dutch domain industry figure Maarten Botterman, who had a stint heading Public Interest Registry, has been reappointed for his second three-year term.

But Tunisian Khaled Koubaa, head of public policy for North Africa at Facebook, who joined the board with Botterman in 2016 and also previously worked for PIR, is not being asked to return.

Msimang and Osman replace Koubaa and Cherine Chalaby, the current Egyptian-born chair, who after nine years on the board is term-limited.

Basically, it’s two Africans out, two Africans in.

In a statement, NomCom chair Damon Ashcraft noted that the committee had received 56 applications from Africa, more than any other region. Only two applications were received from North Americans.

This is perhaps unsurprising. NomCom had been duty-bound to pick at least one African, in order to maintain ICANN’s bylaws-mandated geographic balance, but there were no spots available for North Americans.

Replacing one male director with one female may also go some way to appease critics — including the ICANN board itself — who have claimed that the board needs to be more gender balanced.

The switch means that, after November, the eight NomCom appointees on the board will be evenly split in terms of gender. However, only seven out of the total 20 directors will be women.

The other directors are selected by ICANN’s various supporting organizations and advisory committees.

NomCom received applications from 42 women and 85 men this year.

ICANN has not yet published the official bios for the two new directors, but here’s what the internets has to say about about them.

Mandla Msimang. Msimang’s career appears to show her playing both hunter and gamekeeper in the South African telecommunications market, first working for the national regulator, and later for leading mobile phone operator Cell C. In 2007 she founded Pygma Consulting, a boutique IT consultancy, which she still runs.

Ihab Osman. Osman’s day job appears to be general manager of NADEC New Businesses, a unit of Nadec, a foods company partly owned by the Saudi government. He’s also president of the US-Sudan Business Council, which seeks to promote trade between the two countries. He has a long career in telecommunications, and from 1997 until 2002 was in charge of Sudan’s .sd ccTLD.

Both new directors will take their seats at the end of ICANN’s annual general meeting in Montreal this November.

There’s no word yet on who’s taking over as chair.

After getting acquired, bank scraps its dot-brand

Kevin Murphy, August 20, 2019, Domain Registries

Another dot-brand gTLD has bitten the dust, but this time it does not appear to be due to lack of interest.

TIAA Bank has told ICANN that it wants to terminate its contract to run .everbank, the dot-brand of a bank it acquired two years ago.

It’s only the second self-terminating dot-brand I’m aware of where the gTLD is actually being used. The first was .iselect a couple months ago.

EverBank had about.everbank and commercial.everbank live and resolving, but they currently both just bounce visitors to its .com site.

The EverBank brand was retired over a year ago, after TIAA acquired it and renamed it TIAA Bank, so it would be pointless to continue using the gTLD.

I think EverBank is catchier, but TIAA is still catchier than .teachersinsuranceandannuityassociationofamerica-collegeretirementequitiesfund, which, at 78 characters, is technically too long to be a TLD.

It’s the 53rd new gTLD to ask ICANN to terminate its registry contract.

Mystery .vu registry revealed

Kevin Murphy, August 13, 2019, Domain Registries

Neustar has been selected as the back-end domain registry operator for the nation of Vanuatu.

The company, and the Telecommunications Radiocommunications and Broadcasting Regulator, announced the appointment, which came after a competitive tender process between nine competing back-end providers, last night.

The ccTLD is .vu.

It’s unrestricted, with no local presence requirements, and currently costs $50 per year if you buy directly from the registry, Telecom Vanuatu Ltd (TVL).

Unusually, if you show up at TVL’s office in Vanuatu capital Port Vila, you can buy a domain for cash. I’ve never heard of that kind of “retail” domain name option before.

A handful of international registrars also sell the domains marked up, generally to over the $80 mark.

TVL was originally the sponsor of the ccTLD, but ICANN redelegated it to TRBR in March after Vanuatu’s government passed a law in 2016 calling for redelegation.

Under the deal, Neustar will take over the registry function from TVL after its 24 years in charge, bringing the .vu option to hundreds of other registrars.

Most registrars are already plugged in to Neustar, due to its operation of .us, .biz and .co. It also recently took over India’s .in.

There’s no public data on the number of domains under management, but Vanuatu is likely to have a much smaller footprint that Neustar’s main ccTLD clients.

It’s quite a young country, gaining independence from France and the UK in 1980, a Pacific archipelago of roughly 272,000 people.

Neustar expects the transition to its back-end to be completed September 30.

.gay gets rooted

Kevin Murphy, August 12, 2019, Domain Registries

The new gTLD .gay, which was often used as an example of a controversial TLD that could be blocked from the DNS, has finally made it to the DNS.

While no .gay domains are currently resolving, the TLD itself was added to the root zone over the weekend.

Its registry is Top Level Design, which currently also runs .design, .ink and .wiki.

The company won the string in February, after an auction with three other applicants.

While Top Level Design had planned to launch .gay this October on National Coming Out Day in the US, but had to postpone the release so as not to rush things.

It’s now eyeing a second-quarter 2020 launch, possibly timed to coincide with a major Pride event.

The registry is currently hiring marketing staff to assist in the launch.

It’s the first new TLD to hit the internet since February, when South Sudan acquired .ss.

But it’s been over a year since the last 2012-round new gTLD appeared, when .inc was delegated in July 2018.

There are currently 1,528 TLDs in the root. That’s actually down a bit compared to a year ago, due to the removal of several delegated dot-brands.

.gay was, prior to 2012, often used as an example of a string that could have been blocked by governments or others on “morality and public order” grounds.

But that never transpired. The protracted time it’s taken to get .gay into the root has been more a result of seemingly endless procedural reviews of ICANN decision-making.

Neustar takes control of two new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, August 12, 2019, Domain Registries

Neustar has started taking over former dot-brand new gTLDs belonging to its former clients.

It recently took control of .compare and .select, which previously belonged to Australian insurance company iSelect.

Neustar had been the back-end registry provider for both TLDs.

As previously blogged, iSelect abandoned its primary dot-brand, .iselect, in June.

That was despite that fact that it was actually in use, with domains such as home.iselect, news.iselect and careers.iselect all resolving to web sites.

Now, the generic dot-brands .compare and .select have been assigned to the blandly named Registry Services LLC, a new Neustar subsidiary.

They’re not the first examples of dictionary words functioning as dot-brands being repurposed as generics.

Notably, XYZ.com took over .monster from Monster.com and ShortDot bought .bond from Bond University.

Neustar has not yet announced its plans for its two new acquisitions.

EFF becomes second to appeal new .org contract

Kevin Murphy, August 7, 2019, Domain Registries

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has appealed ICANN’s decision to add stronger trademark protection rules to .org.

The civil liberties organization has filed a Request for Reconsideration with ICANN, saying that the new .org contract should not oblige Public Interest Registry to implement the Uniform Rapid Suspension policy.

URS is a swifter, cheaper version of the anti-cybersquatting UDRP policy. It can lead to clear-cut cases of trademark-infringing domains being relatively quickly suspended, but not transferred.

But the EFF is worried that it could be abused to curtail free speech.

It said URS is “particularly dangerous for the many .org registrants who are engaged in an array of noncommercial work, including criticism of governments and corporations”.

URS was created via ICANN’s bottom-up, community-led policy-making process to apply to new gTLDs applied for in 2012, not legacy gTLDs such as .org, EFF argues,

Adding more rights protection to a legacy gTLD “should be initiated, if at all, through the multistakeholder policy development process, not in bilateral negotiations between a registry operator and ICANN staff”, the RfR states.

The EFF is also concerned that the new contract allows PIR to unilaterally create its own additional rights protection mechanisms.

I don’t think this is a new power, however. Remember when PIR proposed a “Copyright UDRP” a couple of years ago, evidently as a way to turf out The Pirate Bay? That plan was swiftly killed off after protests from, among others, the EFF.

The EFF’s reconsideration request (pdf) does not address the issue of price increase caps, which were removed in the new contract.

That more-controversial provision is already the subject of an RfR, filed by NameCheap last month.

Both RfRs will be dealt with by ICANN’s Board Accountability Mechanisms Committee before being passed to the full board.

Google has big, innovative plans for .new

Kevin Murphy, August 5, 2019, Domain Registries

Google is set to launch .new next year with a innovative value proposition that changes how domain names are used.

The company plans to slowly release .new domains to a carefully controlled customer base, starting in the first quarter 2020.

In a Registry Service Evaluation Process request filed with ICANN last week, the company said:

Google Registry plans to launch the .new TLD with a usage-based restriction in its domain registration policy that requires that all domain names be used for action generation or online content creation

The phrase “action generation or online contention creation” is key here, repeated across multiple Google documents.

What it means is that registrants will have to commit to use their .new domains in much the same way as Google itself is using its own batch of proof-of-concept names.

If you type doc.new into your browser address bar today, you’ll be taken to a fresh word processing document hosted on Google Docs, assuming you’re logged in to Google.

The same goes for domains such as spreadsheet.new, slides.new and a few others.

Looking at the .new zone file, it appears Google has plans to expand the concept beyond Office-style online applications into areas such as email, bug-reporting, support-ticketing, forms, reminders, and web site creation.

These services appear to be live but currently restricted to authorized users.

When Google opens up the .new space to third-party registrants, it’s easy to imagine domains such as tweet.new taking users directly to a Twitter composition page or blog.new immediately opening up a new post on something like WordPress or Medium.

Right now, Google is declining to comment on the specifics of its launch plan, but we can infer some details from its activity in the ICANN world.

I get the impression that the company does not want to be overly prescriptive in how .new domains are used, as long as they adhere to the “action generation or online contention creation” mantra.

Stephanie Duchesneau, Google program manager, told attendees at an ICANN summit this May that .new will be a space “where anyone is able to register, but the domain name has to be used in a certain way”.

While that may eventually be the case, at first Google plans to operated a Limited Registration Period under ICANN rules, during which only hand-vetted registrants will be able to grab domains.

Its recent RSEP request (pdf) asks ICANN permission to deploy an authentication system based on RFC 8495 to handle the LRP roll-out.

To the best of my understanding, RFC 8495 is a newish extension to EPP designed to deal with domain allocation, rather than usage, so it does not appear to be the means by which Google will enforce its policies.

The RSEP says it is Google’s plan to “seed” the gTLD with a bunch of third-party .new domains that adhere to the usage concept it has laid out.

This is due to happen some time in Q1 next year, but Google has not yet filed its TLD startup information with ICANN, so the exact dates are not known.

Under ICANN rules, as far as I can tell an LRP can run more or less indefinitely, so it’s not entirely clear when .new will become available to the general registrant.

Amazon and Google have been BEATEN by a non-profit in the fight for .kids

Kevin Murphy, August 5, 2019, Domain Registries

One of the longest-fought new gTLD contests has finally been resolved, with a not-for-profit bid beating out Google and Amazon.

Amazon last week withdrew its application for .kids, leaving Hong Kong-based DotKids Foundation the only remaining applicant.

DotKids now has a clear run at the gTLD, with only ICANN contracting and technical testing before .kids goes live in the DNS root. We could be looking at a commercial launch within a year.

It’s a surprising outcome, not only because Amazon has all the money in the world, but also because it actually has a product called the Echo Dot Kids Edition, a candy-striped, parentally-controlled version of its creepy corporate surveillance device.

The fight between the two applicants was settled privately.

While ICANN has scheduled them in for a “last resort” auction more than once, the contention set was “On Hold” due to DotKids’ repeated use of ICANN appeals processes to delay.

My understanding is that it was not an auction. I don’t know whether any money changed hands to settle the dispute. It may just be a case of DotKids beating Amazon in a war of attrition.

DotKids, much like ultimately successful .music applicant DotMusic, pulled every trick in the book to delay .kids going to auction.

It’s filed no fewer than four Requests for Reconsideration with ICANN over the last five years, challenging almost every decision the organization made about the contention set.

Last year, DotKids (which had a reduced application fee under ICANN’s applicant support program) even asked ICANN for money to help it fight Amazon and Google at auction, then filed an RfR when ICANN refused.

The company has been in a Cooperative Engagement Process — a precursor to more formal appeals — with ICANN since February.

DotKids until recently also faced competition from Google, which had applied for the singular .kid but withdrew its application last October.

DotKids Foundation is run by Edmon Chung, perhaps best-known as the founder and CEO of 2003-round gTLD .asia.

I can’t help but feel that he has grasped a poison chalice.

The two examples we have of child-friendly domains to date are .kids.us, which was introduced by point-scoring US politicians under the Bush administration and promptly discarded when (almost literally) nobody used it, and .дети, the Russian equivalent, which usually has fewer than a thousand names in its zone file.

I believe that would-be registrants are broadly wary of signing up to vague content restrictions that could prove PR disasters if inadvertently violated.

In its 2012 application, DotKids said that .kids “will have a core mandate to advocate the production and publishing of more kids friendly content online”.

But what is a “kid”? DotKids said it would adopt the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child definition as “every human under 18 years old”.

Because the parents of every five-year-old would be happy for their kid to view sites designed for 17-year-olds, right?

It’s going to be challenging to get this one right, I think.