ICANN has reopened the contention sets for .cam and .通販 after deciding that two String Confusion Objection panels may have been wrong to reject certain applications.
Two rulings — that .cam is confusingly similar to .com and that .通販 is confusingly similar to .shop (really) — will now head to an appeals panel for a “final” determination.
The decision was made by the ICANN board’s New gTLD Program Committee this week at the ICANN 51 public meeting in Los Angeles.
The first case being reopened for scrutiny is Verisign versus Rightside, where the original SCO panel found that .cam and .com were too similar to coexist on the internet.
But a different panelist found that the two strings were not confusingly similar in objections filed by Verisign against two other applicants — Dot Agency and AC Webconnecting.
The opposing rulings meant that Rightside’s application would have been kicked out of the .cam contention set, which hardly seems fair.
This and many other “perceived inconsistencies” led to the ICANN board being pressured to come up with some kind of appeals process, which it agreed to do in February.
Verisign, unfairly in my view, was not given the opportunity to appeal the two .cam decisions that went against it, even though they were made by the same panelist for the same reasons.
The second, altogether more peculiar, case was .shop applicant Commercial Connect versus .通販 applicant Amazon.
The panelist in that case seemed to have checked his brain at the door that day, concluding that the two strings are confusingly similar simply because 通販 means “online shopping” in Japanese.
Another panelist, in a different case also involving Commercial Connect, had found that .购物 (Chinese for “shopping”) was not confusingly similar to .shop because duh.
ICANN’s NGPC has now decided that the two controversial decisions are “not being in the best interest of the New gTLD Program and the Internet community”.
Both .cam and .通販 will now be referred to a three-person panel at the International Center for Dispute Resolution, the same body that processed the original objections, for a final determination.
Campaigns in Bulgaria and Greece to get ICANN to un-reject their Cyrillic and Greek-script ccTLD requests have proven successful.
The first decisions handed down by ICANN’s new Extended Process Similarity Review Panel this week said Bulgaria’s .бг and Greece’s .ελ are not “confusingly similar” to other ccTLDs after all.
However, a third appeal by the European Union over the Greek .ευ was rejected on the grounds that the string is too confusingly similar to .EV and .EY when in upper case.
Confusing strings should not be delegated, under ICANN rules, due to the risk of exacerbating the prevalence of security risks such as phishing attacks.
Bulgaria’s initial request for .бг was turned down in 2010 after a panel found it looks too similar to Brazil’s existing ccTLD, .br.
Greece’s bid for .ελ had been blocked for looking too much like .EA, a non-existent ccTLD that could be delegated to a new country in future.
While the initial panel’s process was pretty opaque, the newly published “extended” reviews appear to have employed a fairly scientific methodology to determine similarity.
Twenty American undergraduate student volunteers were shown pairs of strings briefly on screens designed to simulate web browsing. They then had to pick out which one they’d seen.
The volunteers were also shown pairs of similar-looking Latin-script ccTLDs that already exist, in order to establish a baseline for what should be considered an acceptable level of confusability.
The Greek and Bulgarian strings were both found to be less confusing than existing pairs of Latin-script ccTLDs and were therefore given the thumbs-up. The EU string flunked in upper case.
Under ICANN’s rules, it appears that .бг and .ελ can now proceed to delegation, while .ευ has been forever rejected.
The three reports can be downloaded here.
It will be interesting to see how the ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee will react to this.
It was pressure from the GAC — driven by the European Commission and Greece — back in 2012 that forced ICANN into creating the appeals process.
At ICANN’s meeting in Prague that year, the GAC said:
The GAC is of the view that decisions may have erred on the too-conservative side, in effect applying a more stringent test of confusability between Latin and non-Latin scripts than when undertaking a side by side comparison of Latin strings.
Now the EU seems to have been told that it still can’t have its requested ccTLD, and the standard applied was exactly the same standard as applies to Latin ccTLDs.
Will the GAC accept this determination, or stomp its feet?
ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee has elected Thomas Schneider of the Swiss government as its new chair.
The unprecedented, one-nation-one-vote secret ballot election at the ICANN 51 public meeting in Los Angeles today saw Schneider beat Lebanon’s Imad Hoballah by 61 votes to 37.
He will take over from Canadian incumbent Heather Dryden at the end of the week.
Schneider is deputy head of international affairs at the Swiss Federal Office of Communications (Ofcom).
He currently serves as one of the GAC’s three vice chairs.
The election was overseen by the Australian Continuous Improvement Group, which provides the GAC with ICANN-independent secretariat services.
ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee does not plan to advise against the release of two-character domain names in new gTLDs.
In fact, judging by a GAC discussion at ICANN 51 in Los Angeles yesterday, the governments of many major nations are totally cool with the idea.
Under the standard Registry Agreement for new gTLD registries, all two-character domains (any combination of letters, numbers) must not be sold or activated in the DNS.
The blanket ban was designed to avoid clashes with two-letter ccTLD codes, both existing and future.
ICANN left the door open for registries to request the release of such names, however, and many companies have formally applied to do so via the Registry Services Evaluation Process.
Some registries want all two-character domains released, others have only asked for permission to sell those strings that do not match allocated ccTLDs.
There seems to have been an underlying assumption that governments may want to protect their geographic turf. That assumption may turn out to be untrue.
Representatives from the United States, Netherlands, Spain, Denmark, Australia, Austria and Iran all said yesterday that the GAC should not issue formal advice against the the two-character proposals.
No governments opposed that apparent consensus view.
“The use of the ‘US’ two-letter country code at the second level has not presented any technical or policy issues for the United States,” US rep Suzanne Radell said.
“We, in fact, do not require any approval for the use of US two-character country codes at the second level in existing gTLDs, and do not propose to require anything for new gTLDs,” she said.
She even highlighted domains such as us.com and us.org — which are marketed by UK-based CentralNic as alternatives to the .us ccTLD — as being just fine and dandy with the US government.
It seems likely that the GAC will instead suggest to ICANN that it is the responsibility of individual governments to challenge the registries’ requests via the RSEP process.
“What we see at the moment is that ICANN is putting these RSEP requests out for public comment and it would be open to any government to use that public comment period if they did feel in some instances that there was a concern,” Australian GACer Peter Nettlefold said.
I’ve not been able to find any government comments to the relevant RSEP requests.
For example, Neustar’s .neustar, which proposes the release of all two-character strings including country codes, has yet to receive a comment from a government.
Many comments in other RSEP fora appear to be from fellow dot-brand registries that want to use two-letter codes to represent the countries where they operate.
ICANN is ramping up its focus on contractual compliance in the midst of calls for domain industry offenders to “go to jail”.
CEO Fadi Chehade yesterday revealed that he has has promoted chief contracting counsel Allen Grogan to the newly created role of chief contract compliance officer.
Grogan, who Chehade has worked with off and on since 1991, will report directly to him. Maguy Serad, who has been heading compliance under Chehade for the last couple of years, will now report to Grogan.
In a session with the GNSO Council at the ICANN 51 public meeting in Los Angeles yesterday, Chehade said the appointment was part of a new “strategic, analytical” approach to compliance.
It was hinted that the compliance focus may form part of Chehade’s address at the formal opening ceremony of ICANN 51 later today.
Ron Andruff of the Business Constituency made the “jail” comments in response.
“We need to see action, we need to see teeth,” he said. “We never see any really strong action taken and it’s time we did. It’s time we saw people go to jail for doing things, lose their contracts for doing things.”
“We’ve lived through 15 years of ICANN with all manner of transgressions, some very serious ones, but they all get slid off to the side and there’s never any mention of it,” he said.
“Should someone be the recipient of extremely strong actions — losing their contract, being thrown out the community — that would send a signal,” he said.
Andruff appeared to be relating comments made by the Intellectual Property Constituency’s Kristina Rosette, at a private Commercial Stakeholders Group meeting earlier that day.
However, Rosette was quick to take to Twitter to deny she’d said anything about jail time.
Um, I never said anything about people going to jail for compliance breaches. Yikes.
— Kristina Rosette (@kristinarosette) October 12, 2014
Chehade, in reply to Andruff, agreed with the need for action but clarified what he plans to do.
“It doesn’t mean to create a police force, that’s not what we need,” he said. “What we need is thoughtful, analytical analysis.”
“It doesn’t mean we’re going to take the job of all the global consumer protection agencies,” he said earlier in the session.
The notion of ICANN having the power to directly jail somebody is of course laughable — all of its power comes from its contracts with registrars and registries.
However, it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that ICANN could refer registrars to law enforcement should it come across suspected illegality in the course of its compliance investigations.
ICANN Compliance currently employs 21 people and deals with 5,000 complaints per month, Chehade said.
In the last year, the number of breach, suspension and termination notices against registrars has been on the increase.