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Complaints about registrars dip in 2016

Kevin Murphy, February 2, 2017, Domain Registrars

There were slightly fewer complaints about domain name registrars in 2016, compared to 2015, according to newly published ICANN data, but complaints still run into the tens of thousands.

There were 43,156 complaints about registrars to ICANN Compliance in 2016, compared to 45,926 in 2015, according to the data (pdf). That’s a dip of about 6%.

The overall volume of complaints, and the dip, can be attributed to Whois.

About three quarters of the complaints directed at registrars in 2016 were for Whois inaccuracy — 32,292 complaints in total, down from 34,740 in 2015.

The number of complaints about gTLD registries was pretty much flat at 2,230, despite hundreds of new gTLDs being delegated during the year.

The vast majority of those gTLDs were dot-brands, however, with nowhere near the same kind of potential for abuse as generally available gTLDs.

The biggest cause for complaint against registries, representing about half the total, was the Zone File Access program. I’ve filed a few of these myself, against dot-brands that decide the ZFA policy doesn’t apply to them.

Formal, published breach notices were also down on the year, with 25 breaches, four suspensions and four terminations, compared to 32 breaches, six suspensions and eight terminations in 2015.

That’s the second consecutive year the number of breach notices was down.

Thick Whois policy for .com is now live

Kevin Murphy, February 2, 2017, Domain Registries

The domain name industry is kicking off one of its most fundamental shifts in its plumbing this week.

Over the next two years, Verisign and every registrar that sells .com domains will have to rejigger their systems to convert .com from a “thin” to “thick” Whois.

This means that by February 1, 2019, Verisign will for the first time control the master database of all Whois records for .com domains, rather than it being spread piecemeal across all registrars.

The switch comes as a result of a years-in-the-making ICANN policy that officially came into force yesterday. It also applies to .com stablemates .net and .jobs.

The first big change will come August 1 this year, the deadline by which Verisign has to give all of its registrars the ability to submit thick Whois records both live (for new regs) and in bulk (for existing ones).

May 1, 2018 is the deadline for all registrars to start submitting thick Whois for new regs to Verisign, but they can start doing so as early as August this year if they want to.

Registrars have until February 1, 2019 to supply Verisign with thick Whois for all their existing registrations.

There’s a process for registrars who believe they would be violating local privacy laws by transferring this data to US-based Verisign to request an exemption, which may prevent the transition going perfectly uniformly.

Some say that the implementation of this policy may allow Verisign to ask for the ability to ask a for an increase in .com registry fees — currently frozen at the command of the US government — due to its inevitably increased costs.

Personally, I think the added costs will likely be chickenfeed compared to the cash-printing machine that is .com, so I think it’s far from a slam-dunk that such fee increases would be approved.

ICANN feeds troll, refuses to censor “rip-off” web site

Kevin Murphy, February 2, 2017, Domain Policy

ICANN’s board has rejected a formal demand that it “take down” the web site RipoffReport.com in what is possibly the strangest Request for Reconsideration case it has considered to date.

The almost 20-year-old site hosts reports from consumers about what they consider to be “rip-offs”. It’s seen its fair share of controversy and legal action over the years.

Somebody called Fraser Lee filed the RfR in December after (allegedly) trying and failing to get the site’s registrar, DNC Holdings (aka Directnic), to yank the domain and then trying and failing to get ICANN Compliance to yank DNC’s accreditation.

The request (pdf) is a rambling, often incoherent missive, alleging that RipoffReport contains “legally proven illegal defamatory, copyright infringing, hateful, suicidal and human rights depriving content” and demanding ICANN “take down the site RIPOFFREPORT.COM AS EXPECTED BY THEIR POLICIES OR RISK BEING SUED AS AN ENDORSER OF CYBER TERRORISM.”

ICANN’s Board Governance Committee has naturally enough rejected (pdf) the request, largely on the grounds that it does not have the authority to police internet content and that it could find no evidence that DNC had breached its contract:

the Requester ultimately seeks to have ICANN assume greater responsibility of policing purportedly illegal activity on the Internet, and attempts to place the burden on ICANN to regulate content on the Internet. That is not ICANN’s role. If content is to be regulated, that review and enforcement falls to institutions charged with interpreting and enforcing laws and regulations around the world, such as law enforcement

In a bizarre twist, the BGC further decided that “Fraser Lee” may not even be the person who filed the original complaints with DNC and ICANN Compliance.

“Fraser Lee, has never initiated a complaint with the ICANN Contractual Compliance department,” the BGC wrote.

A lengthy (and, one imagines, maddening) email thread between DNC’s lawyer and somebody called “Smith”, evidently provided by DNC to ICANN (pdf), appears show that at least two different identities are in play here.

It’s an odd one for sure, but it does have the virtue of getting ICANN’s board on the record again stating that it does not police content.

ICANN loses another IRP — .sport gTLD fight reopens as panel finds “apparent bias”

Kevin Murphy, February 2, 2017, Domain Registries

The future of the .sport gTLD was cast into turmoil this week after an independent panel ruled that there was “apparent bias” in the decision that awarded the string to a group linked to the Olympics.

The new Independent Review Panel ruling found that ICANN broke its own bylaws by refusing to allow Famous Four Media to appeal a 2013 decision that essentially awarded .sport to rival bidder SportAccord.

FFM claims the expert panelist tasked with deciding SportAccord’s Community Objection had undisclosed conflicts of interest that made him much more likely to rule in favor of SportAccord, which is backed by the International Olympic Committee, than FFM, which is a purely commercial operator.

And the IRP panel did not disagree, ruling this week that ICANN should have taken FFM’s claims into account before rejecting its requests for an appeal in 2014.

The ruling means that ICANN may be forced to throw out the Community Objection decision from 2013 and order it to be re-tried with a new expert, potentially allowing FFM back into the .sport contest.

As usual with IRP cases, the ruling is a complex and very dry read, involving multiple layers of objections, appeals, panels and experts.

FFM and SportAccord were the only two applicants for .sport in the 2012 application round.

SportAccord, which has the backing of dozens of sporting organizations in addition to the IOC, claims to represent pretty much all organized sport and wants to run .sport with restrictions on who can register.

FFM, conversely, wants to keep it open to everyone with a passing interest in sport.

In an attempt to kick FFM out of the contest without a potentially expensive auction, SportAccord filed, and then won, a Community Objection in 2013.

To win, it had to prove that the interests of the sport community would be harmed if FFM got to run it. The objection expert panelist, Guido Tawil, came down on SportAccord’s side.

FFM naturally enough disagreed with his conclusion, and vowed to fight to overturn it.

The registry later discovered that Tawil had undisclosed ties to the IOC, which it said should have disqualified him from acting as an independent expert.

First, Tawil attended a conference of the International Bar Association in Rio de Janeiro in 2011 called “Olympic‐Size Investments: Business Opportunities and Legal Framework”, where he co‐chaired a panel entitled “The quest for optimising the dispute resolution process in major sport‐hosting events”.

Second, the law firm he works for, Argentina-based M & M Bomchil, counts DirecTV among its key clients and at the time of the Community Objection DirecTV was negotiating with the IOC for Latin America broadcasting rights for the Sochi 2014 and Rio 2016 Olympics, rights it subsequently obtained.

Third, a partner in Tawil’s law firm is president of Torneos y Competencias, a sports broadcaster with ties to DirecTV.

FFM has claimed: “Guido Tawil’s own legal practice and business is built around a company for whom IOC broadcasting rights are a core aspect of its business.”

While FFM filed two Requests for Reconsideration with ICANN in late 2013 and early 2014, raising the possibility of conflicts of interest and demanding ICANN have Tawil’s ruling thrown out, both were rejected by ICANN’s Board Governance Committee.

It also took its claims to the ICANN Ombudsman, who drafted (but did not finalize) a finding that agreed with FFM that the Community Objection should be retried with a new expert.

The subsequent IRP filing challenged the two RfR decisions and, two years later, the IRP panel has now ruled:

the IRP Panel is of the view that in order to have upheld the integrity of the system, in accordance with its Core Values, the ICANN Board was required properly to consider whether allegations of apparent bias in fact gave rise to a basis for reconsideration of an Expert Determination. It failed to do so and, consequently, is in breach of its governing documents.

The panel also said that ICANN should have taken the Ombudsman’s draft report into account.

It declared:

that the action of the ICANN Board in failing substantively to consider the evidence of apparent bias of the Expert arising after the Expert Determination had been rendered was inconsistent with the Articles, Bylaws and/or the Applicant Guidebook.

The panel has ordered ICANN to pay FFM’s share of the $152,673 IRP costs.

ICANN’s board will now have to consider the IRP decision, and it seems very possible that a new Community Objection review might be ordered.

On the face of it, it looks like a big win for FFM.

That does not mean that SportAccord will not prevail in its objection for a second time, even with a different presiding expert, however.

One fact in its favor is that it now has three years’ worth of evidence of how Famous Four conducts its business — selling domains at super-cheap prices, some say at the expense of the cleanliness of its namespaces — with which to attempt to show the likelihood of harm.

What seems certain is that the .sport gTLD is not going to see the light of day any time soon.

Read the ruling as a PDF here.

Trump’s ‘Muslim ban’ draws fire, creates confusion in ICANN community

Kevin Murphy, January 31, 2017, Domain Policy

At least two senior-level ICANN community members, including a new member of its board of directors, have been affected by US President Donald Trump’s controversial travel restrictions, imposed this weekend on the citizens of seven Muslim-majority nations.

The so-called “Muslim ban” has also attracted criticism from other members of the community.

Kaveh Ranjbar, Amsterdam-based chief information officer for RIPE/NCC and an ICANN director, said that he is unable to attend this week’s board retreat in Los Angeles because he holds an Iranian passport.

“I have checked this with ICANN’s general counsel and they have tried an external counsel with expertise in immigration,” Ranjbar told DI. “Their advice was that I might be able to travel but they were not sure. As you know the situation is really fluid and things change real fast.”

“After checking with the airline and looking at similar cases, I decided not to even try, because I did not want to risk deportation or being detained in the US,” he said.

Ranjbar was born in Iran but holds dual Dutch-Iranian citizenship.

He said he will participate remotely in the board retreat, likely until with 3am each day.

“However, the work of ICANN board is no different than any other board, it is mostly free exchange of ideas and discussing and challenging positions, outside of the formal setting of the meetings, that’s how you get a feel on your other colleagues positions and will be informed enough about their positions which will enable you to support or oppose with proper grounds and arguments,” he said. “I will miss that critical part.”

Non-Commercial Users Constituency chair Farzaneh Badiei is also affected. She’s Iranian, but recently relocated to the US on an academic visa.

She told NCUC members that she’s effectively stuck there, unable to attend an intersessional meeting in Iceland or ICANN’s March meeting in Denmark, for fear of not being allowed to return.

“I have been advised to take precautionary measures in light of the current draft executive order that might not allow current visa holders re-entry to the United States,” she said.

ICANN is still evaluating the situation.

“We are still trying to fully understand the potential impact of the President’s Executive Order on our community, Board and staff travelers. We want to ensure ICANN’s continued accessibility and openness,” a spokesperson said on Sunday.

ICANN does have Iranian-born staffers, but I’m not aware that any have reported travel problems as a result of the Trump move.

The travel ban has drawn fire from other related organizations.

Internet Society CEO Kathy Brown wrote that she was “deeply troubled” by the ban, adding:

Not only will the purported bans place an unwarranted burden on people in our organization, it is an anathema to the Internet Society whose values rest firmly on a commitment to an open, globally connected community dedicated to the open, global Internet. We are encouraged by the countries who have rejected the U.S. action this weekend and by the human rights organizations that have stood in solidarity with countless refugees and travelers who were so abruptly halted in entering the U.S.

The chairs of the IETF, IAOC and IAB indicated in a joint statement that they may reconsider holding future meetings in the US:

the recent action by the United States government to bar entry by individuals from specific nations raises concerns for us—not only because upcoming IETF meetings are currently scheduled to take place in the U.S., but also because the action raises uncertainty about the ability of U.S.-based IETF participants to travel to and return from IETF meetings held outside the United States….

Our next meeting is planned for Chicago, and we believe it is too late to change that venue. We recognize, however, that we may have to review our other planned meeting locations when the situation becomes clearer. We are already reviewing what to do as far as location for the next open North American meeting slot.

Meanwhile, the Internet Governance Project’s Milton Mueller blogged:

This has significant implications for Internet governance. Coordination and policy making for a global medium based on cooperation and voluntary standards requires open transnational institutions. Participation in those institutions requires the ability to freely travel. The United States can no longer be considered the leader, either politically or ideologically, of an open global Internet if its own society is mired in protective barriers… What a stroke of good fortune that the prior administration succeeded in freeing ICANN from the U.S. government in its waning months.

The travel ban is said to be “temporary”, lasting just 90 days, but some fear it may evolve into a permanent fixture of US policy.