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Chalaby named next ICANN chair

Kevin Murphy, September 26, 2017, Domain Policy

Cherine Chalaby is to be the next chair of ICANN.

In a case of burying the lede extreme even by ICANN standards, current chair Steve Crocker announced the news in the 11th paragraph of a blog post entitled “Chairman’s Blog: The Montevideo Workshop Wrap-Up” this evening.

Crocker wrote: “the Board had an opportunity to participate in the discussion of the Board’s future leadership, and have indicated unanimous support for the future election of Cherine Chalaby as the next Chair of the ICANN Board.”

No formal election has happened yet, but the board decided to come to a consensus on which way they will vote anyway.

Chris Disspain has been selected future vice-chair using the same informal process, Crocker wrote.

The actual raising of hands will take place during the board’s Annual General Meeting in Abu Dhabi at ICANN 60 in early November.

Chalaby was born in Egypt, also holds British citizenship, and lives in ICANN’s home town of Los Angeles.

He’s the first ICANN chair to come from the financial services world, having served a career at Accenture before joining Rasmala Investments.

He’s been a member of the ICANN board since the Nominating Committee selected him in December 2010 and was elected vice-chair a few years back.

His stint as chair will not be long. I believe he’s term-limited and will have to step aside at the end of 2019.

Crocker, an early internet pioneer, has been chair since 2011. No doubt ICANN is planning a big send-off for him at ICANN 60.

Millions spent as three more new gTLDs auctioned

Kevin Murphy, September 26, 2017, Domain Registries

Two or three new gTLDs have been sold in a private auction that may well have seen over $20 million spent.

The not-yet-delegated strings .inc, .llc and (I think) .llp hit the block at some point this month.

They are the first new gTLDs to be auctioned since Verisign paid $135 million for .web a little over a year ago.

At this point, nobody wants to talk about which applicant(s) won which of the newly sold strings, but it seems that the proceeds ran into many millions.

MMX, which applied for .inc and .llc, said this morning that it has benefited from a $2.4 million windfall by losing both auctions.

The auctions evidently took place in September, but CEO Toby Hall declined to comment any further, citing non-disclosure agreements.

There were nine remaining applicants for .inc and eight for .llc.

I don’t think it’s possible to work out which sold for how much using just MMX’s disclosure.

But private auctions typically see the winning bid divided equally between the losers.

I believe .llp was probably sold off by auction at the same time.

The reason for this is that .llc, .inc and .llp were contention sets all being held up by one applicant’s dispute with ICANN.

Dot Registry LLC had applied for all three as “community” gTLDs, which meant it had to go through the Community Evaluation Process.

While it failed the CPE on all three counts, the company subsequently filed an Independent Review Process complaint against ICANN, which it won last August.

You may recall that this was the IRP that found disturbing levels of ICANN meddling in the drafting of the CPE panel’s findings.

Ever since then, ICANN has been conducting an internal review, assisted by outside experts, into how the CPE process worked (or didn’t).

Lawyers for Dot Registry and other affected applications (for .music and .gay) have been haranguing ICANN all year to get a move on and resolve the issue.

And yet, just as the end appeared to be in sight, Dot Registry seems to have decided to give up (or, possibly, cash out) and allow the strings to go to auction.

CEO Shaul Jolles declined to comment on the auctions today.

All I can currently tell you is that at least two of the Dot Registry holdout strings have been sold and that MMX did not win either of them.

The applicants for .inc were: Uniregistry, Dot Registry, Afilias, GMO, GTLD Limited, MMX, Nu Dot Co (now a known Verisign front), Donuts and Google.

The applicants for .llc were: MMX, Dot Registry, Nu Dot Co, Donuts, Afilias, Top Level Design, myLLC and Google.

More delay for Amazon as ICANN punts rejected gTLD

Kevin Murphy, September 26, 2017, Domain Policy

Amazon is going to have to wait a bit longer to discover whether its 2012 application for the gTLD .amazon will remain rejected.

ICANN’s board of directors at the weekend discussed whether to revive the application in light of the recent Independent Review Process panel ruling that the bid had been kicked out for no good reason.

Instead of making a firm decision, or punting it to the Government Advisory Committee (as I had predicted), the board instead referred the matter to a subcommittee for further thought.

The newly constituted Board Accountability Mechanisms Committee, which has taken over key functions of the Board Governance Committee, has been asked to:

review and consider the Panel’s recommendation that the Board “promptly re-evaluate Amazon’s applications” and “make an objective and independent judgment regarding whether there are, in fact, well-founded, merits-based public policy reasons for denying Amazon’s applications,” and to provide options for the Board to consider in addressing the Panel’s recommendation.

The notion of a “prompt” resolution appears to be subjective, but Amazon might not have much longer to wait for a firmer decision.

While the BAMC’s charter requires it to have meetings at least quarterly, if it follows the practice of its predecessor they will be far more frequent.

It’s possible Amazon could get an answer by the time of the public meeting in Abu Dhabi at the end of next month.

ICANN’s board did also resolve to immediately pay Amazon the $163,045.51 in fees the IRP panel said was owed.

The .amazon gTLD application, along with its Chinese and Japanese versions, was rejected by ICANN a few years ago purely on the basis of consensus GAC advice, led by the geographic name collisions concerns of Peru and Brazil.

However, the IRP panel found that the GAC advice appeared to based on not a great deal more than whim, and that the ICANN board should have at least checked whether there was a sound rationale to reject the bids before doing so.

L’Oreal is using “closed generic” .makeup in an interesting way

Kevin Murphy, September 18, 2017, Domain Registries

What do you call a registry that defensively registers names on behalf of the very people that would be its most likely customers if the TLD weren’t so hideously overpriced?

L’Oreal, apparently.

About half of its .makeup new gTLD comprises the names or nicknames of social media “influencers” in the make-up scene, and they all seem to belong to the registry.

Ironically, these are precisely the kind of people you’d expect to actually go out and register .makeup domains, if they didn’t cost close to $7,000 a pop.

L’Oreal put a $5,500 wholesale price-tag on .makeup domains, evidently as a Plan B to avoid actually having to sell names to people, after its original plan to keep the string as a “closed generic” failed due to ICANN politicking.

As you might expect, uptake has been minimal. The zone file currently has about 266 domains in it.

Beyond L’Oreal itself, there are defensive registrations by companies not remotely related to the make-up industry, such as BMW and Intuit, and registrations by competing companies in the cosmetics industry, such as Christian Dior and Estee Lauder.

But there are also something like 150 .makeup domains that were all registered at the same time, this April, representing the names and social media handles of young women who post YouTube videos about makeup for their often thousands of subscribers.

It turns out these women are all participants (willing, it seems) in WeLove.Makeup, a web site created by L’Oreal to promote its products.

The site is basically a social media aggregator. Each “influencer” has their own page, populated by their posts from YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and such. It’s maintained by Findie, which specializes in that kind of thing.

The domains matching the participants names do not resolve to the site, however. They’re all registered to L’Oreal’s registry management partner Fairwinds and resolve to ad-free registrar parking pages.

The names were registered via 101Domain, which prices .makeup names at $6,999, but I’ve no idea what payment arrangement Fairwinds/L’Oreal has for this kind of thing.

This is what a wannabe closed generic can look like, it seems — the registry pricing its customers out of the market then registering their names on their behalf anyway.

Is this “innovation”?

Will ICANN punt on .amazon again?

Kevin Murphy, September 15, 2017, Domain Policy

Amazon is piling pressure onto ICANN to finally approve its five-year-old gTLD applications for .amazon, but it seems to me the e-commerce giant will have a while to wait yet.

The company sent a letter to ICANN leadership this week calling on it to act quickly on the July ruling of an Independent Review Process panel that found ICANN had breached its own bylaws when it rejected the .amazon and and Chinese and Japanese transliterations.

Amazon’s letter said:

Such action is necessary because there is no sovereign right under international or national law to the name “Amazon,” because there are no well-founded and substantiated public policy reasons to block our Applications, because we are committed to using the TLDs in a respectful manner, and because the Board should respect the IRP accountability mechanism.

ICANN had denied the three applications based on nothing more than the consensus advice of its Governmental Advisory Committee, which had been swayed by the arguments of primarily Brazil and Peru that there were public policy reasons to keep the gTLD available for possible future use by its own peoples.

The string “Amazon”, among its many uses, is of course the name of a river and a rain forest that covers much of the South American continent.

But the IRP panel decided that the ICANN board should have at least required the GAC to explain its public policy arguments, rather than just accepting its advice as a mandate from on-high.

Global Domains Division chief Akram Atallah had testified before the panel that consensus GAC advice sets a bar “too high for the Board to say no.”

But the governmental objections “do not appear to be based on well-founded public policy concerns that justify the denial of the applications” the IRP panelists wrote.

The panel, in a 2-to-1 ruling, instructed ICANN to reopen Amazon’s applications.

Since the July ruling, ICANN’s board has not discussed how to proceed, but it seems likely that the matter will come up at its Montevideo, Uruguay retreat later this month.

No agenda for this meeting has yet been published, but there will be an unprecedented public webcast of the full formal board meeting, September 23.

The Amazon letter specifically asks the ICANN board of directors to not refer the .amazon matter back to the GAC for further advice, but I think that’s probably the most likely outcome.

I say this largely because while ICANN’s bylaws specifically allow it to reject GAC advice, it has cravenly avoided such a confrontation for most of its history.

It has on occasion even willfully misinterpreted GAC advice in order to appear that it has accepted it when it has not.

The GAC, compliantly, regularly provides pieces of advice that its leaders have acknowledged are deliberately vague and open to interpretation (for a reason best known to the politicians themselves).

It seems to me the most likely next step in the .amazon case is for the board to ask the GAC to reaffirm or reconsider its objection, giving the committee the chance to save face — and avoid a lengthy mediation process — by providing the board with something less than a consensus objection.

If ICANN were to do this, my feeling is that the GAC at large would probably be minded to stick to its guns.

But it only takes one government to voice opposition to advice for it to lose its “consensus” status, making it politically much easier for ICANN to ignore.

Hypothetically, the US government could return to its somewhat protectionist pre-2014 position of blocking consensus on .amazon, but that might risk fanning the flames of anti-US sentiment.

While the US no longer has its unique role in overseeing ICANN’s IANA function, it still acts as the jurisdictional overlord for the legal organization, which some other governments still hate.

A less confrontational approach might be to abstain and to allow friendly third-party governments to roadblock consensus, perhaps by emphasizing the importance of ICANN being seen to accountable in the post-transition world.

Anyway, this is just my gut premonition on how this could play out, based on the track records of ICANN and the GAC.

If ICANN can be relied on for anything, it’s to never make a decision on something today if it can be put off until tomorrow.