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ICANN chief begs privacy watchdogs for Whois advice

Kevin Murphy, March 28, 2018, Domain Policy

ICANN CEO Goran Marby has written to the data protection authorities of all 28 European Union states, along with the European Data Protection Supervisor, to ask for guidance on how to implement new privacy laws.

Marby also asked the DPAs about the possibility of an enforcement moratorium, to give the domain industry and ICANN more time to formulate their collective response to the General Data Protection Regulation.

GDPR, which aims to give EU citizens more control over their personal data, comes into full effect May 25. Companies that break the rules face fines that could amount to millions of euros.

But ICANN does not yet have a firm plan for bringing the distributed Whois system into compliance with GDPR, and has repeatedly indicated that it needs guidance from European DPAs.

“ICANN and more than a thousand of the domain names registries and registrars are at a critical juncture,” Marby wrote (pdf).

“We need specific guidance from European data protection authorities in order to meet the needs of the global internet stakeholder community, including governments, privacy authorities, law enforcement agencies, intellectual property holders, cybersecurity experts, domain name registries, registrars, registrants and ordinary internet users,” he wrote.

ICANN has already written a proposal — known as the “Cookbook” and sent to DPAs three weeks ago — for how gTLD registrars and registries could comply with GDPR by removing most fields from public Whois records.

But Marby’s letter points out that many ICANN community members think the Cookbook either goes too far or not far enough.

As we reported a week ago, the Governmental Advisory Committee and Intellectual Property Constituency are not convinced ICANN needs to chop quite as much info from the public Whois as it’s currently planning.

But on the flipside, there are privacy advocates who think far less data should be collected on registrants and fundamentally question ICANN’s power to mandate public Whois access in its registry and registrar contracts.

Both sides of the debate are referenced in the letter.

“Guidance from DPAs on ICANN’s plan of action as presented in the Cookbook, and in particular, the areas where there are competing views, is critical as soon as possible, but particularly during the next few weeks,” Marby wrote.

Whether ICANN will get the answers it needs on the timetable it needs them is open to debate.

Many community members expressed skepticism about whether the DPAs’ commitment to the urgency of the issue matches ICANN’s own, during ICANN 61 earlier this month.

There seemed to be little confidence that the DPAs’ responses, should ICANN receive any, will provide the clarity the industry needs.

It may also be bad timing given the unrelated Cambridge Analytica/Facebook scandal, which appears to be consuming the attention of some European DPAs.

Stéphane Van Gelder dies after motorcycle accident

Kevin Murphy, March 26, 2018, Domain Policy

I’m very sad to report that domain name industry veteran and ICANN community leader Stéphane Van Gelder has died. He was 51.

SVGFriends tell me he died today of injuries sustained in a vehicle crash in Switzerland near the Italian border.

According to a local report, he and his wife were hit by a car March 23, while stopped on their motorcycles at a traffic light.

His wife, Julie, was also injured but survived.

Stéphane was a long-time member of the industry, in 1999 co-founding the French registrar Indom, which he sold to Group NBT in 2010.

After Indom, he became an independent consultant, first under the brand Stéphane Van Gelder Consulting, later as Milathan.

He joined new gTLD registry StartingDot in 2014 and saw the company through to its acquisition by Afilias in 2016.

He told us at the time of his rebranding that the name “Milathan” was a “derivative of words in Hindi that mean ‘union’ or ‘meeting’ in the sense of bringing people together”.

It was perhaps an appropriate name, given Stéphane’s record of successful senior leadership positions in the ICANN volunteer community.

Notably, he chaired the GNSO Council for two years from 2010, and was chair of the Nominating Committee from 2015.

His most recent social media posts show that he was on a motorcycle tour of Italy with his wife before his accident near Lake Como.

Stéphane and I were not close, but in our interactions I always found him knowledgeable, witty, and charming. A thoroughly nice guy.

He was also one of the very few people in the industry I’ve trusted enough to write guest posts for DI over the years. Here he is fighting the GNSO’s corner in 2012.

Stéphane is survived by his wife and, friends tell me, two children. They have our condolences, and we wish his wife a speedy recovery.

He will be missed.

Some men at ICANN meetings really are assholes

Kevin Murphy, March 24, 2018, Domain Policy

Several men have been accused of sexual harassment at ICANN meetings.

A group of women have written to ICANN with five stories of how they were groped, intimidated, objectified or otherwise harassed in violation of not only common decency but also ICANN’s year-old anti-harassment policy.

They’ve not named the alleged harassers, but hinted that they may do so in future.

If we assume the stories are all the unembellished truth — and we kinda have to nowadays — then the behavior described is unambiguously out of order.

Fortunately, none of the allegations rise to the level of the obviously seriously criminal. In these cases we appear to be talking more Hoffman than Weinstein.

But we’re not talking about bizarro Cheesesandwichgate-level interactions either. The stories allege groping, simulated sexual activity, and physical restraint, among other things.

In one allegation, a woman claims a drunk man touched her rear during a social interaction.

In another, a man is alleged to have attempted to let himself into a woman’s hotel room, prompting her to block the door from the inside with a chair, after his earlier advances were rebuffed.

Another woman claims a man she had never met chose, as his opening conversational gambit, to compliment her appearance and inquire after her marital status — during a daytime coffee break for crying out loud — and then grabbed her waist and wrists to prevent her from leaving.

“If you want to start a conversation, ask what I do, what do I work with and why am I here,” the woman is quoted as saying. “Do not acknowledge physical attributes and reduce me to this.”

“If you want to talk to women in a professional setting, do not tighten her wrists, do not grab her waist. Do not ask whether she is married or not,” she said. “Regardless, you should respect her integrity, not her marital status.”

Another man is accused of simulating a sex position with a woman during a cocktail event.

A fifth is accused of “body-blocking” a woman as she attempted to leave a room.

The letter states:

These actions which are definitely categorized as harassment and even assault, would not only affect the woman who went through the incident but it would also lead to several probable repercussions such as (1) Her withdrawal from the community and physical presence. We all know how important being present in meetings is on different levels of engagement in and outside meetings (2) When no solid response from the community is done towards the harasser, there can definitely be an increase in aggressive characters of harassers as there would be no accountability to stop them (3) With the increase in harassment there surely will be a decrease in the representation of young women’s voices in any proceeding which defies the core concept of diversity.

The letter (pdf) is unsigned, and ICANN broke with its usual practice of listing the sender on the correspondence page of its web site.

The letter also does not name any of the accused men, but it and a related comment from a group of women at the public forum at ICANN 61 last week, said the women “refrain from using names for now, in order to keep the focus on the topic and not the person”.

It’s been DI practice to not name either party concerned in such allegations, even when we know who they are.

While the anti-harassment policy exists to deal precisely with the kinds of behaviors outlined in the letter, we reported in November that the ICANN Ombudsman had received no complaints whatsoever invoking the policy, even after the post-Weinstein sea change in workplace sexual politics.

But the letter-writers say this is because the current Ombudsman, Herb Weye, is a man, and women are sometimes reluctant to report such incidents to a man. The letter states:

There should be a woman ombudsperson for harassment reporting. It has been proven by several studies that given the sensitivity of the issue, harassment reports are more prone to be tackled and come forth with, when the ombudsperson is (a) a woman (b) an expert in gender-related issues and mitigating harassment risks

They’re also not confident that the policy, which has yet to be tested, will cause more good than harm.

They also want all ICANN meeting delegates to read the harassment policy as a condition for attendance, and for signage at the meetings to warn against inappropriate behavior.

In response to the public forum comments, ICANN vice-chair Chris Disspain promised that the board will respond to the women’s letter, adding that the Ombudsman is taking a look at how the harassment policy has been implemented.

“It’s very important that ICANN is a safe place for everyone,” chair Cherine Chalaby told the women. “The more we raise awareness, the more it is safe.”

The message to certain blokes at ICANN meetings seems pretty clear: stop being assholes.

Like most places of work, the ICANN community is resplendent with examples of people forming lasting romantic relationships — or even just getting laid — but none of them began with a man grabbing a woman’s backside without her consent.

Cybersquatting cases up because of .com

Kevin Murphy, March 23, 2018, Domain Services

The World Intellectual Property Organization handled cybersquatting cases covering almost a thousand extra domain names in 2017 over the previous year, but almost all of the growth came from complaints about .com names, according to the latest WIPO stats.

There were 3,074 UDRP cases filed with WIPO in 2017, up about 1.2% from the 3,036 cases heard in 2016, WIPO said in its annual roundup last week.

That’s slower growth than 2016, which saw a 10% increase in cases over the previous year.

But the number domains complained about in UDRP was up more sharply — 6,370 domains versus 5,374 in 2016.

WIPO graph

WIPO said that 12% of its 2017 cases covered domains registered in new gTLDs, down from 16% in 2016.

If you drill into its numbers, you see that 3,997 .com domains were complained about in 2017, up by 862 domains or 27% from the 3,135 seen in 2016.

.com accounted for 66% of UDRP’d domains in 2016 and 70% in 2017. The top four domains in WIPO’s table are all legacy gTLDs.

As usual when looking at stats for basically anything in the domain business in the last few years, the tumescent rise and meteoric fall of .xyz and .top have a lot to say about the numbers.

In 2016, they accounted for 321 and 153 of WIPO’s UDRP domains respectively, but they were down to 66 and 24 domains in 2017.

Instead, three Radix TLDs — .store, .site and .online — took the honors as the most complained-about new gTLDs, with 98, 79, and 74 domains respectively. Each of those three TLDs saw dozens more complained-about domains in 2017 than in 2016.

As usual, interpreting WIPO’s annual numbers requires caution for a number of reasons, among them: WIPO is not the only dispute resolution provider to handle UDRP cases, rises and falls in UDRP filings do not necessarily equate to rises and falls in cybersquatting, and comparisons between .com and new gTLDs do not take into account that new gTLDs also have the URS as an alternative dispute mechanism.

Privacy could be a million-dollar business for ICANN

Kevin Murphy, March 22, 2018, Domain Registrars

ICANN has set out the fees it plans to charge to officially accredit Whois proxy and privacy services, in the face of resistance from some registrars.

VP of finance Becky Nash told registrars during a session at ICANN 61 last week that they can expect to pay $3,500 for their initial accreditation and $4,000 per year thereafter.

Those are exactly the same fees as ICANN charges under its regular registrar accreditation program.

Registrars that also offer privacy should expect to see their annual ICANN flat fees double, in other words. Per-domain transaction fees would be unaffected.

The up-front application fee would be reduced $2,000 when the privacy service is to be offered by an accredited registrar, but it would stay at $3,500 if the company offering service is merely “affiliated” with the registrar.

Nash said all the fees have been calculated on a per-accreditation basis, independent of the volume of applications ICANN receives.

Director of registrar services Jennifer Gore said that while ICANN has not baked an estimate of the number of accredited providers into its calculations, registrars have previously estimated the number at between 200 and 250 companies.

That would put the upper end of annual accreditation fees at $1 million, with $875,000 up-front for initial applications.

Volker Greimann, general counsel of the registrar Key-Systems, pointed out during the session that many registrars give away privacy services for free or at cost.

“This just adds cost to an already expensive service that does not really make money for a lot of providers,” he said.

He suggested that the prices could lead to unexpected negative consequences.

“Pricing this in this region will just lead to a lot of unaccredited providers that will switch names every couple months, an underground that we don’t really want,” he said. “We want to have as many people on board as possible and the way to do that is to keep costs low.”

“Pricing them out of the market is not the way to attract providers to join this scheme,” he said.

Nash responded that registrars are forbidden under the incoming privacy/proxy policy from accepting registrations from unaccredited services.

She added that the fees have been calculated on a “cost-recovery” basis. Costs include the initial background checks, outreach, contract admin, compliance, billing and so on.

But some registrars expressed skepticism that the proposed fees could be justified, given that ICANN does not plan to staff up to administer the program.

Another big question is whether proxy/privacy services are going to continue to have value after May this year, when the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation kicks in.

The current ICANN plan for GDPR compliance would see individual registrants have all of their private information removed from the public Whois.

It’s not currently clear how many people and what kinds of people will continue to have access to unmasked Whois, so there are likely still plenty of cases where individuals might feel they need an extra layer of protection — if they live in a dictatorship and are engaged in rebellious political speech, for example.

There could also be cases where companies wish to mask their details ahead of, say, a product launch.

And, let’s face it, bad actors will continue to want to use privacy services on domains they intend to misuse.

The proxy/privacy policy came up through the formal GNSO Policy Development Process and was approved two years ago. It’s currently in the implementation phase.

According to a presentation from the ICANN 61 session, ICANN hopes to put the final implementation plan out for public comment by the end of the month.