The guy responsible for getting the string “rape” closely restricted for no reason in .uk domain names is now gunning for ICANN and new gTLDs with a very similar playbook.
Campaigner John Carr, secretary of the little-known Children’s Charities’ Coalition on Internet Safety, wants ICANN to bring in strict controls to prevent convicted pedophiles registering domains in child-oriented domains such as .kids.
He’s written to the UK prime minister, the two other ministers with the relevant brief, the US federal government and the California attorney general to make these demands.
That’s despite the fact that he freely acknowledges that he does not have any evidence of a problem in existing kid-oriented TLDs and that he does not expect there to be a problem with .kids, should it be delegated, in future.
Regardless, ICANN comes in for a bit of a battering in the letter (pdf), with Carr insinuating that it and the domain industry are quite happy to throw child safety under the bus in order to make a quick buck. He writes:
ICANN has definitely not been keeping the internet secure for children. On the contrary ICANN shows complete indifference towards children’s safety. This has led to real dangers that ICANN could have prevented or mitigated.
ICANN, the Registries and the Registrars have an obvious financial interest in increasing the number of domain names being sold. Their interest in maximising or securing their revenues appears sometimes to blind them to a larger obligation to protect the weak and vulnerable e.g. in this instance children.
Despite this worrying premise, Carr admits in an accompanying paper (pdf) that the Russian version of .kids (.дети), which has been live for three years and only has about 1,000 registrations, does not seem to have experienced a deluge of sex offenders.
Nevertheless, he says ICANN should have forced the .дети registry to do criminal background checks on all registrants to make sure they did not have a record of sexual offences.
While at the time of writing we have no information which suggests anything untoward has happened with any Russian .kids websites, and we understand the volume of sales has been low so far, the matter should never have been left open in that way. When ICANN let the contract it could have included clauses which would have made it a contractual obligation to carry out the sort of checks mentioned. The fact that ICANN did not do this illustrates a degree of carelessness about children’s well-being which is tantamount to gross negligence.
Quite how a domain registry would go about running criminal records checks on all of its customers globally, and what the costs and the benefits would be, Carr does not say.
The letter goes on to state incorrectly that Amazon and Google are in contention for .kids.
In fact, Google applied for the singular .kid. While the two strings are in contention due to an adverse String Confusion Objection, there’s also a second applicant for .kids, the DotKids Foundation, which proposes to keep .kids highly restricted and which Carr is either unaware of or deliberately omits from his letter.
Based on his assumption that .kids is a two-horse race between Amazon and Google, he says:
while I am sure both Google and Amazon will choose to do the right thing, whichever one is the eventual winner of the contract, the point is matters of this kind should never have been left as an option
So not only does Carr not have any evidence that extant “.kids” domains are currently being abused years after delegation, he’s also sure that .kids won’t be in future.
But he wants Draconian background checks implemented on all registrants anyway.
His letter coincides with the release of and heavily cites the 2016 annual report (pdf) of the Internet Watch Foundation — the organization that coordinates the takedown of child abuse material in the UK and elsewhere.
That report found that new gTLD domains are being increasingly used to distribute such material, but that Verisign-run TLDs such as .com are still by far the most abused for this purpose.
The number of takedowns against new gTLD domains in 2016 was 272 (226 of which were “dedicated to distributing child sexual abuse content”) the IWF reported, a 258% increase on 2015.
That’s 272 domains too many, but averages out at about a quarter of a domain per new gTLD.
There were 2,416 domains being used to distribute this material in 2016, IWF said. That means new gTLDs accounted for about 11% of the total child abuse domains — higher than the 7.8% market share that new gTLDs command (according to Verisign’s Q4 industry brief).
But the IWF report states that 80% of the total abuse domains are concentrated in just five TLDs — .com, .net, .se, .io, and .cc. Even child abusers are not fans of new gTLDs, it seems.
Despite the fact that two of these domains are operated under ICANN contract, and the fact that .io is operated by a British company representing a British overseas territory, Carr focuses his calls for action instead on new gTLDs exclusively.
And his calls are receiving attention.
A The Times article this week cries “New internet domain is magnet for paedophiles, charities warn”, while tabloid stable sister The Sun reported on “fears predators are exploiting new website addresses to hide indecent material”.
This is how it started with Carr’s campaign to get “rape” domains banned in the UK.
Back in 2013, he wrote a blog post complaining that it was possible to register “rapeher.co.uk” — not that it had been registered, only that it could be registered — and managed to place a couple of stories in the right-leaning press calling for Nominet to do more to prevent the registration of “depraved and disgusting” domains such as the one he thought up.
This led to a government minister calling for an independent policy review, an actual review, and a subsequent policy that sees some poor bastard at Nominet having to pore over every .uk registration containing rapey strings to see if they’re potentially advocating or promoting actual rape.
Implementation of that policy has so far confirmed that Carr’s worries were, as I said in my 2013 rant, baseless.
In 2016, there were 2,407 registrations of domains containing the string “rape”, but just one of them was found to be using it in the context of sexual assault and was suspended, according to Nominet stats.
In 2015, the number of suspensions was the same. One.
The same story is playing out now — a single Don Quixote with a tenuous grasp of the systems he’s criticizing calling for ludicrous policies to prevent a problem that he freely admits does not exist and probably won’t exist in future.
Still, at least he gets to wave some headlines in front of his employers to pretend he’s actually earning his salary.
The .web gTLD will go to auction July 27, according to ICANN.
The organization released an updated auction schedule (pdf) on Wednesday night that also slates .kids/.kid for an auction on the same day.
Both auctions have confusing “indirect contention” elements, where two strings were ruled confusingly similar.
With .web, it’s lumped in with Vistaprint’s application for .webs, which lost a String Confusion Objection filed by Web.com.
Under ICANN rules, .webs is confusingly similar to to Web.com’s .web, but not to the other six .web applications.
This means that Vistaprint and Web.com basically are fighting a mini contention set auction to see who gets their applied-for gTLD.
If Web.com wins the auction for .web, Vistaprint cannot have .webs. However, if any other .web applicant wins, Vistaprint can go ahead with .webs.
Either way, there will be a .web delegated this year. Google, Donuts, Radix, Afilias, Schlund Technologies, Nu Dot Co are all contenders.
In the case of .kids/.kid, the one applicant for .kid — Google — won SCOs against DotKids Foundation and Amazon by default because both .kids applicants failed to respond to the complaints.
DotKids Foundation recently lost a Community Priority Evaluation, enabling the auction to go ahead.
Because Google is in contention with both .kids applicants, only one of the two strings will ultimately be delegated — .kids and .kid will not coexist.
The only other scheduled auction right now is that of .doctor, which is planned for May 25. Radix, Donuts and The Medical Registry will fight it out in this rather less complex battle.
It’s worth noting that if any of these contention sets unanimously choose to resolve their differences via private auction, none of the ICANN auctions will go ahead.
DotKids Foundation has comprehensively lost is .kids Community Priority Evaluation.
The company’s CPE results came out at the weekend (pdf), showing a score of 6 out of the 16 available points, a long way short of the 14-point passing score.
Like other “community” new gTLD bids before it, .kids failed because the Economist Intelligence Unit panel decided that the application was an attempt to create a community rather than represent an existing one. It wrote:
The Panel determined that this application refers to a “community” construed to obtain a sought-after generic word as a gTLD string, and that the application is attempting to organize the various groups mentioned in the documentation through a gTLD.
The application scored a big fat 0/4 on the question of whether the community exists and, as a knock-on effect, another 0/4 on whether the .kids string represents the community.
It picked up 3/4 for its registration policies and 3/4 on community endorsement.
The CPE failure means DotKids will have to face rival Amazon at auction, where one imagines the not-for-profit foundation will have a hard time winning.
ICANN’s CPE pipeline currently only has one active application, where Merck KGaA is fighting to avoid an auction with rival Merck Registry Holdings, Inc.
The latter .merck, and Vistaprint’s .webs application, have both also been invited to CPE.
Two more applications have been rejected from the new gTLD program, after they tried and failed to have their application fees subsidized by ICANN’s Applicant Support Program.
Three gTLDs were submitted for financial assistance, but ICANN’s Support Application Review Panel, delivering its results (pdf) today, decided that only one of them qualified for a cheapo bid.
DotKids Foundation Ltd, which is applying for .kids, is the lucky recipient of $138,000 worth of waived application fees. Its application now enters Initial Evaluation.
The applicants for .ummah (Ummah Digital Ltd) and .idn (NameShop), on the other hand, have been given a refund of the $47,000 application fee they paid and politely shown the door.
ICANN said: “applications that did not meet the threshold criteria for financial assistance will be excluded from further participation in this round of the New gTLD Program”.
That rule was introduced to prevent gaming — companies that asked for cheaper applications risked losing their applications if they failed to meet the requirements for support.
It doesn’t mean there was anything wrong with their gTLD applications, however.
The approval of funding for the DotKids Foundation is goodish news for people uncomfortable with Amazon’s closed gTLD land-grab — the retailer is the only other applicant for .kids.
While the .kids contention set remains, is pretty safe to say that Amazon will be able to utterly crucify its competition if the TLD goes to auction.
Today, the number of comments filed with ICANN on new gTLD applications surpassed the number of applications themselves, and we’re now starting to see more significant objections.
At the time of writing, 1,939 comments have been filed on 584 applications by 834 unique individuals and organizations.
Here are some recent comments from notable organizations.
Save the Children
The international charitable non-governmental organization Save the Children has expressed concerns about all four .health applications.
Here’s a snippet:
The health Internet is a vital means of health information access worldwide. Thus, “.health” and health related top level domains should be trusted and reliable resources which take the public interest into account and are based on broad-based, multi-stakeholder consensus. In this regard, it is particularly worrying that the current applicants intend to sell the “.health” gTLD on a ‘first-come, first-served’, wholesale and auction basis, placing private interests ahead of the public interest.
We urge ICANN to postpone the assignment of “.health” until such time as following broad-based consultation of the health community, including the public and private sectors, adequate baseline conditions for their operation are elaborated and their implementation and observance is ensured.
The same comment was filed by International Medical Informatics Association, indicating an orchestrated campaign is underway.
All were filed as Community Objection Grounds, suggesting that .health could run into objection delays down the road.
But Save the Children, which has better things to do with its money, may not necessarily object itself. I’d say .health is a prime candidate for a community-based intervention by the Independent Objector.
I’m also expecting the Governmental Advisory Committee to take a healthy interest in these applications.
International Olympic Committee
The International Olympic Committee has, as expected, thrown its support behind the .sport application filed by SportAccord, which already has strong ties with the Olympic movement.
There are only two applications for .sport (though Donuts is going for .sports) and while SportAccord’s is a community-based bid, a successful Community Priority Evaluation is by no means assured.
However, if the IOC is half as belligerent about .sport as it has been about the new gTLD program in general then I expect Famous Four Media, the other .sport applicant, has a fight on its hands.
Notably, the IOC invokes ICANN’s new IANA contract to back up its claim that SportAccord should be the rightful owner of .sport:
new IANA contractual requirements require ICANN in connection with new gTLDs to document “how the process provided the opportunity for input from relevant stakeholders and was supportive of the global public interest. “ Therefore, SportAccord is the only applicant for the .SPORT gTLD which can serve the global public interest in connection with the operation of the gTLD on behalf of the global sports community.
Lego Juris, the extremely brand-conscious producer of overpriced kids’ building blocks, has filed complaints about 80 applications, all of which appear to be the same form letter.
As you might imagine from the most prolific filer of UDRP complaints in history, Lego’s primary concern is cybersquatting and preventing the need for defensive registrations.
Here’s Lego’s comment:
While we of course support enhanced fair competition, we call on the evaluators to ensure the maintenance of a clean Internet space by impressing on the new registries the importance of not accepting second level names within their gTLDs that may be confusingly similar to our trade marks, especially from applicants believed to be registering in bad faith.
To avoid consumer confusion and the wasted resources of needless dispute resolution procedures, legal actions and defensive registrations (none of which benefit consumers), as well as proving to the entire community that the registries do wish to act in good faith in a clean space, we request that new registries develop “blocked” lists of brand names that should not be registered absent evidence of good faith. Such lists could take the form of “white lists” at the second level that could only be lifted if requested by and for the brand owner.
This comment was filed against .kids, .group, .inc, .gmbh, .discount, .deals, .direct and many, many more.
All of these comments, incidentally, are logged in the DI PRO new gTLD application database.