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Google registrar dumps .com for dot-brand

Kevin Murphy, March 30, 2016, Domain Registrars

Google has started using its primary dot-brand gTLD for its registrar business.

The URL domains.google.com now bounces users to domains.google. The site sells domains from $12 a year with free Whois privacy.

Is this move a big deal for improving new gTLD awareness? I don’t think so.

Anyone visiting any major registrar’s storefront is likely to become aware that new gTLDs exist really rather quickly, regardless of the registrar’s own choice of domain.

A registrar using its dot-brand is not going to work wonders for new gTLD awareness in the general populace.

If Google were to start using .google for any of its non-domain projects, such as search.google, that would be different.

The company was already using registry.google for its registry business’s web site.

Ralph Lauren can’t have .polo, panel rules

Kevin Murphy, October 17, 2013, Domain Policy

Ralph Lauren’s application for the dot-brand .polo is likely at an end, after the International Chamber of Commerce ruled that it would infringe the rights of polo players.

The Community Objection to the gTLD was filed by the US Polo Association, the governing body of the sport in the US, and supported by the Federation of International Polo, along with seven national and 10 regional US-based polo associations.

The FIP letter was crucial in ICC panelist Burkhard Hess’ decision to find against Ralph Lauren, persuading him that there was “substantial opposition” from a “clearly delineated” polo-playing community.

The word “polo” was often used in straw man arguments when the new gTLD program and its objection mechanisms were being designed. Who gets .polo? Ralph Lauren? Volkswagen? Nestle? The sport?

Well, now we know: according to the ICC, the sport will probably trump any dot-brand.

The precedent might be bad news for Donuts and Famous Four Media, which are facing Community Objections from the international governing bodies of rugby and basketball on .rugby and .basketball.

However, none of those applications are for dot-brand spaces.

Under the Community Objection rules, the objector has to show that the gTLD would harm its interests is delegated.

In the case of .polo, the panelist found detriment largely due to the fact that Ralph Lauren’s plan was for a single-registrant space from which the sports associations would be excluded.

With open, unrestricted .basketball and .rugby applications, it’s likely to be much harder for the objectors to prove that the gTLDs would damage the sport.

String confusion in disarray as Demand’s .cam loses against Verisign’s .com

Kevin Murphy, August 20, 2013, Domain Policy

Demand Media is demanding an ICANN review of its objections policy, after its applied-for new gTLD .cam was beaten in a String Confusion Objection by .com registry Verisign.

A International Centre for Dispute Resolution panelist has ruled (pdf) that .cam and .com are too confusingly similar to coexist, meaning Demand’s bid for .cam must be rejected by ICANN.

But the ruling by Urs Laeuchli conflicts with two other ICDR panel decisions on .cam, which both found that the string is NOT confusingly similar to .com and therefore can be delegated.

So while Demand’s .cam bid, under a strict reading of the rules, is now supposed to be rejected, applications for identical strings filed by AC Webhosting and dotAgency can go ahead.

ICANN has been thrown a curve ball it is not yet fully prepared to deal with.

As Akram Atallah, president of ICANN’s Generic Domains Division, told DI last week, it’s possible that the policy or the implementation of that policy may need to be revisited by ICANN and the community.

United TLD, the Demand Media subsidiary that applied for .cam, is now calling for precisely that, with vice president of business and legal affairs Statton Hammock writing today:

String confusion objections are meant to be applicant agnostic and have nothing to do with the registration or use of the new gTLD. What matters in string confusion objections is whether a string is visually, aurally or, according to ICANN’s Applicant Guidebook, otherwise “so nearly resembles another that it is likely to deceive or cause confusion.” Individuals may disagree on whether .CAM and .COM are similarly confusing, but there can be no mistake that United TLD’s .CAM string, AC Webhosting’s .CAM string, and dotAgency Limited’s .CAM string are all identical. Either all three applications should move forward or none should move forward.

The .cam cases are not alone in presenting ICANN with SCO problems.

Last week, Donuts’ bid for .pets was ruled confusingly similar to Google’s .pet, despite previous ICDR cases finding that plurals and singulars are not too confusing to coexist.

Where the .cam panelists disagreed

While there were three .cam cases, two of them were decided by the same panelist. It seems that both panelists were provided with very similar sets of evidence in all three cases.

It’s relevant to note that neither panelist — unlike some of their colleagues in other cases — thought it was appropriate to apply trademark law such as the DuPont factors in their decisions.

They did, however, consider the expected use cases of .cam.

All three applicants take .cam as short for “webcam” or “camera” and would target registrants interested in those fields (a lot of the use will likely be pornographic — AC Webconnecting is a porn firm after all).

But all three applicants also want to run “open” gTLDs, with no registration restrictions.

ICDR panelist Murray Smith was in charge of both the AC Webconnecting and dotAgency cases. He addressed expected usage explicitly in dotAgency, and explained why:

It is not just the visual, phonetic and conceptual similarity between the words that must be taken into account. In my view the greater emphasis should be focused on the use of the disputed extensions in the context of modern Internet usage. It is this context that compels the conclusion that an average Internet user would not be confused and would know that a .com website is probably a commercial website while a .cam websites would be something more focused in a particular field.

In AC Webconnecting, he wrote:

I agree that a consumer would quickly realize that a .cam website is likely associated with photography or camera use and is different than a .com website in use generally by a myriad of commercial entities.

So he’s putting the “greater emphasis” on usage — a factor that is not explicitly mentioned in the Applicant Guidebook’s description of the SCO and which may quite often differ between applicants.

Right there, in Smith’s interpretation of his task, we have a reason why SCOs will produce different results for identical strings.

I find Smith’s thinking baffling for a couple of reasons.

First, “a consumer would quickly realize that a .cam website is likely associated with photography” seems to ignore the existence of a bazillion .com web sites that are also associated with photography.

When did “commercial entities” and “photography or camera use” become mutually exclusive? Is photographyblog.com not confusingly similar to photographyblog.cam?

Second, he ignores the fact that basically anyone will be able to register a .cam web site for basically any purpose. None of the applicants want to restrict the gTLD to camera-related stuff.

ICDR panelist Laeuchli, in the Demand Media .cam case, raised this precise point, saying:

“.com” and “.cam” would use the same channels appealing to a broad audience. Even though according to Applicant, its envisioned TLD will “likely appeal” to a specific audience, it plans to operate “.cam” as an open gTLD. This would lead to extensive overlap.

Panelist Smith has some other notions about confusion that seem to defy common sense. He wrote in the AC Webconnecting case:

The .com TLD is the most widely recognized string in the Internet world. No reasonable Internet user would fail to recognize the .com TLD. The very reputation of the .com name serves to limit the potential for an average Internet user to be confused by the proposed .cam TLD. It is indeed unlikely that an online consumer would confuse a .com website with a .cam website.

Does this not strike anyone else as bad thinking?

It seems to me to be a little like saying that it’s perfectly okay to market a brand of carbonated beverage called Cuke, because Coke is so famous that nobody could possibly be confused. I don’t know where the law stands on that issue, but I’m pretty sure Coke wouldn’t be happy about it.

There’s also some weirdness in Laeuchli’s decision in the Demand case.

He puts some weight on the similarity scores produced by the controversial Sword algorithm in his decision, but apparently without doing even the basic research. He writes in his findings:

No matter what the standards and purpose the ICANN SWORD algorithm includes, it has comparative value.

Since pairs such as “God” and “dog” (85%) reach similarity scores of 84% and higher, how much more similar would “cxm” and “cxm” be (x being replaced with a vowel)!

The answer is that, according to Sword, they’re less similar. Sword scores “cam” v “com” at 63%.

Laeuchli knows it’s 63%, because he makes reference to that fact in his summary of Verisign’s evidence. He doesn’t need to speculate about the number based on what “god” v “dog” scores (and if he did the “dog” v “god” query himself, why on earth didn’t he just query “com” v “cam” too?)

His finding that .cam and .com will cause probable confusion seems to be based largely on expert witness testimony provided by both Verisign and Demand, in which he found Verisign’s more persuasive.

This evidence seems to have largely comprised the opinions of linguists, examining mouth shapes and acoustic frequencies, and market research looking into internet user behavior. As none of it has been published, it’s difficult to judge which side had the better arguments.

But it’s undeniably about the similarity of the strings, rather than the proposed usage, which makes Demand Media’s statement today — that SCOs “are meant to be applicant agnostic and have nothing to do with the registration or use of the new gTLD” — quite confusing.

Demand lost its case based on the string similarity, whereas the other two applicants won theirs based on the usage.

Perhaps Demand senses that its .cam application will not be immediately rejected if ICANN reopens the debate about string similarity. If think it’s probably correct.

Demand Media hit with first new gTLD objection

Kevin Murphy, March 11, 2013, Domain Policy

With the deadline for filing objections against new gTLD applications fast approaching, the first such objection has been revealed.

Starting Dot, which has applied for .immo and other strings, has filed a String Confusion Objection against Demand Media’s .immobilien bid, according to the International Center for Dispute Resolution.

“Immobilien” is German for “homes” in the real estate context, while “immo” is a shorthand for the same term in a number of European languages.

The objection itself does not appear to have been published, but one can only assume that it’s based on the similarity of meaning between the two strings, rather than visual or audible confusion.

While it’s the first objection to be published, based on conversations with many interested parties I’m expecting a LOT more.

The deadline for filing objections using any of the four available mechanisms, is Wednesday.

First TAS security bug details revealed

Kevin Murphy, April 18, 2012, Domain Registries

The data leakage bug in ICANN’s TLD Application System was caused when applicants attempted to delete files they had uploaded, the organization has revealed.

In his latest daily update into the six-day-old TAS downtime, chief operating officer Akram Atallah wrote this morning:

ICANN’s review of the technical glitch that resulted in the TLD application system being taken offline indicates that the issue stems from a problem in the way the system handled interrupted deletions of file attachments. This resulted in some applicants being able to see some other applicants’ file names and user names.

This sounds rather like an applicant’s file names may have become visible to others if the applicant attempted to delete the file (perhaps in order to upload a revised version) and the deletion process was cut off.

Speculating further, this also sounds like exactly the kind of problem that would have been exacerbated by the heavy load TAS was under on April 12, as lots of applicants simultaneously scrambled to get their gTLD bids finalized to deadline.

Rather than being a straightforward web app, TAS is accessed via Citrix XenApp virtual machine software, which provides users with an encrypted tunnel into a Windows box running the application itself.

As you might expect with this set-up, performance issues have been observed for weeks. Every applicant logged into TAS last Thursday reported that it was running even more slowly than usual.

A security bug that only emerged under user load would have been relatively tricky to test for, compared to regular penetration testing.

But ICANN had some good news for applicants this morning: it thinks it will be able to figure out not only whose file names were leaked, but also who they were leaked to. Atallah wrote:

We are also conducting research to determine which applicants’ file names and user names were potentially viewable, as well as which applicants had the ability to see them.

This kind of disclosure would obviously be beneficial to applicants whose data was compromised.

It may also prove surprising and discomfiting to some applicants who were unwittingly on the receiving end of this confidential data but didn’t notice the rogue files on their screens at the time.

ICANN still plans to provide an update on when TAS will reopen for business this Friday. It will also confirm at the time whether it is still targeting April 30 for the Big Reveal.

US quietly revises IANA contract

Kevin Murphy, November 23, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN will not be allowed to do business with groups designated by the US government as terrorists, according to one of many changes that have been quietly made to the IANA contract.

The IANA contract, which gives ICANN its ability to delegate top-level domains, is up for renewal following the publication of an RFP by the Department of Commerce earlier this month.

But Commerce substantially modified the RFP a week after its initial publication. It’s now about 20 pages longer than the original document, containing many new terms and conditions.

A few changes struck me as notable.

Terrorism

Among the changes is a ban on dealing with groups classified as supporting terrorism under the US Executive Order 13224, signed by President Bush in the aftermath of the the 9/11 attacks.

That Order bans US companies from working with organizations including the IRA, Hamas and Al Qaeda.

While the addition of this clause to the IANA contract doesn’t really change anything – as a US corporation ICANN is bound to comply with US trade sanctions – it may ruffle some feathers.

The new top-level domains Applicant Guidebook banned applicants involved in “terrorism” in its fourth draft, which caused complaints from some quarters.

It was revised over a year ago to instead make reference to US legal compliance and the US Office of Foreign Assets Control and its List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons.

Khaled Fattal of the Mulitlingual Internet Group, who first described the unqualified Guidebook ban on “terrorism” as “racist”, continued to voice opposition to this rule, most recently at the ICANN public forum in Dakar, suggesting it betrays ICANN’s American bias.

Data Rights

The revised IANA RFP also contains a new section detailing the US government’s “unlimited rights” to data and software produced by the IANA contractor.

The new RFP states: “The Government shall have… Unlimited rights in all data delivered under this contract, and in all data first produced in the performance of this contract”

“Data,” it says, “means recorded information, regardless of form or the medium on which it may be recorded. The term includes technical data and computer software. The term does not include information incidental to contract administration, such as financial, administrative, cost or pricing, or management information.”

It’s not entirely clear what this clause could potentially cover.

By it’s very nature, much of the data produced by IANA is public – it needs to be in order for the DNS to function – but could it also cover data such as redelegation communications with other governments or private DNSSEC keys?

New gTLDs

There are no big changes to the section on new gTLDs, just one minor amendment.

Whereas the old RFP said that IANA must show that ICANN “followed its policy framework” to approve a gTLD, the new version says it must have “followed its own policy framework”, which doesn’t seem to change the meaning.

Other amendments to the RFP appear to be formatting changes or clarifications.

The more substantial additions – including the terrorism and data rights sections – appear to be standard boilerplate text designed to tick some boxes required by US procurement procedure, rather than being written specifically for ICANN’s benefit.

You can download the original and revised RFP documents here.

AusRegistry drops the “Aus”, sets up in US

Kevin Murphy, October 5, 2011, Domain Registries

AusRegistry International has rebranded itself as ARI Registry Services and will now offer new gTLD clients the option to host their domains in either Australia or the US.

ARIThe company has built itself a registry back-end in an undisclosed location on US soil to support the move.

Dropping the “Aus” appears to be specifically designed to address the perception that locating a gTLD in Australia is somehow technologically or politically risky, which ARI says isn’t the case.

ARI CEO Adrian Kinderis explained the decision in a press release:

We are the first to admit that the ‘Aus’ reference in our previous name incorrectly positioned us as a smaller, geographically focused organisation, which did create some issues with our plans for global expansion. Despite the fact we have an office and staff in the United States and clients situated in four of the seven continents around the world, there remained some belief that our services were somewhat isolated in Australia.

Potential gTLD applicants are concerned about issues such as “overzealous governments, privacy and ownership laws, political environments and financial benefits including currency fluctuations” that can vary according to the jurisdiction a registry is hosted in, ARI said.

A choice between the US and Australia may seem like a choice between one “overzealous government” and another, but it may at least put some insular American companies’ minds at rest.

While the move makes perfect business sense for ARI, I can’t help but feel that ICANN’s goal of increasing geographic diversity in the registry industry seems a little diminished this morning.

The rebranding does not affect the company’s parent, AusRegistry Group, which provides the back-end for Australia’s .au ccTLD.

ARI’s new domain is ariservices.com.

Watch ICANN’s president explain his departure

Kevin Murphy, September 18, 2011, Domain Policy

Rod Beckstrom explained his decision to leave ICANN next year, and gave a status report on the new top-level domains program, in a recent video.

The interview with ICANN freelancer Jim Trengrove was taped August 31 and uploaded to an ICANN video channel, but does not appear to have been made easily viewable anywhere yet.

In it, Beckstrom gives his version of events leading up to his August 16 resignation announcement, which some interpreted as a decision made by the ICANN board.

“I was only willing to make a three-year commitment in the first place and that’s what we came up with,” Beckstrom says. “We had some discussions with the board to make some contract changes and we did not come to agreement so I decided not to seek renewal.”

“The last thing I wanted to do was leave this organization in the lurch,” he says, explaining the early announcement. “As soon as I made my decision I decided the very next day to communicate that.”

The 16-minute video also gives a quick update into the gTLD program.

“Is ICANN ready?” Trengrove asks (a question I posed myself the very same day). Beckstrom responds:

ICANN is preparing very well for the program… There’s a lot of work to get done every single day still to prepare this program for the January 12 launch, but I’m pleased to say I think the team is performing and I think we will be ready. At the same time, it is going to put more visibility on ICANN and bring new pressures so it’s hard to say exactly how ICANN will respond to all those but I think all the preparation to run a proper program is being put in place.

At the time the video was taped, the growing anti-gTLDs campaign from the advertising industry was already well-evident, which may be what Beckstrom is referring to.

He goes into some detail about his thinking when it came to the decision to cut off interminable new gTLD policy debate in favor of getting on with execution.

The interview also touches on ICANN’s emerging ethical conundrum, which was most recently exemplified by Sen. Ron Wyden’s call for an anti-“revolving door” policy.

Beckstrom says that enforcing ethical behaviour is “extremely important for ICANN’s credibility”.

If the embedded video above does not work for you, you can watch it here.

Olympic-backed .sport bidder looking for partners

Kevin Murphy, September 2, 2011, Domain Registries

SportAccord, a worldwide coalition of sports federations with Olympic support, is looking for partners to help it with a possible .sport top-level domain bid.

In a request for proposals published today, the organization said it is looking not only for expertise and potential technical partners, but also financial backing:

The objective of SportAccord is to develop the best possible promotion of Sports Themed gTLDs by leveraging its unique relationship with its members, and to establish a usage policy that ensure respect of Sports key values.

SportAccord is therefore seeking to developing partnership with entities that could bring technical expertise and financial support to the common development of Sport themed gTLDs.

The 17-question RFP reveals that the organization has evidently done its homework.

Questions cover pertinent topics such as registrar integration, trademark protection, premium name monetization, and how to beat the ICANN threshold score for community-based applications.

The deadline for replying is September 30.

SportAccord, based in Lausanne, Switzerland, is an umbrella group comprising the international federations for over 100 sports, covering everything from football to tug of war.

The RFP states that the International Olympic Committee supports its gTLD initiative.

That’s an endorsement that may prove the deal-breaker for any .sport application. The IOC has been a vigorous defender of its rights in the new gTLD program.

Its lobbying efforts most recently compelled ICANN to build special protection for Olympic trademarks into the Applicant Guidebook itself (as well as lumbering the GNSO and ICANN staff with a bunch of unnecessary policy-development work).

Two other organizations have previously announced .sport applications

The loudest, Ron Andruff’s DotSport LLC, had appointed some of SportAccord’s member federations to its policy advisory council.

But SportAccord says in its RFP that “neither SportAccord nor any of its Members have made any commitment to support or participate in any sport themed gTLD.”

It looks like we may be looking at yet another push of the reset button on a well-lobbied gTLD.

The SportAccord RFP can be downloaded here.

Breaking: Ad industry piles on ICANN

Kevin Murphy, August 15, 2011, Domain Policy

The Interactive Advertising Bureau, which represents over 500 companies including Facebook, Google, eBay and Microsoft, has told ICANN to put a stop to its new top-level domains program.

The cry calls just a couple of weeks after the Association of National Advertisers said it would lobby Congress and may take ICANN to court over the controversial program.

Randall Rothenberg, CEO of the IAB, said in a press release:

ICANN’s potentially momentous change seems to have been made in a top-down star chamber. There appears to have been no economic impact research, no full and open stakeholder discussions, and little concern for the delicate balance of the Internet ecosystem.

This could be disastrous for the media brand owners we represent and the brand owners with which they work. We hope that ICANN will reconsider both this ill-considered decision and the process by which it was reached.

The IAB’s membership is a Who’s Who of leading online media companies, purportedly responsible for selling 86% of online advertising in the US.

It counts AOL, Digg, Amazon, the BBC, Bebo, CNN, Ziff Davis, LinkedIn, Time Warner, Slate, Thomson-Reuters, IDG, the Huffington Post and many other well-known names as members.

Demand Media, too.

If the ANA represents advertisers themselves, the IAB represents the places they spend their advertising money.

It looks like a large portion of corporate America is not happy about new gTLDs. ICANN may have found itself a new, extremely well-funded enemy.

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