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Are Whois email checks doing more harm than good?

“Tens of thousands” of web sites are going dark due to ICANN’s new email verification requirements and registrars are demanding to know how this sacrifice is helping solve crimes.

These claims and demands were made in meetings between registrars and ICANN’s board and management at the ICANN 49 meeting in Singapore last week.

Go Daddy director of policy planning James Bladel and Tucows CEO Elliot Noss questioned the benefit of the 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement during a Tuesday session.

The 2013 RAA requires registrars to verify that registrants’ email addresses are accurate. If registrants do not respond to verification emails within 15 days, their domains are turned off.

There have been many news stories and blog posts recounting how legitimate webmasters found their sites gone dark due to an overlooked verification email.

Just looking at my Twitter stream for an “icann” search, I see several complaints about the process every week, made by registrants whose web sites and email accounts have disappeared.

Noss told the ICANN board that the requirement has created a “demonstrable burden” for registrants.

“If you cared to hear operationally you would hear about tens and hundreds of thousands of terrible stories that are happening to legitimate businesses and individuals,” he said.

Noss told DI today that Tucows is currently compiling some statistics to illustrate the scale of the problem, but it’s not yet clear what the company plans to do with the data.

At the Singapore meeting, he asked ICANN to go to the law enforcement agencies that demanded Whois verification in the first place to ask for data showing that the new rules are also doing some good.

“What crime has been forestalled?” he said. “What issues around fraud? We heard about pedophilia regularly from law enforcement. What has any of this done to create benefits in that direction?”

Registrars have a renewed concern about this now because there are moves afoot in other fora, such as the group working on new rules for privacy and proxy services, for even greater Whois verification.

Bladel pointed to an exchange at the ICANN meeting in Durban last July, during which ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade suggested that ICANN would not entertain requests for more Whois verification until law enforcement had demonstrated that the 2013 RAA requirements had had benefits.

The exact Chehade line, from the Durban public forum transcript, was:

law enforcement, before they ask for more, we put them on notice that they need to tell us what was the impact of what we did for them already, which had costs on the implementers.

Quoted back to himself, in Singapore Chehade told Bladel: “It will be done by London.”

Speaking at greater length, director Mike Silber said:

What I cannot do is force law enforcement to give us anything. But I think what we can do is press the point home with law enforcement that if they want more, and if they want greater compliance and if they want greater collaborations, it would be very useful to show the people going through the exercise what benefits law enforcement are receiving from it.

So will law enforcement agencies be able to come up with any hard data by London, just a few months from now?

It seems unlikely to me. The 2013 RAA requirements only came into force in January, so the impact on the overall cleanliness of the various Whois databases is likely to be slim so far.

I also wonder whether law enforcement agencies track the accuracy of Whois in any meaningfully quantitative way. Anecdotes and color may not cut the mustard.

But it does seem likely that the registrars are going to have data to back up their side of the argument — customer service logs, verification email response rates and so forth — by London.

They want the 2013 RAA Whois verification rules rethought and removed from the contract and the ICANN board so far seems fairly responsive to their concerns.

Law enforcement may be about to find itself on the back foot in this long-running debate.

TLDH raises $33.6m to fight new gTLD auctions

Kevin Murphy, January 31, 2014, Domain Registries

Top Level Domain Holdings has raised £21 million with an institutional investor share placement to help it win some new gTLD contention set auctions.

Its total war chest following the $33.6 million-ish placement will be about $63 million, albeit with $15 million of that earmarked for a single, as-yet-unspecified auction.

The company is currently in 43 contention sets, most of which it apparently wants to resolve via private auction. TLDH said in a statement:

The Company believes private auctions provide a significant opportunity for the Company both to increase the number of high-value gTLDs within its portfolio and to generate cash from those gTLDs which it chooses to relinquish. Under the private auction process, the winning bid is divided equally and paid to the losing applicants net of the auctioneer’s fees.

As part of TLDH’s transition from a revenue-free penny stock to a trading company, it’s going to change its name to Minds + Machines Limited, via a reverse takeover of its subsidiary of the same name.

The company said the move will help with “stakeholder communications and branding”.

Finally, TLDH said that founding director Guy Elliott is to leave its board of directors and be replaced by new non-executive director Elliot Noss. Noss is of course CEO of rival registry/registrar Tucows.

Tucows takes over as Cheapies loses accreditation

Kevin Murphy, November 8, 2013, Domain Registrars

ICANN has terminated the registrar Cheapies.com and is to transfer its registrations to Tucows.

Cheapies had fewer than 12,000 gTLD domains under management judging by the last available registry reports.

The registrar was terminated two weeks ago, having previously having its accreditation suspended for 90 days, for various violations of the Registrar Accreditation Agreement mainly related to records keeping.

ICANN said Cheapies’ customers should receive an email from Tucows instructing them how to proceed.

Uniregistry not happy about Donuts-Tucows deal

Kevin Murphy, August 5, 2013, Domain Registries

Uniregistry would never have withdrawn its applications for .media and .marketing if it had known that Tucows would later take money from Donuts to also withdraw, according to CEO Frank Schilling.

Schilling told DI tonight that Uniregistry had pulled out of both new gTLD contention sets after having made a deal with Tucows, the details of which he was unable to explain due to a non-disclosure agreement.

But he said that the deal would never have happened if he’d known the eventual outcome.

“Tucows left us under the impression that they were going to win this and had I known that they would fold in a subsequent private auction I would not have done this,” he said.

Tucows withdrew its bids for .media and .marketing weeks after Uniregistry, after making its own deal with Donuts, which is now the sole remaining applicant for the two strings.

As reported earlier today, Tucows and Donuts settled the two contention sets with a “cut and choose” arrangement, where Tucows named the price at which it was willing to withdraw and Donuts could choose to buy its withdrawals or sell its own withdrawals for the same price.

Donuts characterized the deal as a kind of private auction.

Uniregistry is on record as saying it doesn’t like the idea of private auctions, which it believes may fall foul of US antitrust law.

Donuts says Tucows deal “just another type of private auction”

Kevin Murphy, August 5, 2013, Domain Registries

Donuts has confirmed that it paid Tucows for the rights to the .media and .marketing new gTLDs, but says it was actually “just another type of private auction”.

The existence of a deal for the two strings emerged in a tongue-in-cheek Tucows video on Friday.

I blogged over the weekend that it was the first example I was aware of of Donuts settling a contention set outside of the private auction process it helped kick-start with Innovative Auctions.

But in a statement sent to DI today, Donuts characterized the Tucows deal as auction-like, saying:

Contention was resolved privately between the two applicants by a “cut and choose” method, whereby Tucows named a price at which it would withdraw its applications, and Donuts would decide either to “buy” or “sell” the position as sole remaining applicant.

Donuts elected to pay Tucows its stated price, and Donuts will continue as the sole applicant and exclusive operator for both TLDs, with no joint venture or revenue sharing agreement with any party.

Donuts remains strongly committed to private auctions as the preferred method of resolving contention for its applications and this was just another type of private auction.