Over 20,000 people have put their names to statements slamming proposals that would ban some commercial web sites from using Whois privacy on their domains.
ICANN’s public comment period on a working group’s Whois privacy reform proposals closes today after two months, with roughly 11,000 individual comments — the vast majority against changes that would weaken privacy rights — already filed.
Separately, Michele Neylon of Blacknight Solutions, which hosts SaveDomainPrivacy.org, tells DI that a petition signed by more than 9,000 people will be submitted to ICANN tonight.
If we count the signatories as commenters, that would make this the largest ICANN comment period to date, outstripping the 14,000 comments received when religious groups objected to the approval of .xxx in 2010.
SaveDomainPrivacy.org and RespectOurPrivacy.org, separate registrar-led initiatives, are responsible for the large majority of comments.
While registrars no doubt have business reasons for objecting to the muddling the Whois privacy market, their letter-writing outreach has been based on their claims that they could be forced to unmask the Whois of vulnerable home-business owners and such.
The Privacy & Proxy Services Accreditation Issues Working Group (PPSAI) report, published in May, sketches out a framework that could allow intellectual property owners to have privacy removed from domains they suspect of hosting infringing content.
A minority position appended to the report by MarkMonitor, Facebook, LegitScript and supported by members of the Intellectual Property and Business Constituencies, would put a blanket ban on using privacy on domains used to commercially transact.
What do ICANN’s current Whois privacy reform proposals have to do with the “Gamergate” controversy?
Quite a lot, according to the latest group to slam the proposals as an enabler for “doxing… harassment… swatting… stalking… rape and death threats.”
The Online Abuse Prevention Initiative was formed in March by female software developers in the wake of a sexism slash online abuse scandal that continues to divide the video game community.
Led by Randi Harper, OAPI’s first public move was to today write to ICANN to complain about the GNSO Privacy & Proxy Services Accreditation Issues (PPSAI) Working Group Initial Report.
The report, as previously reported, contains a minority opinion that would ban transactional e-commerce sites from using Whois privacy services.
OAPI said today that this posed a risk of “doxing” — the practice of publishing the home address and other personal information about someone with the aim to encourage harassment — and “swatting”, where people call up America’s notoriously trigger-happy cops to report violent crimes at their intended victim’s home address.
Harper, who was one of the targets of the Gamergate movement (Google her for examples of the vitriol) claims to have been a victim of both. The OAPI letter says she “was swatted based on information obtained from the WHOIS record for her domain.”
The letter, which is signed by groups including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the National Council of Women’s Organizations, and dozens of noted digital rights voices, says:
We strongly oppose the Working Group’s proposal, which will physically endanger many domain owners and disproportionately impact those who come from marginalized communities. People perceived to be women, nonwhite, or LGBTQ are often targeted for harassment, and such harassment inflicts significant harm
Even the most limited definition of a “website handling online financial transactions for commercial purpose” will encompass a wide population that could be severely harmed by doxing, such as:
- women indie game developers who sell products through their own online stores
- freelance journalists and authors who market their work online
- small business owners who run stores or businesses from their homes
- activists who take donations to fund their work, especially those living under totalitarian regimes
- people who share personal stories online to crowdfund medical procedures
To make things worse, the proposed definition of what constitutes “commercial purpose” could be expanded to include other types of activity such as running ads or posting affiliate links.
The letter does not directly refer to Gamergate, but some of the signatories are its most prominent victims and the allusions are clearly there.
Gamergate is described somewhere in its 9,000-word Wikipedia article as “part of a long-running culture war against efforts to diversify the traditionally male video gaming community, particularly targeting outspoken women.”
At its benign end, it was a movement for stronger ethics in video game journalism. At its malignant end, it involved quite a lot of male gamers sending abuse and violent threats to female players and developers.
Go Daddy appears to be putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to arguments about domain privacy.
The company is paying for “sponsored” posts on Facebook that promote the ongoing petition against proposed changes to Whois policy at ICANN.
This has been appearing on Facebook for me all day, seriously interrupting my Farmville time:
Clicking the ad takes you directly to the Save Domain Privacy petition, rather than a Go Daddy sales pitch.
As I reported last week, thousands of internet users have blasted ICANN with template comments complaining about proposed limits on Whois privacy.
There are currently over 10,000 such comments, I estimate, with over a week left until the filing deadline.
Registrars, Go Daddy among them, are largely concerned about a minority proposal emerging from in a proxy/privacy service accreditation working group that would ban transactional e-commerce sites from having private registrations.
They’re also bothered that intellectual property owners could get more rights to unmask privacy users under the proposals.
Despite Go Daddy’s outreach, Repect Our Privacy, letter-writing campaign, backed by NameCheap and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, seems to be responsible for most of the comments filed to date.
Not that it’s necessarily relevant today, but NameCheap and Go Daddy were on opposing sides of the Stop Online Piracy Act debate — a linked controversy — a few years back.
A letter-writing campaign orchestrated by the leading domain registrars has resulted in ICANN getting hit with over 8,000 pro-privacy comments in less than a week.
It’s the largest volume of comments received by ICANN on an issue since right-wing Christian activists deluged ICANN with protests about .xxx, back in 2010.
The comments — the vast majority of them unedited template letters — were filed in response to the GNSO Privacy & Proxy Services Accreditation Issues (PPSAI) Working Group Initial Report.
That report attempts to bring privacy and proxy services, currently unregulated by ICANN, under ICANN’s contractual wing.
There are two problematic areas, as far as the registrars are concerned.
The first is the ability of trademark and copyright owners to, under certain circumstances, have the registrant of a privately registered name unmasked.
Upon receiving such a request, privacy services would have 15 days to obtain a response from their customer. They’d then have to make a call as to whether to reveal their contact information to the IP owner or not.
Possibly the most controversial aspect of this is described here:
Disclosure cannot be refused solely for lack of any of the following: (i) a court order; (ii) a subpoena; (iii) a pending civil action; or (iv) a UDRP or URS proceeding; nor can refusal to disclose be solely based on the fact that the request is founded on alleged intellectual property infringement in content on a website associated with the domain name.
In other words, the privacy services (in most cases, also the registrar) would be forced make a judgement on whether web site content is illegal, in the absence of a court order, before removing Whois privacy on a domain.
The second problematic area is an “additional statement” on domains used for commercial activity, appended to the PPSAI report, penned by MarkMonitor on behalf of Facebook, LegitScript, DomainTools, IP attorneys Smith, Gambreall & Russell, and itself.
Those companies believe it should be against the rules for anyone who commercially transacts via their web site to use Whois privacy.
Running ads on a blog, say, would be fine. But asking for, for example, credit card details in order to transact would preclude you from using privacy services.
The PPSAI working group didn’t even approach consensus on this topic, and it’s not a formal recommendation in its report.
Regardless, it’s one of the lynchpins of the current registrar letter-writing campaigns.
A page at SaveDomainPrivacy.org — the site backed by dozens of registrars big and small — describes circumstances under which somebody would need privacy even though they engage in e-commerce.
Home-based businesses, shelters for domestic abuse victims that accept donations, and political activists are all offered up as examples.
Visitors to the site are (or were — the site appears to be down right now (UPDATE: it’s back up)) invited to send a comment to ICANN supporting:
The legitimate use of privacy or proxy services to keep personal information private, protect physical safety, and prevent identity theft
The use of privacy services by all, for all legal purposes, regardless of whether the website is “commercial”
That privacy providers should not be forced to reveal my private information without verifiable evidence of wrongdoing
The content of the site was the subject of a sharp disagreement between MarkMonitor and Tucows executives last Saturday during ICANN 53. I’d tell you exactly what was said, but the recording of the relevant part of the GNSO Saturday session has not yet been published by ICANN.
Another site, which seems to be responsible for the majority of the 8,000+ comments received this week, is backed by the registrar NameCheap and the digital civil rights groups the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Fight For The Future.
NameCheap appears to be trying to build on the reputation it started to create for itself when it opposed the Stop Online Piracy Act a few years ago, going to so far as to link the Whois privacy reforms to SOPA on the campaign web site, which says:
Your privacy provider could be forced to publish your contact data in WHOIS or even give it out to anyone who complains about your website, without due process. Why should a small business owner have to publicize her home address just to have a website?
We think your privacy should be protected, regardless of whether your website is personal or commercial, and your confidential info should not be revealed without due process. If you agree, it’s time to tell ICANN.
The EFF’s involvement seems to have grabbed the attention of many reporters in the general tech press, generating dozens of headlines this week.
The public comment period on the PPSAI initial report ends July 7.
If it continues to attract attention, it could wind up being ICANN’s most-subscribed comment period ever.
Do geeks care about privacy more than Christians care about porn? We’ll find out in a week and a half.
Former .nyc hopeful Connecting.nyc has requested a dump of the entire .nyc Whois database using freedom of information legislation.
According to a blog post, the group has filed a request under the New York Freedom of Information Law for all 75,000 Whois records.
Connecting.nyc says it wants the data in order to plot every .nyc registrant on a map of the city to see “if the name purchasers were spread evenly over the city or concentrated in a particular neighborhood or borough. And if they were from a particular social or economic strata.”
It says it has spent 10 weeks asking for the data via email but has been rebuffed.
Under ICANN Registry Agreements, registries are under no obligation to offer bulk Whois access. Registrars are supposed to allow it under their accreditation agreements, but are allowed to charge huge sums.
The .nyc space does not allow private registrations. Its Whois data is all publicly accessible and could conceivably be mined via sequential queries.
The new gTLD is managed by Neustar but assigned to the City of New York, making it essentially government-owned.
It will be interesting to see whether Whois access falls under FOI law. Many other geographic gTLDs have government links and may fall under their own respective FOI legislation.
Connecting.nyc once intended to apply for .nyc itself, but is now a sort of self-appointed community watchdog for the gTLD. It’s an At-Large structure within ICANN.