Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

These 33 people will decide the future of Whois

Kevin Murphy, July 31, 2018, Domain Policy

The names of the people who will decide the future of global gTLD Whois policy have been revealed.

Twenty-nine of 33 open seats of the GNSO’s Expedited Policy Development Process on the Temporary Specification for gTLD Registration Data are now filled and their occupants known.

The EPDP group is tasked with, in just a few short months, coming up with a permanent replacement for ICANN’s Temporary Specification for Whois in a post-GDPR world.

While 33 might seem like a lot of people, it’s a far cry from the over 100 involved in previous Whois working groups, kept deliberately small in order to meet the EPDP’s aggressive deadlines.

As you might expect, there are some members that we can safely rely on to fight for an interpretation of GDPR weighted heavily towards privacy rights, balanced against many others who will certainly fight for “legitimate purposes” data access rights for law enforcement, security and intellectual property interests.

The makeup of the group is heavily North American, with hardly any representation from Asia or Latin America.

By my count, there are 17 members from North America, seven people based in Europe (one of whom represents the Iranian government), two Africans, and one body each from Australia, Japan, and Argentina.

Contrary to the EPDP charter, and DI’s previous coverage, there are no members of the ccNSO on the group. It also appears as if the two seats reserved for root server operators will go unfilled.

As previously reported, the group is being chaired by Kurt Pritz, who works for the .art registry operator but is best known as a former ICANN senior VP.

These are the other members, grouped by their respective factions.

Registries Stakeholder Group

Alan Woods. He’s Donuts’ senior policy and compliance manager and has been since 2014. Donuts is of course the registry with the largest portfolio of commercial, open gTLDs, running about 300 of them.

Marc Anderson. Verisign’s product manager in charge of systems including SRS and Whois. Whatever policy is ultimately handed down, he’ll be in charge of implementing it at .com and .net, among other TLDs. As the only major example of a “thin” gTLD registry operator, Verisign handles a lot less personal data than any other gTLD registry.

Kristina Rosette. She’s a lawyer with a background in IP, working for Amazon, which holds a portfolio of gTLDs most of which remain unlaunched. An example of the GNSO’s ongoing game of musical chairs, she used to be a leading voice in the Intellectual Property Constituency.

Registrars Stakeholder Group

James Bladel. Vice president of global policy at GoDaddy, which in its implementation of GDPR has erred towards publishing more data, not less. As the largest registrar, GoDaddy is a rare example of a registrar with the resources to make its implementation more granular, allowing it to differentiate between EU and non-EU customers and continue to have a value proposition for its paid-for privacy services.

Matt Serlin. Formerly with brand protection registrar MarkMonitor, he’s the founder of startup rival BrandSight. It probably goes without saying that the brand protection side of the RrSG does not necessarily have the same interests as retail registrars. GDPR does not affect big trademark-holding corporations in terms of their own Whois records (GDPR only applies to “natural persons”), but it does affect their ability to go after cybersquatters.

Emily Taylor. As well as a policy consultant and a former Nominet bigwig, she’s a director of the small UK registrar Netistrar but says “my business interests also cover intellectual property / brand protection, and non-commercial interests such as freedom of expression, privacy and human rights”. She chaired an earlier Whois Review Team, which published a report in 2012 that was ultimately basically ignored by ICANN

Intellectual Property Constituency

Alex Deacon. While recently independent, he still represents the Motion Picture Association of America, one of the biggest copyright interests out there and until April his direct employer.

Diane Plaut. Seemingly a relative newcomer to ICANN, she’s “Global General Counsel and Data Protection and Privacy Officer” for a company called Corsearch, which provides database services for trademark owners. In an April blog post, she wrote that it is “essential” that trademark owners should continue to have access to private Whois data.

Business Constituency

Margie Milam. Head of domain strategy at Facebook, which is currently lobbying ICANN to start forcing registrars to reveal private data to trademark interests, as we reported last week.

Mark Svancarek. Newly installed as “Principal Program Manager – Tech Policy / Internet Governance” at Microsoft, which has said that it thinks privacy is a “fundamental human right”. Make no mistake, however, Microsoft reckons Whois data should carry on being made available to those investigating cybercrime or intellectual property infringement, as it outlined in a recent letter to ICANN (pdf).

Internet Service and Connection Providers Constituency

Esteban Lescano. Partner at the Argentinian law firm Lescano & Etcheverry, which counts online trademark protection as one of many areas of specialization, he’s also director of the policy and legal affairs committee at trade group CABASE, the Argentine Internet Association.

Thomas Rickert. Lawyer Rickert is head of domains at German trade group eco, but perhaps more significantly his law firm is representing Tucows subsidiary EPAG in its lawsuit with ICANN, in which ICANN accuses EPAG of breaching its contract by threatening to stop collecting certain Whois data elements. He’s very much on the pro-privacy side of the debate.

Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group

Stephanie Perrin. President of her own company, Digital Discretion, she consults on privacy issues. Unambiguously on the pro-privacy side of the house.

Ayden Ferdeline. A Germany-based independent consultant, Ferdeline is, like Perrin, firmly pro-privacy.

Milton Mueller. An ICANN veteran, Mueller is a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology and founder of the Internet Governance Project. About as pro-privacy as it gets.

Johan “Julf” Helsingius. Chairman of BaseN, an “internet of things” services provider, Helsingus has form when it comes to privacy protection. His Wikipedia entry is dominated by his pro-privacy activities, including a 1996 fight against the Church of Scientology, which wanted him to reveal the identities of his customers.

Amr Elsadr. Egyptian consultant Elsadr also has a track record of talking up privacy rights at ICANN.

Farzaneh Badiei. Executive director at the Internet Governance Project and researcher at Georgia Tech, Badiei, alongside colleagues Mueller and Ferdeline, has been regularly vocal about the need for privacy in Whois.

Governmental Advisory Committee

Georgios Tselentis. As the representative of the European Commission, one might reasonably expect Tselentis to be rather pro-GDPR.

Ashley Heineman. She represents the US on the GAC. The US is very strongly of the belief that Whois access should be reinstated for intellectual property and security interests.

Kavouss Arasteh. Iran’s GAC rep, we could be looking at the WG’s deadline wild card here. I’ve no idea what Iran’s position is on GDPR, but there are few topics at ICANN upon which Arasteh has not spoken strongly, and at length.

At-Large Advisory Committee

Alan Greenberg. He chairs the ALAC, which is in favor of a well-regulated accreditation program that allows law enforcement and IP interests to access Whois.

Hadia Elminiawi. Elminiawi works at the National Telecom Regulatory Authority of Egypt. She did not vote on the ALAC position paper on Whois/GDPR.

Security and Stability Advisory Committee

Benedict Addis. Formerly in UK law enforcement, Addis chairs the Registrar of Last Resort, a non-profit registrar that quarantines abusive domain names.

Ben Butler. Director of global policy at GoDaddy, focused on abuse, I wouldn’t expect his position to differ wildly from that of colleague Bladel.

Root Server System Advisory Committee

While two seats have been reserved for the RSSAC, the committee has not yet put any bodies forward to occupy them, presumably because the root server operators don’t collect personal data from registrants and don’t really have a horse in this race.

Liaisons

The ICANN board of directors has two liaisons on the WG — Chris Disspain and Leon Felipe Sanchez. The GNSO Council liaison is Rafik Dammak. There are expected to be two ICANN staff liaisons, but they have not yet been named.

The EPDP mailing list opened up yesterday and will hold its first teleconference tomorrow.

Facebook clashes with registrars after massive private data request

Kevin Murphy, July 26, 2018, Domain Policy

Facebook is on the warpath, testing the limits of personal data disclosure in the post-GDPR world.

Via an intermediary called AppDetex, the company recently filed 500 requests for non-public Whois contact information with various registrars, covering potentially thousands of domains, and is now complaining to ICANN that almost all of the replies it received were “non-responsive”.

DI has learned that Facebook is not only asking registrars for Whois data on specific domains it believes infringe its trademarks, however. It’s also asking them to provide complete lists of domains owned by the same registrant, along with the Whois data for those domains, something registrars have never been obliged to provide, even pre-GDPR.

It’s now pissed that almost all of its requests were blown off, with registrars giving various reasons they could not provide the data.

AppDetex is a brand protection services firm and ICANN-accredited registrar. It’s built an automated system for generating Whois disclosure requests and sending them to registrars.

Ben Milam, its general counsel, wrote to ICANN last week to urge the organization to come up with, and more importantly enforce, a framework for brand owners to request private Whois data.

The company has stopped short of filing formal complaints against the registrars with ICANN’s compliance division, but Milam said it will in future:

we do plan to file complaints in the future, but not until ICANN has (i) established proper disclosure guidelines for non-public WHOIS requests for the registrar base to follow, and (ii) implemented an enforcement process that will ensure that brand holder requests are being satisfied.

The letter says that only one registrar responded adequately, to three of its disclosure requests. That was FBS Inc, which I believe is Turkey’s largest registrar. Turkey is not in the EU.

One registrar on Facebook’s naughty list is Ireland-based Blacknight Solutions, which received three disclosure requests but did not provide AppDetex with the information it wanted.

Blacknight CEO Michele Neylon shared a copy of one of these requests, which he said was received via email July 2, with DI.

In my view, the request is clearly automated, giving the registrar a deadline to respond 48 hours in the future accurate to the second. It cites five Facebook trademarks — Facebook, FB, Instagram, Oculous and WhatsApp.

At Blacknight’s request, I won’t disclose the domain here, but it begins with the string “insta”. At first glance it’s not an clear-cut case of cybersquatting the Instagram trademark. It’s currently parked, displaying ad links unrelated to Instagram.

The email asks the registrar to turn over the full non-public Whois contact information for the registrant, technical contact and administrative contact, but it goes on to also ask for:

4. All other domain names registered under this registrant’s account or email address

5. All information in requests 1, 2, and 3 for all domains provided in response to request 4

This would increase the volume of Whois records requested by Facebook from 500 to, very probably, thousands.

This reverse-Whois data was not previously available via vanilla registrar-provided Whois, though it may be under successor protocol RDAP. Brand owners would have to use a commercial third-party service such as DomainTools in order to connect a registrant to the rest of his portfolio.

It’s debatable whether registrars will be obliged to provide this reverse-Whois capability on non-public data to brand owners even after RDAP becomes the norm.

The request says Facebook needs the data in order “to investigate and prevent intellectual property infringement and contact infringing parties and relevant service providers” and “to facilitate legal action against the registrant”.

Facebook says it’s entitled to the data under Article 6(1)(f) of the GDPR as it’s “necessary for the purposes of our legitimate interests, namely (1) identifying the registered holder of a domain name and their contact information to investigate and respond to potential trademark infringement and (2) enforcing legal claims.”

Currently, registrars are governed by ICANN’s Temporary Specification for Whois, a GDPR-related Band-Aid designed to last until the ICANN community can create a formal policy.

Access to non-public Whois data is governed by section 4 of the Temp Spec, which reads in part:

Registrar and Registry Operator MUST provide reasonable access to Personal Data in Registration Data to third parties on the basis of a legitimate interests pursued by the third party, except where such interests are overridden by the interests or fundamental rights and freedoms of the Registered Name Holder or data subject pursuant to Article 6(1)(f) GDPR.

In the absence of a formal ICANN policy, legal precedent, or specific guidance from data protection authorities, it’s not abundantly clear how registrars are supposed to comply with this clause of the spec, which may explain why Facebook is getting different responses from different registrars.

Neylon said that Blacknight responded to the disclosure requests by asking Facebook to produce an Irish court order.

He said the requests were overly broad, did not provide any contact information for the requester, did not provide a specific complaint against the registrants, and did not specify what privacy safeguards Facebook planned to subject the data to once it was handed over.

It seems Blacknight was not alone. According to AppDetex’s letter to ICANN, at least six other registrars replied denying the requests and saying:

complainant (Facebook) must utilize legal process of a subpoena or court order; complainant must file a UDRP action; complainant must file an action with WIPO; complainant must contact WIPO; and/or complainant’s request has been forwarded to the domain owner.

Milam said (pdf) that he expects the volume of requests to increase and that registrars’ responses will be forwarded to ICANN Compliance to help create a normalized framework for dealing with such requests.

ICANN’s GDPR lawsuit bounced up to appeals court

Kevin Murphy, July 24, 2018, Domain Policy

ICANN’s lawsuit against Tucows’ German subsidiary EPAG has been bounced up to a higher court in Cologne.

The suit seeks to force Tucows to continue to collect the Admin-C and Tech-C fields of the Whois spec, something which is required by the Registrar Accreditation Agreement but which Tucows argues would force it to breach the General Data Protection Regulation.

The court of first instance denied ICANN’s application for an injunction.

ICANN then appealed, suggesting that the case should be referred to the European Court of Justice for a definitive answer.

Instead, the Bonn “Regional Court” has referred the case to the “Higher Regional Court” in Cologne. ICANN said the ECJ referral is still a possibility, however.

The lower court did not change its original ruling, but nor did it consider ICANN’s new arguments, which will transfer to the higher court’s attention, according to ICANN.

If you want a migraine to match mine, you can read an ICANN-provided English translation of the latest ruling here (pdf).

Is the new Whois policy group already doomed to fail?

Kevin Murphy, July 24, 2018, Domain Policy

ICANN’s Generic Names Supporting Organization has set itself extremely aggressive, some might say impossible, targets for its emergency Whois policy work.

The GNSO Council on Thursday approved the charter for a new working group that will attempt to come up with a consensus policy for how to amend the Whois system in light of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

But the vote was not unanimous — three of the six Non-Commercial Stakeholder Group councilors abstained largely because they think intellectual property interests have managed to capture the discussion before it has begun.

The three abstentions were independent consultant Ayden Ferdeline, cybersecurity policy researcher Tatiana Tropina, and privacy consultant Stephanie Perrin.

Tropina said during the Thursday meeting: “I cannot vote ‘yes’ for a document that in my opinion has parts that are not properly worded and, instead of setting the scope of the EPDP [Expedited Policy Development Process] work, set up multiple possibilities to get the work sidetracked.”

She and Ferdeline pointed specifically to section J of the approved charter (pdf), which addresses “reasonable access” to non-public Whois data.

This is the part of the policy work that will decide whether, and to what extent, entities such as trademark owners and cybersecurity researchers will be able to peek behind the curtain of post-GDPR personal data redactions and see who actually owns domain names.

There are several “gating” questions that the working group must answer before it gets to J, however, such as: what data should be collected by registrars, how data transfer to registries should be handled, and are the reasons for this data to be collected all valid?

But when it comes to section J, the abstaining NCSG councilors reckon that the Intellectual Property Community has managed to sneak in the notion that its members should get access to private data as a fait accompli. Section J reads in part:

What framework(s) for disclosure could be used to address (i) issues involving abuse of domain name registrations, including but not limited to consumer protection, investigation of cybercrime, DNS abuse and intellectual property protection, (ii) addressing appropriate law enforcement needs, and (iii) provide access to registration data based on legitimate interests not outweighed by the fundamental rights of relevant data subjects?

Ferdeline said in his abstention:

I believe that Section J includes, first and foremost, questions that unnecessarily expand the scope of this EPDP and put perceived answers — rather than genuine, open ended questions — into this important document. Overall I think this section of the charter’s scope is unnecessary and will not allow the EPDP team to complete their work in a timely manner.

Tropina said J “poses the questions that, first of all, imply by default that issues related to intellectual property protection and consumer protection require the disclosure of personal data”, adding that she was bewildered that IP interests had been lumped in with security concerns:

This wording fails me: as I am criminal lawyer working in the field of frameworks for cybercrime investigation, I do not see why cybercrime investigations are separated from law enforcement needs and go to the same basket with intellectual property protection as they are on a completely different level of legitimate demands

In short, the newly approved EPDP charter has been framed in such a way as to make discussions extremely fractious from the outset, pitting privacy interests against those of the trademark lobby on some of the most divisive wedge issues.

This is problematic given that the working group has an extremely aggressive schedule — its members have not yet even been named and yet it expects to produce its Initial Report shortly after ICANN 63, which ends October 25 this year.

It’s an absurdly short space of time to resolve questions that have dogged ICANN for almost two decades.

Will this pressure to come to agreement against the clock work in favor of the trademark community, or will it doom the policy-making process to deadlock?

Attempting to steer the WG through this minefield will be Kurt Pritz, who was confirmed by the Council as its neutral chair on Thursday, as DI first reported a week ago.

The make-up of the group has also proved contentious.

While it is a GNSO process that would lead to a Consensus Policy binding on all gTLD registries and registrars, the decision has been made to bring in voices from other areas of the community, such as the Country Code Names Supporting Organization, which will not be directly affected by the resulting policy.

There will be 29 members in total, not counting the non-voting chair.

The GNSO gets 18 of these seats at the table, comprising: three registries, three registrars, two IPC members, two ISPs, two Business Constituency members, six NCSG members (which, I imagine would be split between the privacy-focused NCUC and more IP-friendly NPOC).

But also joining the group on an equal footing will be two members of the Root Server System Advisory Committee (I’ve no idea why), two from the Security and Stability Advisory Committee, two from the ccNSO, two from the At-Large Advisory Committee and three from the Governmental Advisory Committee.

The actual individuals filling these seats will be named by their respective constituencies in the next few days, ahead of the first WG meeting July 30.

It has been said that these people could expect to devote north of 30 hours a week (unpaid of course, though any necessary travel will be comp’d) to the discussions.

Pritz to be named chair of Whois group

Kevin Murphy, July 16, 2018, Domain Policy

Former ICANN senior vice president Kurt Pritz is expected to be named chair of the group tasked with reforming Whois in the post-GDPR world.

Sources familiar with the situation tell DI that Pritz was selected from three candidates who put themselves forward for the grueling policy-making task.

I’m told that choice was made by GNSO Council’s leadership and selection committee (minus Pritz’s wife, Donna Austin, who recused herself) and will have to be confirmed by the full Council when it meets this Thursday.

Pritz would chair the GNSO’s first-ever Expedited Policy Development Process working group, which is expected to provide an ICANN community response to ICANN org’s recent, top-down Temporary Specification for Whois.

The Temp Spec, written by ICANN in response to the GDPR privacy law, is the thing that is contractually forcing all gTLD registries and registrars to redact personal information from their public Whois records.

Because it’s temporary, it will expire May 24 next year, one year after it came into effect.

The EPDP will put the force of community consensus behind the policy that replaces it, but it’s unlikely to differ a great deal from the Temp Spec, so it would be unwise to get your hopes up that Whois will return to pre-GDPR levels of accessibility — ICANN policy cannot overrule the law.

The EPDP chair’s job is expected to be extremely taxing. During the recent ICANN meeting in Panama, it was said that regular, non-chair working group members could be expected to commit as much as 30 hours a week to the project.

ICANN expects that the EPDP’s core work should be complete before ICANN 63, which begins October 20, with its final report due next February.

Given that the ICANN community has failed to come to much consensus on anything Whois related for two decades, these are extremely aggressive targets.

To maintain focus, the EPDP group is going to be kept relatively small, but there’s still bickering about the make-up of the group, with non-commercial interests upset the commercial side of house is getting more representation.

The chair’s role was therefore potentially controversial — neutrality was seen as a key quality when ICANN advertised the gig a couple of weeks ago.

Pritz currently works for the .art new gTLD registry operator UK Creative Ideas, so technically he would be in the Registries Stakeholder Group.

But he’s also one of the key architects of the new gTLD program, ICANN’s point man on the application process before his resignation in late 2012, so he has extensive experience herding cats in a relatively neutral way.

Since then, he’s had stints as a consultant and as executive director of the Domain Name Association.