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ICANN publishes its Woke Manifesto. Here’s my hot take

Kevin Murphy, April 19, 2024, Domain Policy

ICANN’s antics rarely surprise me after close to a quarter-century of coverage, but today it’s published what I can only describe as its “Woke Manifesto” and while reading through it this afternoon I pretty much peeled my uvula raw and ragged, alternating as I did between howls of outrage and uncontrollable fits of incredulous laughter.

On the latest step of its descent into solipsistic pomposity, Org has released its Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit, an interactive web page and associated documents and survey templates designed to help the ICANN community’s various constituencies become more diverse, equitable and inclusive.

“It is designed to empower our community groups in assessing, measuring, and promoting diversity within and across their membership,” ICANN wrote in its introduction, attributed to outgoing policy VP David Olive.

A laudable goal in theory, but in practice what ICANN has come up with is often hilarious, poorly sourced, badly edited, baffling, hypocritical, self-contradictory, and condescending to both the people it wants to include and the people it perceives are already over-included. In parts, sadly, it’s borderline misandrist and maybe a little bit accidentally racist.

The Manifesto is the result of ICANN’s work to implement the recommendations of the Final Report (pdf) of the Cross Community Working Group on Accountability, the most-recent phase of one of ICANN’s interminable navel-gazing exercises.

Recommendation 1.6 of that report states:

ICANN staff should provide support and tools for the SO/AC/Groups to assist them in assessing their diversity in an appropriate manner. ICANN should also identify staff or community resources that can assist SO/ACs or other components of the community with diversity-related activities and strategies.

Or does it? If we believe the new Manifesto, Rec 1.6 actually states:

ICANN staff should provide support and tools for the SO/AC/groups to assist them in assessing their diversity in an appropriate manner. ICANN should also identify staff or community resources that can assist SO/ACs or other components of the community with diversity-related activities and strategies.D&I requires equity to succeed.

The emphasis in that second pull-quote is mine. The lack of a space after the period before the last sentence is ICANN’s error.

It looks like at some point, possibly quite recently, ICANN has sneaked in the reference to “equity”.

If you’re triggered by the DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) abbreviation, best look away now. The Manifesto contains all the other zeitgeisty buzz-words you probably also hate.

Microaggressions? Check. Privilege? Check. Identity? Check. Intersectionality? Check. Unconscious bias? Check. Psychological safety? Check.

An easily overlooked footnote seems to explain why “equity” has made its way into the document:

In this toolkit we refer to “diversity” and “inclusion,” but “equity” is also a significant concept to understand. Equity refers to fairness and justice, recognizing that we do not all start from the same place and must therefore make adjustments to imbalances; for example promoting the inclusion of people from marginalized/underrepresented populations. It is distinguished from equality, which means providing the same to all.

I take no position on whether this is a good or bad way to tackle inequality of outcome, if it exists, at ICANN, but let’s be honest, this is just another way of describing what has been known as “positive discrimination” or “affirmative action” in other contexts.

But while affirmative action usually refers to issues of race in North America, such as in the ongoing debate about university admission policies, ICANN’s Manifesto is notable for containing no direct references to skin color whatsoever.

ICANN’s “7 key elements of diversity”, which come from the CCWG-Accountability’s report, are: geographical/regional representation, language, gender, age, physical disability, diverse skills, and stakeholder group or constituency.

Let’s look at what the Manifesto says about some of these identity categories. Yes, I’m going there.

“You were so worried you came from Iran”

Possibly the most egregiously condescending and baffling part of the Manifesto is “Ideas for indivdual action” (pdf) (the misspelling of “individual” is in the original, in the title, on the cover page), which offers suggested language to avoid offending people on the basis of gender, age, disability, or geography.

I’ve no idea to whom this document is addressed (I infer it’s able-bodied, Anglophone men), but it seems ICANN thinks it has a problem with people referring to East Asian community members as “Orientals”. Because apparently it’s the 1950s. In the same breath, it suggests that “whitelist” — a term commonly used in the security industry to refer to lists of explicitly permitted domains — is as offensive as “Chinaman”.

It’s worth noting that the word has been used repeatedly by ICANN itself, including quite recently. Under October 2023 terms, you can’t even apply to be an accredited registrar without agreeing to “whitelist” ICANN’s domains.

In a glorious example of accidental misogyny, the document (six years in the making) later says that people should avoid using forms of address such as “Mrs” or “Ms” because: “This language implies that having a disability is not an ordinary aspect of being human”.

The document is all over the place on issues of gender, on some pages directly contradicting ICANN’s own current practices and on others internally contradicting itself.

At one point, it says “there is no need to mention gender, i.e. saying ‘a female lawyer’ diminishes the professional status of that person”. This from the organization that put out this press release celebrating its two “female leaders”, last year.

At another point, it says we should use “Ombudsperson” instead of “Ombudsman”, while ICANN itself recently made the switch to “Ombuds” instead.

The document is also confused about whether biological reality exists. It tells us that we should accept that “that we are all biased by virtue of our biology” and a couple pages later admonishes against terms such as “biologically male” because “These terms imply that gender is a biological and binary fact that can only be changed through surgery — if at all”.

The most jaw-dropping gender-related moment comes when the document attempts to explain the concept of “privilege” and offers some suggestions as to how those who possess it may overcome it to increase the inclusiveness of their communities.

I swear I’m not making this quote up:

If you have male privilege: Hold back, and allow female community members to speak before you do. If they do speak and are not acknowledged, call this out and give credit for their input.

ICANN wants to make “Ladies first” official doctrine? Perhaps it is the 1950s.

While I don’t doubt there are some women in the ICANN community who would whoop with delight at the chance of automatically getting first dibs at the mic, I know there are many others who will find the suggestion that men should give them special treatment, and subsequently pat them on the head for their contributions, deeply offensive.

“I hear you’re a racist now, Father”

It’s not just gender and age where the Manifesto seems to trip over its own desire to virtue signal without thinking through whether what it’s actually saying is internally consistent.

We’re told to avoid “Asking people of a different appearance where they are from” and a few pages later to “Show an interest in other people’s cultures and backgrounds, ask questions with sincere and respectful curiosity”.

How, ICANN, how?! How can I show an interest in this new friend’s culture if I’m not allowed to ask him where he’s from? Am I only supposed to show an interest in his culture if he shares my “appearance”. Can I only talk to people of the same race? Is that what you want, ICANN?!

We’re talking largely about ICANN meetings here, remember. People from over 100 countries on every continent flock into a drab, windowless conference center three times a year. It’s the most natural thing in the world, unwinding at an after-hours cocktail reception, to ask somebody where they’re from.

If, in the hotel bar after eight hours of patiently not interrupting anybody you think you might not fully intersect with, somebody asks you “Where are you from?”, regardless of whether you share common visual characteristics, chances are it’s because your lanyard has flipped over and they’re asking the name of your employer in order to quickly triage business opportunities.

Speaking as somebody who was an immigrant in the US for the best part of a decade, I know it can be irritating after the hundredth time you’re asked your nationality, but I never found it to be, as ICANN would have us believe, an “aggression”, micro or otherwise.

“I’m Disabled!”

The document defines a microaggression as “the everyday messages we send to other people through our language and behavior that cause them to feel devalued, slighted, discouraged or excluded”. We’re told: “What makes microaggressions offensive isn’t the exact words or actions but, instead, the underlying meaning that reveals bias”.

The first example ICANN gives of a microaggression?

A weak handshake with insincere smile.

I find this hugely offensive on a personal level.

My lived experience is as an effete Englishman with a congenitally pathetic handshake, also suffering from the effects of decades of underfunded NHS dentistry and still recovering from an ischemic stroke that rendered my hand-shaking hand about as strong as a sloth’s yawn.

There’s nothing I find more macroaggressive at an ICANN meeting — apart from perhaps a French woman I barely know attempting to kiss me on the cheek — than an American with a $5,000 suit and teeth the color of a Grand Wizard’s hood trying to tear my arm off at the hip when he or she moves to greet me.

But apparently, under ICANN’s rules, the combination of my disability and nationality makes me the bigot. Thanks ICANN, I’m going to feel really psychologically safe at my next meeting.

“What exactly does IT stand for?”

On a professional level, what really boils my piss is this directive, which appears under a section entitled “Use respectful language”:

Avoid jargon: Minimize your use of jargon, shorthand and acronyms that may not be understood by newcomers or people with different experience and skillsets

I totally agree, of course. It’s long since past the point that even some ICANN community veterans often have no clue what ICANN is talking about without a quick google or reference to a glossary.

So why in the Jiminy Cricket is ICANN introducing this package of Orwellian social guidance with the sentence “I am thrilled to announce the launch of ICANN’s Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit, a pivotal resource to support the implementation of the Work Stream 2 (WS2) recommendations.”

Work Stream 2? Work Stream 2 of what? The blog post doesn’t say, and you have to get several clicks deep into the Manifesto itself before you’ll find a reference to, or link to, the CCWG report.

Who is this aimed at? Insiders. Nobody else could possibly understand this stuff.

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Alibaba, among new RDRS opt-ins

Kevin Murphy, April 17, 2024, Domain Registrars

Eleven registrars representing millions of domain names signed up to support ICANN’s Registration Data Request Service last month. One registrar dropped out.

One of Chinese tech giant Alibaba’s registrars was among the additions. Alibaba Cloud Computing (Beijing), which has 2.6 million names under management, is a notable addition given that one of its sister registrars was recently hit with an ICANN Compliance action due to alleged abuse inaction.

Also opting in to the Whois band-aid service were Identity Digital’s (2.2 million names), three of its sister companies, and Newfold Digital’s (1.5 million names). Nominalia, P.A Vietnam, and Ubilibet also signed up.

Realtime Register dropped out of the voluntary service, the third registrar to opt out since RDRS launched in Novemeber.

ICANN says its coverage is now 57% of the total gTLD domains out there, up from 55% in February. It has 86 registrars on-board in total, including most of the largest.

RDRS is a two-year pilot that offers people who want access to private Whois records, largely intellectual property interests and law enforcement, a simpler way to connect with the registrars holding that data.

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The Swiss can register .swiss domains from next week

Kevin Murphy, April 15, 2024, Domain Registries

The Swiss government is relaxing the registration rules for its .swiss gTLD so that regular people will be able to register names there from next week.

Previously available only to registered legal entities in Switzerland, from April 24 any Swiss person at home or abroad will also be able to buy .swiss domains.

The TLD will still be heavily regulated, however. You’ll only be able to register domains that match your own name or the name that you are commonly known by. You won’t be able to register common family names without an accompanying given name.

Swiss people living elsewhere will be able to register, but will be forbidden from using their names for commercial purposes.

.swiss lives alongside the country’s official ccTLD, .ch, which is derived from the Latin name for the multilingual nation.

While .swiss is perhaps more internationally recognizable, to date it has attracted only about 26,000 registrations, compared to the 2.5 million in decades-old .ch.

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.ai up to 425,000 domains

Kevin Murphy, April 15, 2024, Domain Registries

The .ai registry has provided its latest, sporadic update to its registration numbers, showing that Anguilla’s ccTLD continues to be wildly popular compared to the country’s size.

It’s grown from 353,928 domains on December 20 to 425,060 domains on April 12, according to the registry’s web site.

That’s an increase of 71,132 since the last update, or about 620 a day. The zone is on track to have doubled in size over 12 months by the middle of the year.

.ai has a relatively high price point — about $70 a year but with a two-year minimum initial registration — suggesting that registrants either intend to use their domains or are fairly confident they can turn a profit by selling them to somebody who will.

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A million “free” .music domains up for grabs

Kevin Murphy, April 15, 2024, Domain Registries

The new .music gTLD registry says it will give away up to one million first-year domains over the next five weeks as part of its launch program, but there are of course plenty of catches.

DotMusic says the domains are available to what it calls “Music Community Member Organizations” — think record labels and the like — until May 24 or it reaches a million names, whichever comes first.

With not much more than a month to get on board and a fairly complex, multi-layered registration and verification process, it seems more likely that the promo will time out before it hits seven figures.

.music is a “community” gTLD only available to entities with a nexus to the music industry. The names are only available as exact matches of music performers or professionals or the organizations they belong to.

They’re also only resolvable after the registrants verify their identities via DotMusic’s sister company,, which costs $1.99 per domain during the promotion.

It’s not exactly “free”, but compared to the usual price of defensively registering during sunrise periods, it’s an absolute bargain. DotMusic’s regular, ICANN-mandated sunrise period ended a few months ago, with dozens of domains registered by the usual suspects — the likes of Apple and Amazon.

More details on the promotion can be found here. General availability begins June 25.

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D3 to get $5 million in crypto to apply for .ape gTLD

New gTLD consultancy D3 Global has inked a deal to apply for the .ape gTLD on behalf of the ApeCoin community.

The company said in a blog post that it will receive three million $APE — cryptocurrency coins currently worth about $5 million, according to Coinbase — in order to apply to ICANN for, operate and market .ape domains.

As it has with other clients, it will first launch *ape names that can only be used on the relevant blockchain to address crypto wallets and such. D3 uses an asterisk to differentiate blockchain names from real domains.

The deal came about after D3 submitted a proposal to the ApeCoin DAO. That’s a Decentralized Autonomous Organization that allows any ApeCoin holder to have a vote in the development of the ApeCoin ecosystem. They voted overwhelmingly in favor of D3’s proposal.

The DAO will receive 50% of gross revenue from *ape and .ape sales under the deal, but D3 says it will retain exclusive rights to .ape. Presumably this is because there’s no way in hell ICANN’s lawyers are going to allow it sign a registry contract with a DAO.

The business plan proposal is quite detailed for a public document, containing stuff like revenue projections that ICANN will redact from published gTLD applications. D3 reckons it could be turning over about $8 million with 90,000 registered .ape names by its fourth year.

“It’s simple, Ape Names are built by Apes, for Apes,” D3 said. As well as quite the most ludicrous quote I’ve used in a considerable while, it also happens to be Technically The Truth when said of any TLD, when you think about it.

But it’s actually a reference to the fact that a few of the D3 C-suite are owners of Bored Ape Yacht Club and Mutant Ape Yacht Club NFTs — those expensive little crypto chimp avatars that people sometimes use in their social media bios.

D3 CEO Fred Hsu apparently owns this ape picture, which is “worth” almost $37,000. Fellow co-founder Paul Stahura has a whole collection.

In other news, there’s still no cure for cancer.

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Alibaba hit with ICANN breach notice

One of the companies in the Alibaba Group, China’s biggest registrar and one of the largest technology companies in the world, has been handed a breach notice, containing a long list of complaints including abuse failures and non-payment of fees, by ICANN Compliance. Singapore E-Commerce, one of Alibaba’s four accredited registrars, failed to respond to abuse reports and failed to respond to ICANN’s requests for information about its failure to respond to abuse reports, the notice claims.

The breach notice will likely to be the last to be sent out for claims under the current version of the Registrar Accreditation Agreement. In two days, April 5, stricter domain takedown rules approved earlier this year will become effective on all registrars.

The abuse claims seem to cover four domains in .com and .vip that look like typos that could have been used in phishing attacks.

ICANN Compliance says that Alibaba also hasn’t published the names of its officers or its redemption fees, as the RAA also requires. It says the registrar also owes it an unspecified amount of past-due fees.

The chronologies reported in the notice claim Alibaba has been giving Compliance the run-around, failing to respond to calls and emails, since early November.

All four registrars in the Alibaba Group have the same published email and phone details, but it’s not clear whether the same ones are listed in ICANN’s internal directory. Singapore is one of four accredited registrars owned by Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant. The parent is not short of a bob or two, reporting revenue equivalent to $126 billion last year. It can afford to pay its ICANN fees.

Of the three Alibaba registrars that have domains the “Singapore” one is the smallest, with about 660,000 domains under management. The other two have 3.2 million and 2.6 million domains to their accreditations.

The company has been told it has until April 17 to come back into compliance or risk getting terminated.

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New Vegas conference “Davos for Web3 interoperability”

Kevin Murphy, April 3, 2024, Domain Services

Specialist new gTLD consultancy D3 is to hold a two-day conference in Las Vegas at the end of the month it’s describing as the “Davos for Web3 interoperability”.

Imposingly named Dominion, it’s due to take place at the Cesar’s Palace hotel from April 29 to 30. The theme is the interoperability between the traditional domain name system and newer blockchain-based naming systems.

Organizers says it’s invite-only, and limited to about 125 attendees, but an invitation can be requested from the event’s web site.

Keynote speakers include Lily Liu (president of the Solana Foundation) and Fred Gregaard (CEO of the Cardano Foundation) on the blockchain side of things, and Matt Overman of Identity Digital on the domain name side, as well as D3 CEO Fred Hsu.

D3 specializes in arranging gTLD applications for blockchain firms and has five announced clients so far.

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ICANN content policing power grab may be dead

Kevin Murphy, April 3, 2024, Domain Policy

A move by ICANN to grant itself more formal “content policing” powers may be dead, after the community was split on the issue and governments failed to back the move.

The Governmental Advisory Committee yesterday sent comments essentially opposing, for now at least, the idea of ICANN reforming its bylaws to give it more powers over internet content, making it very unlikely that ICANN would be able to get such amendments approved by its community overseers.

The comments came a few days after ICANN extended the deadline for responses to a December 2023 consultation on whether applicants in the next new gTLD round should be able to sign up to so-called Registry Voluntary Commitments that regulate content in their zones.

RVCs would be an appendix to ICANN Registry Agreements which would commit a registry to, for example, ban certain types of registrant or certain types of content from domains in their gTLDs.

They’re basically a rebadged version of the Public Interest Commitments found in RAs from the 2012 round, in which the likes of .sucks agreed to ban cyberbullying and .music agreed to ban piracy.

But they’ve got ICANN’s board and lawyers worried, because the Org’s bylaws specifically ban it from restricting or regulating internet content. They’re worried that the RVCs might not be enforceable and that ICANN may wind up in litigation as a result.

ICANN has therefore proposed a framework (pdf) in which RVCs would be enforced by ICANN only after an agreed-upon third-party auditor or monitor found that a registry was out of compliance.

The board sent out several pages of questions to all of its Supporting Organizations and Advisory Committees in December, asking among other things whether the bylaws needed to be amended to clarify ICANN’s role, but the responses were split along traditional lines.

Registries and registrars were aligned: there’s no need for a bylaws change, because ICANN should not allow RVCs that regulate content into its contracts at all.

“ICANN should maintain its existing bylaws which exclude content from its mission, and allowing any changes to this could be a slippery slope opening ICANN to becoming a broader ‘content police’,” the Registrars Stakeholder Group said in its response, giving this amusing example:

An example of a content restriction is provided in the proposed implementation framework for .backyardchickens (e.g. no rooster-related content). Restricting rooster-related content would require a significant amount of policing, and could even prohibit valuable content that would benefit such a TLD. For example, a backyard hen farmer might want to promote the pedigree lineage of the roosters that helped sire the hens, show pictures of the roosters that were the fathers, etc. All of this could in theory be prohibited,but would also require review and subjective analysis. This would be a very slippery slope for ICANN, and a substantial departure from its mission. Restricting rooster content would then put ICANN in the place of enforcing laws that prohibit backyard roosters, rather than relying upon the competent government authorities charged with overseeing residential animal husbandry.

The Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group was more strident in its tone, even raising the possibility of legal action if ICANN went down the content policing route, saying “the best way for the Board to address content-related PICs and RVCs is to make it clear that it will reject them categorically.” It added:

The prohibition on content regulation in ICANN’s mission is extremely important and very clear. Mission limitations were a critical part of the accountability reforms that were required before ICANN would be released from US government control in 2016… NCSG will mount a legal challenge to any attempt to dilute this part of the mission.

The opposing view was held by the Business Constituency, the Intellectual Property Constituency, and the At-Large Advisory Committee, which is tasked with representing the interests of ordinary internet users.

They all said that ICANN should be able to allow content-related RVCs in registry contracts, but the IPC and BC said that no bylaws amendment is needed because the bylaws already have a carve-out that enables the Org to enforce PICs in its agreements. The ALAC said a bylaws amendment is needed.

“There is a distinction between ICANN regulating, i.e imposing ‘rules and restrictions on’ services and content, versus the registry operator voluntarily proposing and submitting to such rules and restrictions,” the IPC wrote.

“There is also a distinction between ICANN directly enforcing such rules and restrictions on third parties, i.e. registrants, versus ICANN holding a registry operator to compliance with the specifics of a contractual commitment,” it added.

The last community group to submit a response, fashionably late, was the GAC, which filed its response yesterday having reviewed all the other responses submitted so far. The GAC arguably has the loudest voice at ICANN, but its comments were probably the least committed.

The GAC said that ICANN should only go ahead with a bylaws amendment if it has community backing, but that the community currently lacks consensus. It said, “at this stage there are not sufficient elements to justify commencing a fundamental bylaws amendment to explicitly enable the enforcement of content-related restrictions”.

However, the GAC still thinks that RVCs “will continue to serve as tools for addressing GAC concerns pertaining to new gTLD applications during the next round” and that it wants them to be enforceable by ICANN, with consequences for registries found in breach.

The GAC said that it “will continue to explore options to address this important question”.

This all means that ICANN is a long way from getting the community support it would need to push through a bylaws amendment related to content policing. That’s considered one of the “Fundamental Bylaws” and can only be changed with substantial community support.

Such amendments require the backing of the Empowered Community. That’s the entity created in 2016 to oversee ICANN after it severed ties with the US government. It comprises individuals from five groups — the GAC, the GNSO, the ccNSO, the ALAC and the Address Supporting Organization.

For a fundamental bylaws amendment to get over the line, at least three of these groups must approve it and no more than one must object.

With the GNSO, given its divisions, almost certainly unable to gather enough affirmative votes, the GAC seemingly on the fence, and the ASO and ccNSO recusing themselves so far, only the ALAC looks like a clear-cut yes vote on a possible future bylaws amendment.

Perhaps that’s why ICANN chair Tripti Sinha has written to the ASO and ccNSO in the last few days to ask them whether they’d like to think again about ducking out of the consultation, giving them an extra two weeks to submit comments after the original March 31 deadline.

The ccNSO handles policy for country-code domains and the ASO for IP addresses. Both have previously told ICANN that gTLD policy is none of their business, but Sinha has urged them both to chip in anyway, because “the ICANN Bylaws govern us all”.

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Cable company unplugs its dot-brand after acquisition

A Canadian telecommunications company is turning off its dot-brand gTLD after it was acquired and its brand was deprecated.

Shaw Cablesystems has told ICANN it no longer wants .shaw, so could the registry contract kindly be terminated.

The move follows the company’s $26 billion acquisition by rival Rogers Communications, which closed a year ago. Rogers has been winding down the Shaw branding for the last nine months.

But .shaw had never actually been used by Shaw, apart from the mandatory placeholder at, so it was likely circling the self-termination drain anyway even without the acquisition.

Rogers also has two dot-brands — .rogers and .fido — but while it has registered a few .rogers domains over the last six months none of them have any meaningful content or redirects as yet.

The .shaw gTLD was using Identity Digital as its back-end registry services provider, having originally signed up with Afilias.

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