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ICANN picks comms firm for new gTLDs outreach

Kevin Murphy, June 22, 2022, Domain Policy

The next round of new gTLDs is getting real.

ICANN has selected a communications firm to promote the next round ahead of its launch, and authorized a wedge of cash to pay for it, according to a resolution of the board of directors.

The resolution does not name the firm or the exact amount of money earmarked, because a deal has yet to be signed, but it is worth over $500,000.

In the 2012 round, I believe ICANN worked with long-time PR agency Edelman.

The agency will be responsible for planning the outreach campaign and then executing it over three months ahead of the application window opening, whenever that may be.

The resolution states that ICANN will contract the firm for 50 “instances”, where an instance is a country or industry.

The 2011/2012 outreach campaign came under criticism for not doing enough to entice applications from the global south and emerging economies, something which current ICANN management has said they hope to rectify next time around.

Broker says it will sue after DNS abuse sting operation

Kevin Murphy, June 21, 2022, Domain Policy

The CEO of domain broker VPN.com is threatening to sue an online safety advocacy group after a report was published alleging the company trades in names that could be used for illegal activity.

Michael Gargiulo said he will take action against the Digital Citizens Alliance unless it removes a report that claimed one of the company’s brokers agreed to coordinate the $21,000 purchase of covidvaccinecardsforsale.com, even after being told it would be used for illegal purposes.

“[We] sadly have no choice but to sue the Digital Citizens Alliance, Executive Director Tom Galvin, their Managing Editor, and every John Doe that coordinated this fraud unless this content is removed within 48 hours from now,” Gargiulo said.

The DCA report, entitled “Peddling For Profit — How Website Retailers Enable Bad Actors to Become the Master of Illicit Domains” (pdf), is largely an attempt to highlight how domain registrars don’t vet domains for potentially illegal use before allowing them to be registered.

It’s mostly familiar nonsense, apparently written with a general audience and tabloid headlines, rather than the domain industry or tech industry, in mind.

There’s no attempt to explore the complexities of automatically determining a registrant’s intent at the point of sale and comparing it to the world’s hundreds of legal jurisdictions, it’s mainly just “Woah, GoDaddy let me register untraceablegunsforsale.com!”

Where the report differs from the norm is when it looks at the secondary market, where human beings work with buyer and seller to agree a price and transfer a domain.

With VPN, the DCA reporter posed as the potential buyer of covidvaccinecardsforsale.net and carried out an email conversation with a broker in which it was stated the domain would be used to sell “Covid cards” to “the unvaccinated”, from which one could certainly infer a nefarious purpose.

The VPN broker responded by trying to negotiate the sale of the matching .com for a higher price, the DCA report states. Later, the DCA reporter says he wants to “stay under the radar of the FTC” but VPN’s response, if any, is not reported.

Gargiulo told DI that DCA “posed as a legitimate Buyer on the original inquiry with fraudulent intent, which by their publication admission, is fraudulent and illegal in America.”

The broker in question is from outside the US and “did not understand their [DCA’s] illegal intent” he said.

“In many parts of the world including Europe, Covid cards are used for vaccinated and unvaccinated people,” he said, giving the Netherlands as an example.

“We take this matter very seriously as the characterization of our company is absolutely ridiculous in this document,” he said. “There was little-to-no journalistic integrity to verify the other side of this story by DCA and the transaction never even got remotely close to occurring.”

DCA also attempted to buy buystolencreditcards.com via broker Domain Agents, but after blatantly describing how the name would be used for crime, “the broker canceled the deal.”

DCA, as its name implies, is funded by undisclosed companies in Big Content, Big Pharma, internet security and consumer safety. It’s led by former Verisign PR man Tom Galvin.

“We will let the report speak for itself,” a DCA spokesperson said when asked for comment on the legal threat.

The slow crawl to closed generics at ICANN 74

Kevin Murphy, June 20, 2022, Domain Policy

Last Monday saw the 10th anniversary of Reveal Day, the event in London where ICANN officially revealed the 1,930 new gTLD applications submitted earlier in 2012 to a crowd of excited applicants and media.

Dozens of those applications were for closed generics — where the registry operator is the sole registrant, but the string isn’t a trademark — but now, a decade later, the ICANN community still hasn’t decided what to do about that type of gTLD.

At ICANN 74 last week, the Generic Names Supporting Organization and Governmental Advisory Committee inched closer to agreeing the rules of engagement for forthcoming talks on how closed generics should be regulated.

The GNSO’s working group on new gTLDs — known as SubPro — had failed to come to a consensus on whether closed generics should even be allowed, failing even to agree on whether the status quo was the thousand-year-old earlier GNSO policy recommendations that permitted them or the later GAC-influenced ICANN retconning that banned them.

But ever since SubPro delivered its final report, the GAC has been reminding ICANN of its 2013 Beijing communique advice, which stated: “For strings representing generic terms, exclusive registry access should serve a public interest goal.”

At the time, this amounted to an effective ban, but today it’s become an enabler.

ICANN has for the last several months been coaxing the GNSO and the GAC to the negotiating table to help bring the SubPro stalemate into line with the Beijing communique, and the rules of engagement pretty much guarantee that closed generics will be permitted, as least in principle, in the next application round.

GAC chair Manal Ismail told ICANN (pdf) back in April:

discussion should focus on a compromise to allow closed generics only if they serve a public interest goal and that the two “edge outcomes” (i.e. allowing closed generics without restrictions/limitations, and prohibiting closed generics under any circumstance) are unlikely to achieve consensus, and should therefore be considered out of scope for this dialogue.

Remarkably, the GNSO agreed to these terms with little complaint, essentially allowing the GAC to set at least the fundamentals of the policy.

Last week, talks centered on how these bilateral negotiations — or trilateral, as the At-Large Advisory Committee is now also getting a seat at the table — will be proceed.

The rules of engagement were framed by ICANN (pdf) back in March, with the idea that talks would begin before ICANN 74, a deadline that has clearly been missed.

The GNSO convened a small team of members to consider ICANN’s proposals and issued its report (pdf) last week, which now seems to have been agreed upon by the Council.

Both GNSO and GAC are keen that the talks will be facilitated by an independent, non-conflicted, knowledgeable expert, and have conceded that they may have to hire a professional facilitator from outside the community.

That person hasn’t been picked yet, and until he/she has taken their seat no talks are going to happen.

ICANN said a few months ago that it did not expect the closed generics issue to delay the SubPro Operational Design Phase, which is scheduled to wind up in October, but the longer the GAC, GNSO and ICANN dawdle, the more likely that becomes.

All that has to happen is for a group of 14-16 community members to agree on what “public interest” means, and that should be easy, right? Right?

Over 900 people show up for ICANN 74

Kevin Murphy, June 17, 2022, Domain Policy

Has community participation in ICANN meetings rebounded now that in-person meetings have returned? That’s one possible interpretation of data released by the Org today.

ICANN said that ICANN 74, which concluded yesterday, had 1,817 attendees, of whom 917 showed up in The Hague in person, their first opportunity to travel to an ICANN meeting since November 2019. The remaining 900 participated remotely via Zoom.

If we take the top-line number, that’s the highest attendance of the pandemic era, and comparable to the Montréal meeting immediately prior to the arrival of the Covid-19, ICANN 66, where 1,894 people showed up.

But the top-line number from Montréal does not include off-site Zoom participants, which were counted separately and amounted to 1,752 people.

So the number of people “attending” ICANN meetings one way or the other has either returned to pre-pandemic levels, or has been cut in half, or even quartered, over the last two and a half years, depending on how you’re counting.

The fact that the 66 was an Annual General Meeting, with a longer, more cluttered agenda and more opportunities to engage for a broader range of people than the mid-year Policy Forum, probably had some impact on the numbers.

The 2019 Policy Forum, held in Morocco, attracted 1,186 in-person attendees and 2.909 off-site Zoom participants.

Regardless of whether you think Zoom users count as full participants or not, 917 bums on seats is the smallest attendance for any meeting since ICANN started counting.

Verisign and Afilias spar over .web delays

Kevin Murphy, June 15, 2022, Domain Policy

Afilias and Verisign are at odds over a further delay to the resolution of the .web gTLD dispute.

Afilias, aka Altanovo Domains, says its lawyers are too busy to meet ICANN’s deadline for arguments about whether either company broke the rules in the 2016 auction of .web, but Verisign thinks they have plenty of time,

ICANN’s Board Accountability Mechanisms Committee had set a deadline of July 15 for both applicants to submit a document explaining why they believe the other broke the rules and should have their auction bids voided.

But Afilias’ lawyers say they “have longstanding international travel and hearing commitments in June and July that cannot be rescheduled” and want an extension to July 29.

Just two weeks seems like no big deal in a contest that has been running for literally a decade, but Verisign is opposing it anyway, according to emails Afilias submitted to ICANN (pdf).

“ICANN provided the parties with a generous briefing schedule sufficient to accommodate counsel’s other commitments. For this reason, Verisign and NDC do not support Altanovo’s current request for a further extension,” a Verisign lawyer wrote.

Verisign, which won the auction via its proxy, Nu Dot Co, believes Afilias broke a communications blackout period before the auction by texting NDC to negotiate a deal. Afilias believes NDC broke the rules by not disclosing Verisign’s involvement.

The BAMC’s job, following the outcome of an Independent Review Process case last year, is to decide whether either of these claims is legit and settle who won the auction once and for all.

Hamburg selected for next year’s ICANN AGM

Kevin Murphy, June 13, 2022, Domain Policy

Better late than never? ICANN has picked Hamburg for its 25th annual general meeting, due to be held in October next year.

The ICANN board of directors made the selection at its meeting this weekend, just-published resolutions show.

The choice is hardly surprising. Hamburg had been the venue for the 2020 AGM, but it was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. The city, along with DENIC and eco, said last December they were bidding for a second crack.

The specific venue was not disclosed, but the aborted 2020 meeting was due to take place at the Congress Center Hamburg, so one assumes that’s where the community will be headed next year.

While it will be ICANN’s 25th AGM, and I guess some kind of celebration will be in order, sadly ICANN 78 will be the wrong side of the country and in the wrong month to easily coincide with Oktoberfest.

The meeting is schedule for October 21 to 26 2023.

Amazon governments not playing ball with Amazon’s .amazon

Kevin Murphy, June 13, 2022, Domain Policy

Governments in South America are refusing to play nicely with Amazon over its controversial .amazon dot-brand.

Speaking at ICANN 74 in The Hague this morning, Brazil’s representative on the Governmental Advisory Committee said that ICANN’s decision to delegate .amazon to the retail giant a couple of years ago contravenes the multi-stakeholder process and is “incompatible with the expectations and sovereign rights of the Amazon peoples”.

Luciano Mazza de Andrade said that the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization, which is membered by the eight governments of the Amazonia region, wrote to Amazon in December to decline an offer to reserve a number of .amazon domains.

Amazon’s contract with ICANN contains a Public Interest Commitment that grants ACTO and its members one usable .amazon domain each, and 1,500 blocks overall for culturally sensitive strings.

The company had given ACTO a December 19 deadline to submit its list of strings, but it seems its members do not acknowledge the contract’s validity.

“Among other points it underlined that ACTO member states did not give consent to the process of adjudication of the .amazon top-level domain and that they did not consider themselves bound by said decision or the conditions attached to it including the above mentioned Public Interest Commitment,” Brazil’s rep said.

He added that “the adjudication of the top-level domain to a private company without our approval and authorization does not respect the applicable rules, expressly contravenes the multistakeholder nature of ICANN’s decision-making process of interest, and is incompatible with the expectations and sovereign rights of the Amazon peoples.”

ACTO has previously described the delegation of .amazon as “illegal and unjust”.

Amazon has a handful of live .amazon domains, which redirect to various services on amazon.com.

High fives, or elbows only? ICANN 74 intros traffic light system for socializing

Kevin Murphy, June 13, 2022, Domain Policy

People attending ICANN 74 in The Hague this week are being encouraged to outwardly express their social distancing preferences with their choice of meeting lanyards.

The Org has made lanyards with straps in four colors available to those who have shown up to ICANN’s first face-to-face public meeting in over two and a half years.

A red strap indicates that you should back off, because the wearer desires “extreme physical distancing and precautions”. Yellow is “elbows only” when it comes to greetings. Green means you can shake hands, high-five, and get a little more intimate.

There’s also black, for those who don’t want to wear their Covid-19 anxiety levels around their necks, can’t make their minds up, or think the system is silly.

Five days of masks and Covid-19 tests have been issued to attendees at the door, along with a supply of hand sanitizer. The masks are compulsory, and sanitizer use is being encouraged for those who are choosing to press the flesh.

In-person attendees are also being issued with wrist-bands, like you might get in hospital or at a music festival or nightclub, to prove their vaccination status has been verified.

I’m observing ICANN 74 remotely, and I’ve only viewed one session so far, but my impression based on that limited sample size is that most people seem to have opted for green or yellow lanyards.

It’s tempting to mock the system as another example of ICANN bureaucracy but I think it makes sense, particularly when you’ve got hundreds of people from dozens of countries, each at their own stages of pandemic recovery and with their own levels of endemic covidiocy, in the same building.

As registration closes, many ICANN 74 sessions at bursting point

Kevin Murphy, June 8, 2022, Domain Policy

When I’m wrong, I’m wrong.

I speculated a couple of weeks ago that it was likely that ICANN had laid on enough meeting-room capacity to meet demand at next week’s ICANN 74 public meeting, but it turns out most sessions are already over-subscribed.

It’s the first in-person full meeting for ICANN since the pandemic began, and there are going to be some particularly cumbersome health and safety restrictions, including social distancing, which means mandatory reservations and fewer bums on seats.

By my count, 50 sessions next week are already fully booked, which appears to be more than half of the total. There doesn’t seem to be a published hard cap on the number of attendees overall, so there might be a lot of hanging around in corridors going on.

The large plenary sessions in the big room still have hundreds of available seats, but the smaller rooms are mostly fully reserved.

ICANN has said it will have waiting lists for sessions where people fail to show up, and there’s always the Zoom rooms as a backup for those on-site.

The deadline for registering to attend in person is today. Assuming that means close of business in California, you still have a few hours left to book your spot.

I’m not going. My broken leg still hasn’t fully healed, and limping around a massive maze of a venue for eight hours a day, setting off the metal detectors every time I go in or out (I’m now part robot), seems like my idea of hell.

Meds regulator won’t say why it gets domains suspended

Kevin Murphy, May 30, 2022, Domain Policy

The UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has declined to reveal which .uk domain names it has had suspended and the reasons for having them suspended.

In response to a freedom of information request published last week, the agency said it had 32 domains suspended in the last 12 months — it appears that refers to the 12 months to November 2021 — but declined to list them.

It said most of the domains were being used to breach the Human Medicines Regulations 2012, which regulates the sale of medicines, but declined to give specifics, citing a FOI carve-out related to ongoing investigations.

The MHRA said that it does not have a formal suspensions policy.

The agency is one of several that regularly asks .uk registry Nominet to take down domains believed to be involved in criminal behavior. The Police Intellectual Property Crimes Unit submits by far the largest number of such requests.