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SSAD: Whois privacy-busting white elephant to be shelved

Kevin Murphy, May 6, 2022, Domain Policy

ICANN is likely to put SSAD, the proposed system for handling requests for private Whois data, on the back-burner in favor of a simplified, and far less expensive, temporary fix.

But now ICANN is warning that even the temporary fix might be problematic, potentially delaying unrelated work on the next new gTLD round for months.

The GNSO Council has asked the ICANN board of directors that “consideration of the SSAD recommendations be paused” in favor of what it calls “SSAD Light”.

SSAD, for Standardized System for Access and Disclosure, is a sprawling, multifaceted proposal that would create a system whereby trademark owners, for example, can request Whois data from registrars.

After months of studying the proposal, ICANN decided it could cost as much as $27 million to build and might not go live before 2028.

There’s apparently substantial resistance within ICANN Org to committing to such a project, so the GNSO put together a small team of experts to figure out whether something simpler might be a better idea.

They came up with SSAD Light, which would be basically a stripped-down ticketing system for data requests designed in part to gauge potential uptake and get a better idea of what a full SSAD might cost.

But there’s some strong resistance to SSAD Light, notably from former ICANN chair Steve Crocker, who recently called it “nonsense” with a design that does not match its goals.

Nevertheless, the GNSO Council submitted the bare-bones proposal to the ICANN board in an April 27 letter (pdf).

Since then, it’s emerged that simply fleshing out the design for SSAD Light would add at least six weeks to the separate Operational Design Phase of the next new gTLD application round (known as SubPro). I assume this is due to ICANN staff workload issues as the two projects are not massively interdependent.

This delay could extend to “months” to SubPro if ICANN is then asked to build SSAD Light, according to Jeff Neuman, who’s acting as liaison between the GNSO and ICANN on the SubPro ODP.

In a nutshell, the GNSO Council is being asked what it wants more — Whois reform, or more new gTLDs. It’s a recipe for fireworks, and no mistake.

It will meet May 19 to discuss the matter.

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ICANN reports shocking increase in pandemic scams

Kevin Murphy, May 6, 2022, Domain Tech

The number of gTLD domains being used for malware and phishing related to the Covid-19 pandemic has increased markedly in the last eight months, according to data released by ICANN this week.

The Org revealed that since it started tracking this kind of thing in May 2020 it has flagged 23,452 domains as “potentially active and malicious”.

The data is collected by checking zone files against a list of 579 keywords and running the results through third-party abuse blocklists. Blocked domains are referred to the corresponding registrars for action.

I’m not sure you could technically call these “takedown requests”, but there’s a pretty strong implication that registrars should do the right thing when they receive such a report.

The 23,452 notices is a sharp rise from both the 12,860 potentially abusive flagged names and 3,791 “high confidence” reports ICANN has previously said it found from the start of the project until August 2021.

It’s not clear whether the rise is primarily due to an increase in abusive practices or ICANN’s improved ability to detect scams as it adds additional keywords to its watch-list.

ICANN said in March that it is now also tracking keywords related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

It’s also asking organizations in frequently targeted sectors to supply keyword suggestions for languages or scripts that might be under-represented.

The data was processed by ICANN’s Domain Name Security Threat Information Collection and Reporting (DNSTICR or “DNS Ticker”), which Org management previously discussed at ICANN 73.

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Kaufmann selected for ICANN board

Kevin Murphy, May 6, 2022, Uncategorized

Christian Kaufmann, a VP at Akamai, has been picked for the ICANN board of directors, the Address Supporting Organization has announced.

He beat former ICANN director Lito Ibarra in a two-horse ASO election at the end of a six-month selection process, and will replace Akinori Maemura, who did not stand for reelection.

Ibarra was on the board as a Nominating Committee appointee for two of a possible three terms before being replaced by Edmon Chung last October. He clearly enjoyed himself enough to try again as an ASO candidate.

But Kaufman got the votes, and will join the board after its AGM in October this year.

He’s been with content delivery network operator Akamai since 2008 and currently serves as VP of technology. He also has experience on the boards of other industry groups.

He’s European, replacing somebody from Asia-Pacific, which alters the geographic mix of the ICANN board a little.

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Secondary market fluffs GoDaddy amid slowdown concerns

Secondary market domain sales continued to drive growth in the first quarter, GoDaddy reported this week, amid fears of slowing growth in new primary market sales.

It’s difficult to gauge exactly how well domains are selling, because the company has stopped breaking out domains as a separate revenue segment in its quarterly earnings releases.

Instead, it’s bundled domains, hosting and basic security together into a new “core platform” segment, frustrating those of us who like to see domain performance to track broader industry trends.

This “core platform” grew by 9% year-over-year in Q1, to $699.6 million, and CFO Mark McCaffrey told analysts that 40% of this growth was driven by secondary market domain sales.

“Core Platform bookings grew 5% year-over-year,” McCaffrey added. Bookings give a better indication of new sales.

A week earlier, .com registry Verisign had said that its registrars were seeing primary sales volumes growth slowing due to the easing of coronavirus restrictions that had pumped growth and general post-pandemic economic malaise.

If that is happening, GoDaddy’s secondary market sales, where it has blurred the lines between retail storefront and aftermarket sales platform in recent years, provides some insulation.

Overall, in Q1 the company saw revenue of up 11.3% at $1 billion and net income up from $10.8 million to $68.6 million.

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Washington DC picked for ICANN 77

Kevin Murphy, May 4, 2022, Domain Policy

ICANN is set for a rare visit to the mainland USA for one of its public meetings next year.

Capital Washington DC has been picked for ICANN 77, set to run 12-15 June, 2023, according to a vote of the board of directors published today.

It will be the first time ICANN has summoned its hordes to its native shores since 2014, when it held a meeting in Los Angeles.

Seattle had been picked for last October’s ICANN 73, but it was cancelled due to pandemic travel restrictions.

ICANN rotates its meetings through five geographic regions, and recent North American meetings have meant Canadian and Puerto Rican venues.

It will be the first time ICANN has picked DC for a public meeting. It has an office there.

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UDRP suspended in Ukraine

Kevin Murphy, May 3, 2022, Uncategorized

The World Intellectual Property Organization has stopped accepting cybersquatting complaints against .ua domains due to the war in Ukraine.

WIPO has posted a note to its web site stating: “In consultation with the .UA Registry, the Center has determined that it is not in a position to accept new .UA filings under the .UA Policy until further notice.”

Hostmaster, the .ua registry, said: “The decision is due to the fact that Ukrainian registrars and registra[nts] may now be deprived of the opportunity to fully participate in arbitration proceedings.”

The service will resume following the end of martial law in the country, Hostmaster said.

Ukraine uses a variation of UDRP that has the same three basic criteria for a finding of cybersquatting, with the crucial difference that domains must be “registered OR used in bad faith”, rather than “registered AND used in bad faith”.

WIPO has been handling .ua disputes since 2019. About 60 cases have been processed so far.

Hostmaster has also suspended domain deletes until martial law is over, for pretty much the same reasons.

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Gee, thanks. auDA cuts price of .au names by five cents

Australian ccTLD registry auDA has cut the wholesale price of .au domains by a measly five cents, according to local reports.

Aussie domainer blog Domainer reports that registry back-end provider Afilias, owned by Donuts, has notified registrars that the price is coming down to AUD 7.83 ($5.56), from AUD 7.88, not including sales tax.

The cut kicks in June 1 and effects all new registrations, renewals and transfers.

With about 3.6 million .au domains under management, that amounts to $180,000 a year out of the registry’s pocket, but the price reduction obviously won’t be noticeable for any but the most prolific domain collector.

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ICANN salary porn: 2021 edition

Kevin Murphy, May 3, 2022, Domain Policy

It’s that time of year again when ICANN publishes its tax returns and we all get to ogle the phat paychecks its top brass are cutting themselves with domain registrants’ money.

Headlining, CEO Göran Marby actually got paid a bit less in fiscal 2021, which ended last June, than he did the previous year — $908,674, plus another $68,866 from “other” sources.

That total of $977,540 is lower than the total of $1,059,222 he received in fiscal 2020, largely due to receiving about $94,000 less in bonus payments.

Marby was given a 5% pay raise in February 2021, though not without some director dissent.

The Form 990 goes on to disclose the salaries of 35 ICANN management and directors, showing that 19 of them make over $300,00 a year. Five, including Marby, receive over half a million dollars.

Directors, if they choose to draw a salary, take home a flat $45,000, which is sometimes paid to their companies instead. Chair Maarten Botterman had $75,000 paid to his consulting company.

The filing reveals that VP Cyrus Namazi, who left the Org during the period after attracting sexual harassment complaints from at least two female colleagues, was given a $375,000 golden parachute.

And former COO Susanna Bennett was given $380,380 in severance payments, despite the fact that her departure was originally described by Marby as her own voluntary decision.

Law firm Jones Day was the best-paid contractor, billing $8,769,608 in the year. That was up from $5,513,028 in the previous year.

Software developers Architect, Zensar and OSTechnical received $2,769,856, $1,396,232 and $1,093,070 respectively, presumably for work on the ICANN web site.

ICANN’s revenue for the year was $163,942,482, of which $97.5 million came from registrars and registries.

The Org had $555,804,201 in assets at the end of the year.

You can download the forms here.

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A sign of things to come? Verisign slashes outlook in post-pandemic slowdown

Kevin Murphy, April 28, 2022, Domain Registries

Verisign is warning that its business is going to grow slower than expected in 2022, due to the after-effects of the pandemic and general economic conditions.

The registry tonight reported first-quarter revenue of $347 million, up 7% on the comparable period a year ago, after raising its .com prices 7% last year.

But the company has slashed its sales estimates for the year.

CEO Jim Bidzos told analysts this evening that the company and its registrars have started to see a post-pandemic slowdown in sales, exacerbated by other unspecified “macro-economic factors”.

“Incremental demand for new registrations that grew during the pandemic is subsiding,” Bidzos said.

Many domain companies, including Verisign, saw growth spikes during the pre-vaccine pandemic, when many small businesses moved to online sales to stay afloat during recurring lockdown restrictions.

But that’s all over now, and the economic fallout most of us are feeling seems to also be affecting domain sales.

The company said its net income for the first quarter was $158 million, up from $150 a year ago. Its operating margin slipped a little, however, from an enormous 65% to an enormous 64.8%.

Verisign ended the quarter with 161.3 million .com domains and 13.4 million .net domains under management, up 4% combined at 174.7 million.

The renewal rate for .com and .net domains was estimated at 74.8%, up from 73.5% a year ago.

The company expects its domain base to grow between 1.75% and 3.5% this year. That’s down quite significantly from its February estimate of growth between 2.5% and 4.5%.

It added 10.1 million new names in the quarter, compared to 10.6 million in Q4 and 11.1 million in Q1 last year.

While Bidzos did not drill very deep into the other factors contributing to his pessimistic outlook, he did say that the war in Ukraine was not a factor. Sales in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus are “not material”, he said.

I suspect what we’re looking at here is probably related to what the media here in the UK is calling the “cost of living crisis”, which is seeing the price of staples such as food and energy skyrocket and many people cut back on luxuries as a result.

UPDATE: This article was updated July 28, 2022 to correct the number of .net registrations from 13.1 million to 13.4 million.

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UDRP comments reveal shocking lack of trust in ICANN process

Kevin Murphy, April 26, 2022, Domain Policy

Is trust in the ICANN community policy-making process on the decline? Submissions to a recent public comment period on UDRP reform certainly seem to suggest so.

Reading through the 41 comments filed, it’s clear that while many community members and constituencies have pet peeves about UDRP as it stands today, there’s a disturbing lack of trust in ICANN’s ability to reform the policy without breaking it, and very little appetite for a full-blown Policy Development Process.

It’s one area where constituencies not traditionally allied or aligned — such as domain investors and intellectual property interests — seem to be on the same page.

Both the Intellectual Property Constituency and the Internet Commerce Association are among those calling for any changes to UDRP to be drafted rapidly by subject-matter experts, rather than being opened to full community discussion.

The IPC called the UDRP “a vital and fundamental tool that has a long and proven track record”, saying it has “generally been consistently and predictably applied over the course of its more than 20-year history”. Its comment added:

it is critically important that future policy work regarding the UDRP not diminish, dilute, or otherwise undermine its effectiveness. Such policy work should be extremely deferential to and reliant on the input of experts who have actual experience working with and within the UDRP system, and resistant to efforts that would weaken the UDRP system; any such work should be based on facts and evidence of problems in need of a systematic policy-level solution, and not merely to address specific edge cases, differences of opinion, or pet issues.

That’s pretty much in line with the ICA’s comments, which state that participants in future UDRP reform talks “should be experts… individuals who have extensive personal and practical knowledge of the UDRP through direct personal involvement”.

That language — in fact several paragraphs of endorsement for an expert-driven effort — appears almost verbatim in the separately filed comments of the Business Constituency, of which the ICA is a member.

The ICA’s reluctance to endorse a full-blown PDP appears to come from the experience of the Review of all Rights Protection Mechanisms in all gTLDs PDP, or “Phase 1”, which ran from 2016 to 2020.

That working group struggled to reach consensus on even basic stuff, and at one point frictions reached a point where allegations of civility rules breaches caused warring parties to lawyer up.

“Phase 1 was lengthy, unproductive, inefficient, and an unpleasant experience for all concerned,” the ICA wrote in its comments.

“Perhaps the biggest problem with Phase 1 was that structurally it was inadvertently set up to encourage disagreements between interest groups rather than to facilitate collaboration, negotiation, and problem solving,” it said.

The BC arguable goes further in its deference to experts, calling on ICANN to invoke section 13.1 of its bylaws and drag the World Intellectual Property Organization — leading UDRP provider and drafter of the original 1999 policy — as an expert consultant.

The BC also wrote:

It is imperative that stakeholders do not unnecessarily open up a can of worms with the UDRP through destabilizing changes; rather, they should take a focused and targeted approach, only entertaining improvements and enhancements which stand a reasonable chance of gaining consensus amongst stakeholders

WIPO itself is thinking along the same lines:

If the choice is made to review the UDRP, the process should be expert-driven and scoped

To avoid undoing the UDRP’s success, ICANN needs to give serious consideration to the weight to be accorded to the various opinions expressed. So-called “community feedback” referred to, for example, in section 4 of the PSR seems to lack specific depth and can seem more ideological or anecdotal

Comments from ICANN’s contracted parties also expressed concerns about a PDP doing more harm than good.

The Registries Stakeholder Group has almost nothing to say about ICANN’s report, but the Registrars Stakeholder Group expressed concerns that “any updates could have unintended consequences resulting in a less effective UDRP”.

It uniquely brought up the issue of volunteer fatigue and ICANN’s cumbersome backlog of work, writing:

Although the RrSG recognizes that there are some minor areas for improvement in the UDRP, it is the position of the RrSG that a full policy development process (PDP) is not necessary. The UDRP was adopted in 1999, and has been utilized for over 60,000 UDRP cases. The RrSG is not aware of any major issues with the UDRP, and is concerned that any updates could have unintended consequences resulting in a less effective UDRP. Additionally, not only is there a backlog of policy recommendations waiting for ICANN Board approval or implementation, but the RrSG is also aware of substantial community volunteer fatigue even for high-priority issues.

These comments were filed in response to a public comment period on an ICANN-prepared policy status report.

Not every comment expressed skepticism about the efficacy of a PDP. Notably, the Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group — the constituency arguably most likely to upset the apple cart if a Phase 2 PDP goes ahead — appears to fully expect that such work will take place.

There were also many comments from individuals, mostly domainers, recounting their own experiences of, and reform wish-lists for, UDRP.

ICANN’s report will be revised in light of these comments and submitted to the GNSO, which will decide what to do with it.

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