News from ICANN: Some BIG Issues Debated

We’ve just been to the ICANN 44 conference in Prague and picked up information we think you need to know. 

You may not be aware what ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) does or how important ICANN is to the Internet.  If you think the role of ICANN is simply to ensure it “coordinates the Domain Name System (DNS)”, then you’re wrong.

Right now, the Internet community is on the edge of a “choice revolution” on the lead up to controversial new gTLD’s (Generic Top Level Domains) and at the same time your Domain registrant privacy is being hotly debated under pressure from international law enforcement agencies.  ICANN is the place where these BIG issues get tackled and we’ve got the inside track.

New gTLD’s … Likely Delay
Just a few weeks ago, we attended the ICANN gTLD launch press conference in London and they announced we should expect to see the first batch of domains being released in Q1 2013.  Those timelines are now unlikely after the process of determining which extensions should go first has been abandoned.

‘Digital Archery’ was a complex process created by ICANN as a way of deciding which of the 1,930 applications should be processed first.  It was planned that up to a maximum of 1,000 new domain name extensions per year would be delegated into the internet at a steady rate to ensure internet stability. However, the intricate process was not behaving as it was meant to and ICANN finally deemed it too complicated and are in the process of finding a new and fair way to decide which applications go first. So for now, the new gTLD programme is held in limbo.

Objections … Now or Never
All governments want to protect the Internet interests of their country and ICANN formally receives input from all recognised governments via a body known as GAC (Governmental Advisory Committee).  At the ICANN conference, the UK GAC representative, Mark Carvell asked some pointed questions of Steve Steve Del Bianco (ICANN Vice Chair Policy Coordination), “…where the applicant is stating that is going to serve the interests of consumers, there will be choice, there will be new services and so on, that’s quite a commitment and one would expect it to pertain throughout the life of the domain, but … it doesn’t actually amount to anything in terms of contractual obligation.”

It seems that despite applicants providing an application form ‘mission statement’ describing their broad purposes for new extensions, that purpose is not contractually binding and gTLD owners are under no obligation to deliver on that mission statement.  Previously we blogged about how companies like Amazon and Google describe the purpose of fun new extensions like .lol and .joy, but the reality is, new owners will have absolutely no responsibility to manage the extension in the way their mission statement describes.

In response, Steve Del Bianco replied that question18 of the application form is “An aspirational statement to differentiate one application from another… in no way does that become part of the contract with ICANN.”  He went on to say, the question exists to ensure public commentators, “… might look at question 18’s answer and use that to base your decision on whether to file a warning, whether to ask a question, whether to have competition authorities to weigh in and if you did, you’d presumably get an answer from the applicant.”

So, we hope that all those individuals tasked with determining whether anti-competitiveness laws have been breached and whether consumers are really going to benefit from these new extensions pay close attention to question 18 because it seems that it’s a case of ‘Now or Never’.

Whilst in Prague, we spoke to a number of new gTLD applicants; while some of the commercial extensions are prepared for the release and had already started to make their presence known in the ICANN community, others had not even started thinking about the next steps and we cannot imagine they would be ready for release in 2013.  We are still in that  all-important 7 month objection window, which means that any of the new gTLD applications could still be objected to on grounds such as intellectual property or being against public interest and in that case would not proceed through the stages to release.  We’ll be watching which applicants fall in this next round.

In other news from ICANN 44:
ICANN has received 12 demands from Law enforcement; 10 of which have been agreed to in principal by the Registrar community. A consensus still hasn’t been reached for the two outstanding points; which include Data Validation and Data Retention and these are key points that impact consumer privacy.

So, for example these points would potentially mean that if you register a .COM domain all registrars would have to check all the registrant information is correct before the domain is able to be set live; i.e. registrars could have to check the registrants address against something like the electoral roll, validate the email address and also the registrants’ phone number by sending out a code that you would have to confirm upon registration.

This would then have to be checked annually to make sure the whois details are correct; failure to confirm these steps may mean registrars would have to cease all the services on the domain name. Registrars were also asked to keep every data log of customer interaction for the life of the domain name and years afterwards, in case law enforcement required this information.  This is a heavy handed approach to customer data management and arguably it would be infringing UK & EU data retention laws.  We’ll be following this contentious issue closely as it continues to evolve.

The Registrar community has suggested to ICANN, that as they contemplate significant changes to the domain name ecosystem as it exists today, this topic should go out for public comment. Tell us what are your thoughts on this dramatic change?

Keep an eye on our Social Media channels for more information on these changes and developments as they arise.



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