News, views and what I choose to dos



Is the dark side of new gTLDs starting to emerge?

Last week, I received a highly unusual email claiming that an article on my personal website was libellous and insisting I take it down within a week.

Even more unusually, the article was from 2002 – yes nearly a decade ago – it is called “Domain scam merchants get legs sucked by toothless OFT” and it tells how the same man had had his knuckles rapped by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) in the UK having been caught trying to sell domains for top-level domains that do not exist. Examples were dot-brit, dot-sex, dot-scot.

The OFT had failed to do anything until the two people at the heart of the story crossed the line in the United States by using 9/11 as a way of advertising “patriotic” dot-usa domains (which also do not exist). The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was not at all amused and got a temporary restraining order against them, even putting out a news release on the matter. There were a series of other news releases as the FTC fought them, winning “as much as $300,000 for consumer redress”. Clearly selling non-existent domain names can be a profitable business done right.

My analysis of the broken ICANN culture

I wrote an extensive review of the dot-jobs saga earlier this week on .Nxt called: The case study that could kill ICANN.

This afternoon, I saw the Stephane van Gelder had referenced it in a blog post: What ICANN is doing wrong.

I wrote a lengthy response to Stephane’s post, but for some reason it repeatedly could not get past his anti-spam mechanisms. Having spent a little bit of time writing a response, I figured I would post it here instead. It’s below:

————

I think you’re being a little unfair to me. It is relatively easy to follow the article, even though the process itself was a little convoluted.

But anyway, this is the real problem: a very large number of people now know exactly what has happened and how bad it is. But what will happen? How will anyone be held to account? Will anyone even admit publicly that this is an example of poor governance?

Even if you were to raise it as GNSO Chair at the next ICANN meeting, you would likely be shouted down or told it is not in the GNSO’s remit, or be put under enormous peer pressure to keep it out of the public sphere. You’d probably be offered a private briefing. Anything to prevent the taboo being broken.

The best anyone can expect is that some Board members will dig into the issue.

So what does that weird GAC wording actually mean?

Category : Domain names, ICANN, Internet governance · (5) Comments · by Jan 27th, 2011

UPDATE: The ICANN Board just published the minutes from its meeting on Tuesday and intriguingly it has formally “triggered” the GAC-Board consultation that is explained in greater depth below.

That means the Board is prepared to say it disagrees with the GAC on 17 March and then, presumably, will approve the Applicant Guidebook at its formal Board meeting the next day.


On Tuesday I wrote a piece about the damaged decision-making process at ICANN at the moment. Right at the top I wrote:

Adding concern to the general vagueness is the inclusion of precise wording that means something specific, although no one is quite sure what. It is this:

“This meeting is not intended to address the requirements/steps outlined in the Bylaws mandated Board-GAC consultation process.”

This wording is indecipherable to any but the greatest of insiders. And that fact, combined with the reality that this Board-GAC meeting is one of the most significant Internet governance meetings in the past five years, makes it all the more frustrating.

Somewhat inevitably, people have emailed me saying “but aren’t you an insider? So what does it actually mean?” So, as briefly and as an coherently as I can manage here is my explanation for what this means. I am more than happy for people to disagree or add perspective in comments below; in fact, I’d encourage it. But anyway, here goes…

A damaged process and a damaged community

I haven’t written for a while. There’s usually two reasons for that: either I have been horribly over-worked, or I need a break from the strange, incestuous and often bitter world of Internet policy and governance. In this case, unusually, it is both.

Here’s the big news from the world of Internet governance: some vague details of a meeting between the ICANN Board and governments, in the form of the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC), have emerged. But adding concern to the general vagueness is the inclusion of precise wording that means something specific, although no one is quite sure what. It is this:

This meeting is not intended to address the requirements/steps outlined in the Bylaws mandated Board-GAC consultation process.

This wording is indecipherable to any but the greatest of insiders. And that fact, combined with the reality that this Board-GAC meeting is one of the most significant Internet governance meetings in the past five years, makes it all the more frustrating. Despite the global impact, and the open processes, and the much-vaunted bottom-up multi-stakeholder model, here is a very, very small group of people making crucial decisions about the future of the Internet and they are using arcane and indecipherable terminology in order to keep everyone else out.

[But if you *really* want to know what it means, read this post.]

Sex.com sold (again) for $13m

Category : Domain names, Journalism, Sex.com · (4) Comments · by Oct 20th, 2010

A set of three documents filed in California Bankruptcy Court earlier this week reveal that the world’s most valuable domain name – Sex.com – has been sold for $13m, just one million dollars more than it was sold for back in January 2006.

The tale of Sex.com is a fascinating and complex one (I wrote a book about it), and never short of twists and turns. The most recent twist came earlier this year when the company that bought Sex.com from Gary Kremen in 2006 (for $12m plus $2m in stock and other options), Escom LLC, declared bankruptcy. Escom has been unable to make Sex.com sufficiently profitable and was overdue on interest and debt repayments.

This announcement was quickly followed by the news that Sex.com would be put up for public auction – the time, date and location and the need to be holding a cheque for $1 million to even be allowed in the room, were published. But then, one of the owners of Escom, Michael Mann, broke cover (Escom has always been purposefully cloaked in corporate law cloth) in order to prevent the auction going ahead.

Finishing up the rules for new Internet extensions

ICANN logoTwo very interesting things are happening today that may have an enormous impact on the Internet for many years to come.

First, the ICANN Board is meeting at a special two-day retreat in Trondheim, Norway, in an effort to finalise the rules for new Internet extensions. This process have been going on for more than five years – two years longer than was planned – and it appears that everyone is now tired of the back-and-forth and wants results. The hope is that the “Applicant Guidebook” will be formally approved at the ICANN meeting in Cartagena in December.

The second interesting thing is a letter [pdf] from the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) of ICANN to the Board giving very precise and useful comments about what it feels about some of the outstanding issues in the new rules. These letters are usually carefully timed and this is no exception – it appears the day before the Board retreat. It is also a fair assumption that the ICANN chairman and CEO and senior management already know much of what was in the letter and may have helped in its production.

So, here’s the big question: will the Board be able to make the decisions necessary for a fifth and final version of the Applicant Guidebook to be produced in time for the Cartagena meeting?

I’m an optimist, so I’m going to say Yes; I think they will be able to do it. Well, almost all of it, with the rest thrashed out in Cartagena. Here’s why and where I think the axe will come down.

Dot-xxx to be approved tomorrow

The domain name system’s overseeing body, ICANN, will approve the controversial Internet extension dot-xxx, designed for online pornography, at its Board meeting tomorrow.

The pre-announcement came in an extraordinary statement read out at the start of the public forum at ICANN’s meeting in Brussels by the organization’s general counsel, John Jeffrey.

The statement said that the Board accepted the results of an independent review panel that the Board had made the wrong decision back in 2007 when it denied the application.

But then it went further to say it would approve dot-xxx, would enter into contract negotiations, and then refer that contract to the Governmental Advisory Committee to make sure they were happy with its contents, since they had raised concerns in the past.

The news caught the community by surprise, just as it was due to make its views known to the Board, but has so far been warmly welcomed by the community.

Why ICANN doesn’t need to go back to the GAC over dot-xxx

This Friday, it looks as though the ICANN Board will follow the clear conclusions drawn by its independent review and approve dot-xxx.

Given the importance of the first use of the review process, the importance of the Board being seen to be accountable and the fact that the community was pretty unanimous in recent public comment, it is pretty much the only reasonable course of action.

The question then is: how do things move forward? The company behind dot-xxx, ICM Registry, has published what it thinks is the best approach, but in both pieces of work put before the Board by ICANN staff, has been the suggestion that the Board would need to go back to the GAC before making dot-xxx a reality.

The question is: why? Unfortunately, neither paper makes it particularly clear. As far as I can determine, not only is there no need to go back to the GAC over dot-xxx but it also unlikely to serve any real purpose, and it may even put the GAC into a difficult position where it effectively approves a controversial top-level domain.

ICANN’s Big Night Out, Morning After plan

Category : Domain names, Funny, ICANN · (2) Comments · by Jun 3rd, 2010

ICANN released the fourth version of its Applicant Guidebook this week. The process has been going on for so long with so many endless controversies and scandals, that those that actually want to apply for a new Internet extension have developed an amusing gallows humour.

I’ve just been sent a doctored version of a slide purporting to show the timeline for new gTLDs. It comes from a long-suffering wannabe applicant who has developed a new “Big Night Out, Morning After” model to explain ICANN’s policy and implementation processes.

Enjoy. (Click for larger version.)

Summary/analysis of dot-xxx issue

I have spent the past week going through literally thousands of comments about whether there should be a new dot-xxx Internet extension for pornography. You won’t be surprised to hear it has brought out some strong feelings.

Anyway, the company behind the application, ICM Registry, hired me to write an objective summary of what was said. There were nearly 13,000 comments, which would have been impossible to read and analyse but, fortunately I suppose, more than 80 percent of them said the exact same thing. The majority of the remainder were also the result of no less than 10 online campaigns.

Not that it wasn’t exceptionally time-consuming to go through every one in an effort to extract common arguments and then summarise them. I did my absolute best to get the overall length down to something bearable but it still ended up at 45 pages. I suspect most people won’t get past the four-page Executive Summary, despite the inclusion of several pretty graphics to give the eyes a rest.

Anyway, I will let my week’s worth of work speak for itself. The whole glorious thing is below:


Summary/analysis of the following comment period:

Report of Possible Process Options for Further Consideration of the ICM Application for the .XXX sTLD

Date opened: 26 March 2010
Date closed: 10 May 2010
Prepared by: Kieren McCarthy