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ICANN 48 in Buenos Aires: What Happened and What’s Next?

Last month, some of my colleagues at MarkMonitor and I traveled to Buenos Aires, Argentina for ICANN 48. With the recent delegation and launch of the first new gTLDs, the atmosphere had an air of both excitement and anxiety. In my opinion, there is much to be done before brand owners should begin to feel comfortable in the post-new gTLD Internet environment, which brings a host of new challenges, as companies attempt to scale monitoring and enforcement to the new (huge) domain name space.

Thankfully, we made some important progress in a few key areas that impact the work we do on behalf of our clients, which in turn will help assist brand protection efforts in the long run.

Impending Launches/Sunrise Registration

The new gTLDs are here. Thirty-four gTLDs have been delegated, or placed in the root, and as of December 10, 2013, TWENTY-TWO new gTLDs will be open for Sunrise Registration and/or blocking (depending on the availability of blocking mechanisms). MarkMonitor domain customers can find more info in the MarkMonitor New gTLD Information Center.

gTLD Registration Directory Services (Replacing Whois)

Accurate and easily obtained Whois information is a holy grail of sorts to brand protection enforcement professionals. MarkMonitor, along with our clients and partners, has been deeply involved in the effort to improve access to verified and accurate ownership information. ICANN’s latest effort was to convene an Expert Working Group, made up of technical, intellectual property, legal and privacy experts, to examine an overhaul of the Whois system, which will be renamed “gTLD Registration Directory Services.”

In Buenos Aires, the Expert Working Group held two sessions, which outlined an updated plan of attack for the overhaul, taking into account community input solicited throughout the year. The most popular plan proposes a centralized, gated directory service, which would allow for standard verification procedures, an easily audited database, and safeguards from data abuse by individuals who mine private information for fraudulent or miscreant behavior.

MarkMonitor supports this plan, which promises to greatly improve access to registrant information. Next year, the ICANN community will take the Expert Working Group suggestions and debate the plan through a community-wide policy development process, in the spirit of the multi-stakeholder decision-making process.

Privacy and Proxy Services Accreditation

As we wrote about a few months back, ICANN has recently completed a study which demonstrated a truth that most companies and individuals in the world of brand protection already knew: Those who perpetrate fraud and intellectual property infringement online hide behind privacy and proxy services. MarkMonitor and others have long pushed for restricted, or at least more accountable use of such services.

ICANN has launched a community-wide policy development process to examine Privacy and Proxy Services Accreditation Issues. MarkMonitor and our clients are well represented in this process with Matt Serlin, VP of Domain Operations/Registrar Constituency, and my participation on behalf of the Intellectual Property Constituency.

Name Collision – Security Issues Surrounding New gTLD Launches

Despite a report which highlighted the possibly disastrous collision possibilities of Internet name server traffic with newly delegated gTLDs, ICANN has decided to go full steam ahead on delegation and launch, provided that new Registry operators temporarily block certain “high risk” second level names.

We are studying this issue closely and working with our clients and partners to fully understand the security risk that is posed by delegation of high risk top level domains, despite temporary blocking efforts. Businesses of all sizes should be aware that security issues will emerge, particularly with the delegation of gTLDs such as .MAIL. Internal, confidential messaging could resolve to external sites.

In addition, through review of the individual, registry-specific “alternative paths to delegation,” MarkMonitor has identified thousands of brand names on the temporary “block lists.” We have called on ICANN to ensure that blocking brand names, with the goal of releasing them at a later date (after Sunrise registration periods and claim periods have expired), does not present opportunities for extortion of brand holders.

ICANN and the Geopolitical Climate

Much of the time in Buenos Aires was spent on a decidedly obscure question: what is ICANN’s role in the international Internet governance community?

As a result of pressure from governments, particularly in Latin America, to break ICANN’s sphere of influence free from the United States, ICANN has officially entered into an age of global expansion and geopolitical exploration. ICANN, which operates with a multi-stakeholder decision-making model, is not controlled by the United States. However, the power with which it is entrusted does come from the United States Department of Commerce, which controls the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) function of the Internet. Basically the management of the Domain Name System is contracted to ICANN; the United States has voluntarily given power to the larger stakeholder community, in exchange for assurances from ICANN that the power won’t be abused (through the Affirmation of Commitments).

With governments wanting more power than one voice of many in the stakeholder community, (such as a veto, or additional opportunity to give binding government advice to the ICANN Board) and the rest of the community wanting to maintain their voice, this is not a battle which will be easily or quickly fought. But the first shots have definitely been fired. Next year, which will be full of conferences and summits on this issue, should prove interesting.

If you would like more information about these or other ICANN issues, or if you would like to prepare public comments, or advocacy points, please don’t hesitate to contact me at kiran (dot) malancharuvil (at) markmonitor (dot) com. I look forward to continuing our advocacy on behalf of our clients on these and many more issues to come.

By Kiran Malancharuvil, Internet Policy Counselor at MarkMonitor

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