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ICANN Update on Whois, New gTLD Program PDPs, ICANN CEO and Privacy Accreditation

As promised, 2016 is off to a busy start at ICANN, with important discussions about Whois/Registration Directory Services, subsequent rounds of the New gTLD Program and internet governance already underway, and more to come. Brand owner concerns will be front and center in the coming months, as community stakeholders set priorities and begin discussions of key challenges and desired results.

Next Generation Whois

Registration Directory Services (RDS) PDP Launches

ICANN launched the policy development process (PDP) for the next generation of Whois, called Registration Directory Services (RDS), in January after calling for volunteers at the end of the year. (It’s not too late to join the group, registration is always open during the policy development process, and brand owners are welcome and encouraged to join.) The group will take a look at the current functionality (or lack thereof) of Whois, and determine what a better system may look like. The key is to develop an accessible, accurate and stable system which respects legitimate privacy rights and concerns. In 2013, the Expert Working Group on Registration Directory Services released their recommendations, with MarkMonitor largely supporting its conclusions. Now the community will take their first critical look at the issue, taking into consideration the EWG report (but not necessarily deferring to it).

Whois data is an important part of facilitating intellectual property and consumer focused enforcement efforts. Ensuring ease of access and quality of the information has long been a challenge for brand owners with the current system. We do not anticipate that this effort will result in quick consensus and easy change, the RDS PDP is already the highest subscribed PDP in recent history. Open access to Whois must be balanced with legitimate privacy interests and many community members are interested in this balancing act. Brand owners with an interest in ensuring Whois access should consider joining or following the PDP.

Privacy and Proxy Accreditation Issues Final Report Goes to ICANN Board for Approval

The Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO) approved the final report of the Privacy and Proxy Accreditation Issues Policy Development Process Working Group, and the recommendations have now officially gone to the ICANN Board for approval. After years of work and collaboration among key ICANN stakeholders (including privacy advocates, lawyers, brand/IP owners, registrars, ISPs and more), the intellectual property constituency and MarkMonitor are pleased with the final result, which includes fair and balanced relay and disclosure standards.

Accredited providers will be required to relay communication to the registrant behind the privacy/proxy shield (with commercially appropriate spam mitigation efforts encouraged), hopefully ending or at least lessening the “black hole” of one-sided communication with privacy/proxy providers that many brand owners face. In addition, the PDP working group developed a suggested template for requesting disclosure of registrant contact information with numerous safeguards in place to protect this potentially sensitive information. Many of these safeguards exceed current protections contained within the terms of services of privacy/proxy providers, in return brand owners are pleased to be afforded a process which allows them to avoid a court order.

Once the ICANN Board approved the recommendations, the community will be back at the negotiation table to discuss implementation of the approved policies. We anticipate another year of work on this issue.

ICANN Calls for Volunteers: Subsequent Rounds of the New gTLD Program

Also on the agenda, beginning the evaluation about the New gTLD Program and the discussion about impact on consumers, including the efficacy of Rights Protection Mechanisms, in advance of launching subsequent rounds of applications. ICANN has called for volunteers for the Policy Development Process (PDP). A preliminary charter was developed by a discussion group on subsequent rounds last year, and will form the basis for framing issues to consider during the PDP.

Important issues for brand and IP owners include premium name lists, reserved names and sunrise registration/premium pricing. Issues related to .BRAND applications, including contract issue and an expedited round are also on the table.

The first call of the policy development group will be in late-February.

ICANN Announces New CEO and a huge gap between leaders

On February 8, 2016, ICANN announced the appointment of Göran Marby as incoming CEO, replacing Fadi Chehadé, who ends his term after the ICANN meeting in Marrakech in March. Mr. Marby hails from Stockholm, Sweden and is currently the Director-General of the Swedish Post and Telecom Authority. He also boasts extensive private industry experience in the internet and technology world and had previously co-founded a security software company. Experience in both public and private sectors should bode well for Mr. Marby at ICANN, where he will be expected to balance the interests of community stakeholders from governments and industry.

Mr. Marby will start in May 2016, almost two months after Mr. Chehadé‘s March 15, 2016 departure. Akram Atallah, current head of ICANN’s Global Domains Division (GDD) will act as interim CEO, a role he took on between Mr. Chehadé‘s term and the previous CEO, Rod Beckstrom.

Many in the community have expressed concern, since Mr. Chehadé‘s departure was announced, that the transition of the CEO, especially the timing (coming during a key phase of the Accountability initiative), was less than ideal. The unwelcome news of a gap in leadership, even one filled by an experienced ICANN executive, is not expected to assuage fears on this front. Speaking at the ICANN Non-Contracted Part House Intercessional meeting in Los Angeles in February, Mr. Chehadé assured community members that the transition will be smooth and plans to handle concerns were already in place. He plans to stay on at ICANN as a consultant to ensure that the Accountability initiative isn’t disrupted, and that Mr. Marby can consult with him as needed.

By Kiran Malancharuvil, Internet Policy Counselor at MarkMonitor

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