In particular, ICANN has been warned to make sure that this specific abuse cannot happen again in the .info Landrush 2 in a few weeks time.
And one consumer group has now released a public statement, calling for a Congressional hearing to investigate ICANN's mismanagement and failure to protect the consumer.
PUBLIC STATEMENT FROM THE INTERNET CHALLENGE
TO AFILIAS, NEULEVEL, ICANN and DoC
(Copies e-mailed to Directors, CEOs, Committee Members, and the Press)
ICANN has the responsibility of making sure the DNS is administered in the public interest, guaranteeing the fair distribution of domain names, made available to everyone.
To this end, they construct agreements with Registrars which should be designed to make sure that this public interest is served.
In the roll-out of the .info domains, the registry agreement failed to protect the .info Registry from fraudulent claimants and dishonest registrars who overwhelmed the ‘Sunrise’ process for name distribution.
One claimant, for example, gained 4981 names with fraudulent Trademark details. Some registrars were proved to have acted fraudulently. The public interest was not served because consumers who had a right to obtain these names (and in many cases had paid money) were denied the chance since the names had been stolen.
Consequently, 15000 names are about to be re-launched in what is being termed the .info Landrush 2.
It is imperative that ICANN acts, through amendment of the Registry/Registrar agreement, to define the ethical and commercial constraints within which Registrars must act, so that further registrar abuse of the system does not occur in this .info Landrush 2.
This has been made even more essential by events in the .biz 2B distribution of 39000 most-prized names in the past week.
Once again the ICANN agreement, and the Registry/Registrar agreement, has failed to stop registrars and certain registrants from exploiting the system at the expense of the worldwide community.
Examples of the inadequacies of the agreements set in place by ICANN and Neulevel include:
A Registrar, Signature Domains, who obtained 10 names... ALL TEN NAMES are registered to Joshua Blacker - who has since admitted that he is a partner of Signature Domains. Not a single other name was registered for any other customer through Signature Domains in the .biz2B names release.
A Registrar, Domain Registration Services, who have obtained... ALL 226 NAMES are registered to The Website Inc (Palmyra) - not a single other name was registered for anyone else in the .biz 2B release.
A Registrar, Xin Net Corp, who have obtained 151 names... ALL 151 NAMES are registered to Zansong Lin - not a single other registrant obtained a name through Xin Net Corp in the .biz 2B name release.
A Registrar, Bondi LLC, who obtained 100 names. 93 went to Marco Publishing, 7 to a Ms Lecocke, and not a single other registrant obtained a name through Bond LLC in the .biz 2B name release.
A Registrar, Phillipine Registry .com, who obtained 123 names... ALL 123 NAMES are registered to Tarek Soliman. Not a single name was obtained through Phillipine Registry .com by any other registrant in the .biz 2B name release.
A Registrar, TLDs Inc, who obtained 192 names... ALL 192 NAMES are registered to dotPartnersLLC - not a single other name was registered through TLDs Inc for any other customer in the .biz 2B names release.
These six cases of Registrars appearing to exploit their privileges against the public interest were able to take place because inadequate safeguards or rules on registrar conduct were required in the agreements with ICANN. These agreements were so flimsy that they could be flouted at will by those who set out to exploit the system even if it damaged the integrity of the Registry.
A number of companies purchased in excess of 2000 names each in the .biz 2B release, flouting the rule that stipulated .biz names should not be purchased for speculative sale for profit. Notwithstanding this rule, RegisterNamesHere.com applied for thousands of names and is now advertising 2089 for sale at its website or or view here.
It is inexplicable that the registry Neulevel failed to plan a process to check and weed out spurious mass purchases on this scale (but exactly the same thing happened in the Afilias Sunrise process).
The Registry has now been requested by consumers to investigate these cases and take retrospective action (as they have a contractual right to delete names if, for example, the integrity of the process and the interests of the public are damaged by improper applications:
The TLD Agreement with ICANN, Appendix F (defining the Registry-Registrar Agreement), Exhibit E, Section III: Allows for the Registry to CANCEL registrations (i) "to protect the integrity of the Registry".
Jeff Neuman, for the Registry, has responded that he is investigating. More importantly, ICANN, which is mandated by DoC to make sure that the DNS is administered in the public interest, has been called upon to intervene and protect the interests of consumers. The response from Chairman Vint Cerf has as yet been limited.
ICANN was previously asked to intervene over Afilias’s .info Sunrise shambles, after it had failed to insist that adequate safeguards be put in place to prevent fraud. It did not act. On the contrary, it has continued to accredit and promote registrars whose actions were demonstrably fraudulent.
Once again, no adequate safeguards were required to constrain the behaviour of registrars or registrants in the .biz 2B name release. ICANN has been asked to intervene or deal with the ‘rogue’ registrars. To date, no action has been taken .
There is now an extremely urgent need for ICANN to intervene to prevent exactly the same situation, of registrars applying on behalf of single favoured clients or on behalf of themselves, in the .info Landrush 2 in a few weeks time.
The Afilias Registry has given registrars the freedom to decide their own policies for name submissions. In the Afilias Website/Landrush2/faq they say: "It's up to each registrar to set their policies regarding the names in their queue."
This is a deeply disturbing statement. It seems to be saying: "Registrars police yourselves. There are no rules."
If Registrars are being told they can set their own policies regarding their queues, then what is there to stop the SIX Registrars who submitted "SINGLE REGISTRANT" queues for .biz doing the same all over again (and arguably being joined by other Registrants)?
If Afilias say "It's up to each registrar to set their policies regarding the names in their queue" then a Registrar can decide that their policy is to put all their friends and family at the top of the queue.
This is not the public interest for which ICANN was set up.
It’s unacceptable because it will simply invite a repeat – on an even larger scale – of registrars submitting single-client lists which exclude the public and are wholly at odds with the public interest.
There is therefore a grave and imminent danger that the Afilias .info fraud – which was described by Board Director Robert Connelly in his resignation letter as “an abomination” – will be perpetuated in this second attempt to release the names.
WE HAVE THEREFORE REQUESTED, as a consumer interest group with supporters in 35 countries, that:
1. Neulevel investigates the Registrars whose application lists excluded the public and provided top names for a single favoured client or themselves.
2. Neulevel makes a statement to define what action it proposes to take to redress the prejudice suffered by paying customers of other registrars, and to repair the damage done to the integrity of its own processes (bearing in mind that in its initial sales pitch to win the registry it declared, "domain names must be allocated in an entirely impartial manner so that no party or parties may claim special privilege in registering a domain name in the new TLD space").
Neulevel passes on its experiences to ICANN and Afilias, well in advance of the .info Landrush 2, so that these two parties can judge the risks they need to forestall or circumvent in the coming .info Landrush.
4. ICANN intervenes to make sure that the public interest is served by the adequacy of Neulevel’s responses.
5. ICANN makes a clear public statement, defining the constraints on registrars to prevent them providing for themselves rather than the worldwide public; and making clear that loss of accreditation will result from breach of these constraints.
6. ICANN intervenes to revise Afilias’s Registry/Registrar agreement in order to prevent a repeat abuse of this registrar privilege, and to make sure that the public have access to apply through ALL registrars (indeed, there is a strong case for requiring registrars to publish their ongoing lists of applicants for various names, and for the Registry to publish all lists submitted to them, in the interests of openness and transparency).
7. DoC investigate ICANN’s administration of the DNS generally, and look specifically at the maladministration relating to the roll-out of the New TLDs. The Internet Challenge, among many others, is ready and willing to testify to Congress, with detailed evidence and documentation.
The reasons for this seventh request arise from ICANN’s own inept performance. We appreciate that ICANN has been encouraged to de-regulate in order to promote private-sector competition in the development of the DNS. However, DoC has to consider a change of management, if ICANN abandons its public-interest role in favour of an unregulated free-for-all which leaves the consumer with inadequate protection.
It is the failure to regulate against abuse through adequate agreements, the failure to respond to consumer concerns, and the failure to intervene when it could have intervened to set things right, which severely calls into question the legitimacy of ICANN and its management.
Although we have cited some specific examples of mismanagement (particularly referring to the flimsy ‘safeguards’ in the TLD agreements which allowed – in fact, almost invited – serious registrar and registrant abuses to occur) there is also a need to understand the more generalised culture of corruption, insider-dealing, conflicts of interest, and lack of openness – all of which have been accommodated, and some of which have been embraced.
There has been a demonstrable lack of accountability exercised, supported by opaque decision-making, and a loss of transparency. Not only has ICANN been part of the problem by failing to implement stringent agreements : it has also appeared to condone fraud and abuse, by taking no action against it. That is why it is now recurring in each successive release of new names. It has presided over matters of serious concern to the public, but failed to enter into meaningful dialogue, or respond to fair questions posed by consumers.
Examples of this inaction include : the failure to intervene when it became clear that the .info Sunrise fraud was taking place; the failure to promote the clear-cut ‘Domebase’ solution which would have made Landrush 2 unnecessary; the failure to investigate the $500,000 made by the companies of an Afilias Director and the Afilias CEO, for the submission of ineligible names, which submission appeared to abuse Afilias’s own rules and their ICANN contract; the failure to remove accreditation or take any sanctions against registrars who were shown by WIPO to have engaged in fraud; the ongoing failure to engage in open and detailed dialogue on issues, as demonstrated and exemplified by Vint Cerf’s oracular one-sentence responses which seem opaque and impenetrable.
The Internet Challenge concludes by emphasising a specific immediate need: ICANN MUST REVISE REGISTRAR RULES AND AGREEMENTS BEFORE THE .INFO LANDRUSH GOES AHEAD.
The Internet Challenge also calls on DoC and the Subcommittee with oversight for ICANN, to investigate this state of affairs, in the interests of the consumer – but also in the interests of the industry’s integrity. There are many decent and hard-working registrars who are fed up with the shenanigans of ICANN and a minority of ‘bandit’ companies who have been given free rein to do as they please.
The DoC should also consider that as it has oversight and responsibility for ICANN, the maladministration of a worldwide resource casts the US Government in a very poor light, associating it with fraud, incompetence, and failure.
We call for a Congressional hearing.
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The Internet Challenge is chaired by Richard Henderson. It is a UK-based consumer protection group with membership in over 30 countries. If you would like to join, you can write to Richard Henderson, Berkhamsted Castle, Berkhamsted, Herts HP4 1LJ England or just: mail@theInternetChallenge.com
This public statement can be used in whole or part in any newspaper, periodical, magazine, or online website. Press: telephone +44.(0)1442863838 for further information or interviews.
“The Internet and its precious resources belong to the whole world : for its freedom, for its justice, for better understanding between communities.”