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Domain Incite GoDaddy getting a free pass from porn jail?

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ICANN has shirked its compliance duties and is handing GoDaddy a “Get Out of Jail Free” card with proposed changes to their .xxx registry agreement, according to critics.

A recently closed public comment period saw a mixed response from the community on whether GoDaddy should be allowed to throw out inconvenient and costly terms of its 10-year-old registry contract and operate .xxx more of less like any other open gTLD.

While the deal’s chief critic, consultant and former ICANN director Michael Palage, has made a detailed case explaining why he thinks the amendments should not go ahead, other commenters agree with GoDaddy that some of its stricter registration policies are no longer needed.

Tucows said that the current .xxx rules, which require registrants to verify their identities, are “cumbersome or non-transparent”, not only adding unnecessary friction to the registration path but also amounting to the “surveillance of sex workers”.

Palage managed to persuade the At-Large Advisory Committee to submit its own comments, in which ALAC claims that GoDaddy has already “walked away” from three important contractual commitments on registrant verification and abuse reporting “unilaterally and without consequence from ICANN Contractual Compliance”.

According to Palage, when GoDaddy acquired ICM Registry from MMX a few years ago it unilaterally decided to stop verifying the identities of its registrants and did away with the unique community membership IDs that enabled it to deactivate a registrants entire portfolio if it was found to be in breach of the rules by, for example, publishing child sexual abuse material.

ICM also stopped donating $10 for every registration to its oversight body, IFFOR, which in turn spent the money it did receive on director salaries rather than making cash grants to child protection causes, Palage says. I’ve previously gone into some depth on this.

“I am concerned that instead of ICANN compliance holding ICM Registry accountable to these representations, they’re essentially giving them a get out of jail card free and potentially removing the ability for third parties to hold ICM Registry accountable to those representations,” Palage said during a March presentation to the ALAC.

His draft comments for the ALAC were subsequently submitted under his own name; ALAC submitted a shorter, somewhat watered down version drafted by chair Jonathan Zuck.

But ALAC and Palage are in agreement that GoDaddy should have gone through the usual Registry Services Evaluation Process if it wanted to change the terms of its contract, and that the proposed amendments set a terrible precedent. ALAC wrote:

ALAC believes that commitments made in order to operate a TLD by a Registry Operator should be enforceable, subsequently implemented by the Registry Operator, and enforced by ICANN Contractual Compliance… The ALAC is concerned that the removal of commitments, through a contract renewal, could set a precarious precedent for non-compliance without repercussion for existing Registry Operators

The Business Constituency echoed ALAC’s concerns in its own comments, as did registry operator CORE Association.

Comments in favor of the .xxx amendments came from two veteran, dissenting voices from the At-Large community, Evan Leibovitch and Carlton Samuels. They said removing the extra requirements from the .xxx contract would reduce confusion and were worthless anyway:

Given the benefit of hindsight, the “Sponsored gTLD” program and designation have not on the whole provided any significant benefit to the Internet-using public. As such, we welcome the removal of this designation — and any associated extra contract requirements — from all applicable Registry Agreements going forward.

Tucows’ support for the amendments are based largely on what a pain in the neck it can be — for registrant and registrar — to register a .xxx domain. Its comments explain:

Currently, to register a .xxx domain, one must become a member of the Sponsored Community, which involves a separate application process to verify eligibility. This extra step is a barrier for those looking to quickly secure a domain. Additionally, the domain cannot resolve—meaning it cannot be used to host a website—without a valid Membership ID, which is only issued after this verification process… This activation involves additional interactions between the registry, the registrant, and the registrar. Additional steps in the registration process can be a significant deterrent as they introduce complexity and time delays.

I’m not really buying the “surveillance of sex workers” claim. Porn producers in many jurisdictions, including the US, already routinely verify the identities of their performers, and keep copies of their identity documents on file, as a legal requirement to ensure their employees are not underage.

ICANN is due to publish its summary of the public comment period by May 20.

How ICANN handles the renewal of and amendments to the .xxx contract will be interesting to watch. Will the Governmental Advisory Committee get a chance to weigh in before the deal is signed? Will the board pass a resolution, or will we see a repeat of the .org renewal debacle?

The post GoDaddy getting a free pass from porn jail? first appeared on Domain Incite.

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