The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) – the domain name industry’s governance authority – will kick off its 73rd meeting (and the seventh consecutive meeting in virtual format) on March 7.  The agenda is already jam-packed with sessions on issues of critical importance to those with stakes in brand protection and internet infrastructure.

Chief among these issues is policy development related to domain name registration data, also known as WHOIS.  This data represents the “ownership record” for a domain name, and not only is necessary for internet users to understand with whom they’re doing business, but also is crucial to intellectual property rights holders, law enforcement, and internet security authorities in their investigations of various types of domain name system abuse.

As is widely known, WHOIS essentially “went dark” in May 2018 when the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) went into effect.  The law crippled work aimed at rooting out online harms, and authorities have scrambled ever since to keep up with bad actors.  So hobbled is the WHOIS system that the EU has sought to clarify sections of GDPR as it relates to WHOIS, via a directive aimed at member state governments that might liberalize WHOIS for those with a legitimate need to access the data.  Progress, however, has been slow.

Since WHOIS went offline, nearly four years ago, the ICANN community has widely debated – to little avail – various scenarios for adapting WHOIS to European law.  Regrettably, these discussions have been non-fruitful, with several camps insisting that WHOIS is not terribly critical to investigatory efforts.

The brand community, of course, disagrees.

The elephant in the room during ICANN73 will be decision-making regarding a community recommendation – approved by “consensus” that can be characterized only as flimsy – that a bare-bones system for accessing minimal WHOIS data be developed.  Significantly, however, this proposed system referred to as a “standardized system for access and disclosure” (SSAD), is merely rudimentary, relies on the subjective judgment of registries and registrars, and is of little practical use to those who need to enforce against violations of rights holders.  And the price tag proposed by ICANN for SSAD development is stupendously disproportionate – well into the millions.  Not only is the approach to the discussion suspect, but the cryptic message coming from corners of the community is also that WHOIS either is unimportant or that the cost of the SSAD is too high to be worth the effort, again leaving brand owners in the dark.

Those representing rights holders are not backing down, however.  While it remains to be seen how SSAD development will play out, brands continue to insist that the industry vastly improve the proposed system in a way that gives them a fighting chance against the bad guys who, by all accounts, are running amok and driving up the incidences of domain name abuse.

Appdetex will be fully participating in ICANN73 with an eye toward developing an SSAD that actually helps the brand abuse situation, not one that further enables infringers.  

Advocacy for an accessible WHOIS is unpopular in some circles, but we know it’s the right thing for our customers and for the good health of the internet.  For a comprehensive review of ICANN73 meeting outcomes, be sure to register for our upcoming webinar on March 23 – you can register here. 

We’ll discuss results and next steps for brand owners.

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