Input to Expert Working Group on gTLD Directory Services Pearls before Swine: Comments on the EWG proposed Next Generation Registration Directory Service

George Kirikos gkirikos at
Thu Sep 5 02:52:09 UTC 2013

By: George Kirikos
Company: Leap of Faith Financial Services Inc.
Company Website:
Date: September 4, 2013

Topic: Initial Report from the Expert Working Group on gTLD Directory Services (dated June 24, 2013)

"Pearls before swine" and "casting pearls" refer to a quotation from Matthew 7:6 in Jesus's Sermon on the Mount, implying that you should not put what is valuable in front of those who will reject the notion that it has value and furthermore that they will seek to diminish or destroy what you offer.


I will not make detailed comments at this time, as I do not believe this "expert working group" has any legitimacy. I will not invest my valuable time documenting all the invalidities of such a flawed report which was put forth by a group who operated in secret (with their costs paid for ultimately by registrants).

I submitted a DIDP request, #20130626-1 which called for full transparency of this "expert" working group,

but ICANN has failed to meet the high standards required by its bylaws. Candid exchange can certainly occur in a public and transparent manner, and be fully documented and transparent. This is intertwined with accountability. ICANN is presenting this report as a "done deal", negotiated in private, with private/secret "compromises" being made. It can dismiss criticisms by simply saying "this is a compromise" and anyone not directly involved in the secret discussions is given little weight/input into those negotiations. This is pure "top-down" work, inconsistent with the bottom-up organization ICANN pretends to be.

The report is deeply flawed, and is essentially a "solution" (monetization and monopolization of a public resource, namely the public domain WHOIS database) desperately looking to justify itself by false claims that there is a "problem" to be solved. I reject the very assumption that this report is based on, in paragraph 1 of the Executive Summary, where it is claimed that the current WHOIS system "is widely regarded as 'broken'" (page 3). 

Where is the DATA to support that assumption, or any of the theories underlying the proposed solution? Where are the alternative solutions? (when you only present one alternative to choose from, and declare the current system "broken", you're not providing the public any choices at all)

I waded through 49 pages of this report, and there is simply no data whatsoever in this report. No statistics, no cost estimates, no benefits estimates, no cost savings, nothing whatsoever. This is honestly some of the worst work an ICANN working group has ever put together, and I've read many in my years following ICANN. Remember, I've seen some utter garbage come of these working groups. For example, I led the opposition to the IRTP-B's proposed "Expedited Transfer Reversal Policy (ETRP)", which was advocated by one of the self-proclaimed "experts" in this working group: (see my comments from pages 8 and beyond in the archive)

tolerating a lot of attempts to ignore my input, before the group later realized I was completely correct and they abandoned their flawed proposal.

So, where is the DATA that this working group is using to justify its "solution"? Show me the numbers! 

There exists something called the "Affirmation of Commitments" --- perhaps the EWG members should read it (and not look for loopholes to avoid its requirements):

"ICANN and DOC recognize that there is a group of participants that engage in ICANN's processes to a greater extent than Internet users generally. To ensure that its decisions are in the public interest, and not just the interests of a particular set of stakeholders, ICANN commits to perform and publish analyses of the positive and negative effects of its decisions on the public, including any financial impact on the public, and the positive or negative impact (if any) on the systemic security, stability and resiliency of the DNS."

That requires DATA, and numbers PRIOR to any solution being proposed, with expected costs and benefits analyzed also in terms of numbers. Even the most basic data isn't presented. For example:

- how many WHOIS lookups are performed per day?
- how many users are there of WHOIS (thousands, millions, etc.)
- how much does it cost registrars to provide WHOIS lookups?
- what are the benefits to users of the WHOIS database?
- what are the quantifiable financial costs of abuse of the data, if any?
- what alternative solutions exist to mitigate abuses, and/or mitigate costs, while preserving or even increasing benefits?
- what tools/websites/etc. currently use the WHOIS database?
- how would those tools be affected by any changes? (i.e. in costs, e.g. "that site would be out of business, costing 30 jobs, and eliminating the benefits of its 100,000 subscribers")
- what are the annual revenues of registrars for WHOIS privacy services? (and would those increase/decrease under this proposal, and by how much, if "privacy" concerns can be mitigated via these services)
- etc.

Because, if you're going to honestly present "solutions", you have to be able to say things like "by moving to a centralized WHOIS, registrars will save 5 cents per domain name per year, and the central WHOIS operator (if there's thick WHOIS, for example) will only cost 2 cents per domain per year. Thus, moving to a central WHOIS would save 3 cents per domain per year, or $3 million for the system." Or, "consumers will reduce spending on WHOIS privacy/proxy services by $100 million/year, if gated access to WHOIS was provided".

But, this EWG doesn't say things like that at all. It presents no data whatsoever. It doesn't even attempt to be honest. The list of "disadvantages" on page 6 is far too short. This entire report is about "cost shifting", and monetization/monopolization of data that is in the PUBLIC DOMAIN. Where are the NUMBERS on who is going to pay for all this, how they're going to be impacted, who is going to be charged, etc?? You propose a "clean slate", with nothing to justify it but "theory" that can't be backed up by any numbers or deep analysis. Pretty charts (I'm being generous; they're not that pretty) look impressive only to people who value superficiality, not people who actually think deeply about causes and effects that even minor changes can have to complex systems.

Alone, this lack of any data or numbers requires giving this report a grade of F (the lowest possible). With all the other flaws, a new scale is needed to measure the true depths of failure this report achieves. I believe the EWG knows this is truly a "cash grab", and knowingly refuses to provide any numbers whatsoever, to mask this from the public. 

I would suggest that what ICANN and what this EWG is doing is *backwards*. Consider what would happen if all US Trademark Data (another public database listing owners of intangible assets, with contact details for both businesses and private individuals) was turned over to a private entity, with gated access who then monopolized it? What would happen to all the innovative users of that public data? Similarly for real estate data and property records (Trulia, Zillow, MLS, etc.). What would happen if all US court records were taken out of PACER, and instead was monopolized by WestLaw? The trend is towards free and open access, to open government, and not to private databases monopolized and gated.

Let me give a simple scenario (not found in this groupthink-derived EWG report). Suppose I *want* my WHOIS data (for my own domains) to be free and public (i.e. I want to opt-in, as a responsible netizen, to be easily able to be contacted and reached via WHOIS contact info by anybody, via current protocols and tools, i.e. port 43, web-based at my registrar, etc.). It would seem that under the EWG, the monopolist WHOIS provider would prevent that scenario, and force users to comply with a terms of service, a new interface, and indeed they would always charge for and *profit* from "my data" (which is really "public domain data"). Think about that.

The domain WHOIS database isn't the only WHOIS database. There are also WHOIS databases for IP addresses, operated by ARIN, etc. Why doesn't this EWG float this "trial balloon" in their direction, starting things as a "clean slate" there, and see what happens? It's obvious why not --- it would be a huge disaster, if there was a "test" by running this system on IP address WHOIS first. Those insiders looking to profit from the proposal would be unmasked and naked if there was a test to "prove out" their concept before adoption.

On Twitter, I pointed out that comments on Slashdot were against this proposal:

and of course one EWG member (Michele Neylon, who also was in favour of the IRTP-B's doomed ETRP, indeed chaired that group) was dismissive of Slashdot.

Michele Neylon ‏@mneylon26 Jun
@georgekirikos fortunately internet policy is not decided via Slashdot comments :)

If this EWG was truly representing the public, its members would not be so openly dismissive of comments on one of the largest tech blogs.

I remind this EWG, which has no sense of historical context, that VeriSign's Registry Agreement for Dot-com (Appendix W) required it to invest $200 million in R&D, and also strive to deliver Universal WHOIS by December 31, 2002:

"Registry Operator agrees that one of the early goals of the Improvements is to design and develop a Universal Whois Service that will allow public access and effective use of Whois across all Registries and all TLDs. Registry Operator shall commence research and development of the Universal Whois Service no later than December 31, 2001. Registry Operator shall, insofar as is reasonably possible in view of Registry Operator's dependence on the cooperation of third parties, strive to achieve significant progress in implementing the Universal Whois Service by December 31, 2002.

Registry Operator further agrees that if it successfully designs and develops the Universal Whois Service it will (a) make the Application Program Interfaces necessary to produce software which can efficiently deploy and use the Universal Whois Service available to applications developers on an open, non-proprietary, standards-based and royalty-free basis, and (b) make the Universal Whois Service available at a standardized reasonable fee to be negotiated with ICANN."

Yes, those dates are right, more than 10 YEARS ago. I brought this to ICANN's attention repeatedly (Google me, e.g. Kirikos "Appendix W"). ICANN has never made public the annual reports of VeriSign's R&D commitments:

"Registry Operator shall provide ICANN with an annual report on this research and development activity."

Oh, and one of the EWG members is a VeriSign employee! Where's the data, and the results of all that Universal WHOIS research??!!??

As another point, what would happen if a rollout truly turned out to be a disaster? Would it go back to being a public WHOIS database that exists today? Of course not --- ICANN would never declare the new system to have failed (just like it never properly recognized that new gTLDs like .biz/info/travel/xxx, etc added no value to the root, or how ICANN states that 10% annual price increases for .biz/info/org are in the public interest, etc). ICANN will always declare "success" as long as its insiders (contracted parties like registry operators, those profiting from monopolization of public resources) make money, at the expense of the public interest. When ICANN lacks a basic measuring stick, every project and decision can be declared a "success."

There is something that most EWG are unfamiliar with, called the "Scientific Method"

"To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning."

Notice the words (alien concepts to EWG members) "empirical" and "measurable" and "evidence". In other words, NUMBERS and DATA! What the EWG members have produced isn't based on any methods of science.  Notice the alien concepts of "full disclosure" (see my DIDP request above), so that there can be verification and reproduction of results, etc.

As for the rest of the flaws, I'll point them out if/when this ever goes to the GNSO or beyond. I've already provided some of my analysis to others who are respectful, but won't waste it on this group of self-proclaimed "experts." Without even an attempt at an economic analysis, the group should truly be ashamed of this report. This demonstrates that the "wrong people" are at the table (people who lack critical thinking skills, or expertise, or aren't forceful enough in demanding quality) "holding the pen" and deciding ICANN policy (in a top down manner), when fundamental and gaping flaws like the above exist. 


George Kirikos

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