20i Domains

Laissez-Faire, Insiders, and Nominet

Discussion in 'Nominet General Information' started by Siusaidh, Aug 30, 2020.

  1. Siusaidh

    Siusaidh Well-Known Member

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    In the course of standing for election to Nominet's Board, I've had some great private correspondence with lots of people who are deeply unhappy with the direction Nominet has taken in recent years. And although I am an 'outsider' and opposition candidate, with an uphill struggle in a single seat year, the past few weeks have been very good for me, with 'top 10' and 'top 20' pledges, so that whether I win or not, I think Nominet will be surprised how many votes I get. I'm pretty certain I will be first or second, because of the vote count of people who have pledged support. Namesco sitting candidate (more of the same) or someone who is openly critical of what Nominet has become.

    In correspondence with Simon Blackler of Krystal, whose company operates really good standards, I have explained the basis of my views on Nominet and a bit about my internet past. I will quote from my own words (not his) openly, even though I risk my future position by being so open, because openness isn't or shouldn't be something to be afraid of. For my own legal protection, I want to state at the outset, that ALL the following 3 posts are my personal views and beliefs, recollections and criticisms, and should not be taken as 'facts' unless you choose to.

    I was in a conversation with Simon, who was asking me reasonable questions about how best to use my position in the Nominet Board, if elected. It's a long read, and I 'get' that most of you won't want to read it all, and that's fine (my key points can be read here in 30 seconds). But for those who want to, it lays out my intentions, very openly, but more importantly describes what I believe to be problems with Nominet and the wider domain name industry. People have suggested there is a history of those who get elected, promising lots but then doing little or nothing.

    I see no point in that. I don't want to waste my precious life. Giving away my strategy, so the company knows how I plan to operate, could be said to lose me the element of surprise. But it's openness and honesty. Openness, interaction, access to governance minutes, true engagement, agenda not set by a controlling management: whatever it takes to create a counter-narrative and a voice that challenges PR and corporate control of the narrative. A different approach to anything that has gone before. So this is what I said in my private email:
     
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2020
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  3. Siusaidh

    Siusaidh Well-Known Member

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    [*all the following are my views, recollections and personal beliefs, and should not be read as unrefuted 'facts' unless you choose to*]

    * * * * * * *

    "I'm grateful for your generous-hearted responsiveness to my email, and as I mentioned originally, the ethics and presence of your company, and everything you stand for.

    As you might expect of a nurse, I am a pragmatist and when it comes to Nominet and other entities in the domain industry, there's a lot of pragmatism and common-sense needed. I recognise that all too often in the domain industry large vested interests will build symbiotic alliances together, attempting to marginalise companies or individuals who challenge their positions and hegemony, and generally greasing rules and protocols to work in their own best interests. In practical terms, I have found these groups are incredibly hard to pin down and force change from, because they often act like sponges, soaking up challenges, maintaining charm on the surface, but all the time keeping their allegiance to the financial interests of their insider group.

    That's what I feel we are faced with at Nominet - notwithstanding there are some employees I'm inclined to respect individually - because its core has become more and more corporate in its mentality. Pragmatically, I can see three main approaches. One is to build trust with individuals inside the company - using decency, openness, kindness, moral example - to create the start of a kind of resistance. Not all people lack consciences by any means, and I do believe with social confidence it's possible to build opposition within an employer group. However, that is a claim based on optimism. Secondly, I have found that what really impacts is extreme attention to detail, and gathering of evidence, and presenting that evidence in such detail that any indictment is demonstrable and glaringly obvious.

    I guess what I've been doing over the past couple of years with the mass-registrations of unrequested .uk domains is along those lines. Get your info on how the process occurred. Get the stats. Get the exact rules that were contravened. And then find platforms to bring all that out in the public view - because then things start to hurt and damage, and these big groups then have to go into damage limitation mode, or may even have to right wrongs (if only for the sake of PR and image). You try to gather irrefutable evidence, and get that out in public, and build wider criticism. Then it is harder for an insider clique to cover things up and manage their own agenda internally.

    I found this out back in the early 2000s with the .info fake trademark fiasco. Afilias were an 'insider' company who were in close relationship with ICANN who gave them the deal to operate as a Registry for the new domains. The whole launch was to be done as a 'proof of concept' for future TLDs so a lot hung on it. And yet arrogance bred hubris. I had followed this closely (disclosure: I am a bit pedantic) and the first phase of the launch was to be a 'Sunrise' period when any entity with a trademark would have a chance to claim a .info name. So far, that was a process that seemed like some kind of sense, EXCEPT, my mind said 'How will they be able to check trademarks from all the multiple sources around the world in the limited time they had allocated?' And that was the opening for cheating - all the opening people needed. They weren't going to bother policing the rules. It was too much of an administrative task. More than that, they just wanted a successful Sunrise and all they wanted was for it to happen, and open up the revenue streams. And so it began. I started checking the trademarks numbers (obviously I couldn't check them all, but they were detailed on the WHOIS) and found patterns of fakes. I started listing them.

    In those days I was quite idealistic, so I thought if I contacted ICANN I would be doing them a favour. Of course the opposite happened. They flannelled and obfuscated and claimed ignorance over and over. In the end I pestered and had long exchanges by phone and email with Vint Cerf, who I'm afraid tried to play me as a simpleton, but in reality ICANN was intent on a "laissez faire" approach of leaving regulation to the parties involved. But to me they were saying "There isn't really a problem." I eventually realised that the big registrars/registries were all operating together in their own communications, fending off criticisms and just wanting this 'proof of concept' launch to go ahead, as it was an important step on a much more detailed financial plan around future TLDs and the money that could be generated. So Afilias was left to its own devices to administer things, regardless of agreed sets of rules they had had to sign off with ICANN. The trickle of fake trademarks became a flood, as people, registrars and even the Afilias Registry itself caught on and started using fake trademarks to get valuable generic domains.

    No-one was policing this. The rules were being completely ignored and ICANN just stood back, benignly, charmingly, but with full knowledge of what was going on. (There are considerable parallels with the way Nominet *knew* but did nothing when the large registrars were breaking the RRA by mass-registering 'zombie' domains in the names of 'ghost' registrants who had never asked for them. 123-Reg (GoDaddy), Namesco, and later Fasthosts/Ionos mass-registered over 2 million unrequested domains completely against the Nominet rules that state you can't do that. A registrant has to request a domain, and sign the terms and conditions, and a Registrar can't register any domain unless that has happened and the domain has been specifically requested by a registrant - they just rode roughshot over that rule).

    Anyway, in the face of all the .info fakes (which was going to mean that not a single generic or valuable domain was going to be available to the public in the general landrush) and ICANN doing nothing about it, I resolved to get so much evidence and make it public, that they would be shamed by demonstrable facts. So I launched a website which listed every registrant and every Registrar who had claimed a .info domain with a fake trademark. It grew to thousands (one individual alone faked over a thousand ridiculous trademarks and Afilias did nothing), and then it went viral around the world and people everywhere started to send in more and more examples. The website was called 'The Internet Challenge' and it got on BBC news in the end. I had a different name at the time but it was me. The whole thing was a shocking experience to someone who had set out to believe the best of people. I was so disillusioned and disappointed. And kind of angry. Registrars who should have known better - companies in close relationship with ICANN - were just going ahead and accepting all these fakes, knowingly, because of... the money. Even Afilias Directors... the people ICANN was leaving to run the affair and police it... were caught out registering fake claimed domains for themselves. One of them, Govinda Leopold, got several, including Hawaii.info but the trademarks were all fake. The Registrar company of Afilias's lead director registered 93 names with fake trademarks. It was all just left to happen.

    Simultaneous with me, a guy called Robert Connor also launched what was known as the Domebase campaign, and there was a website called ICANNWatch which became a focal point where respected people built a platform of critique. In the end, and this is my point, it took pedantic forensic attention to detail, and then - the third component:

    It needed 'good players' in the industry, seeing the demonstrable evidence, to call ICANN and Afilias out. I don't know what his standing is now, I believe he's a decent guy, but back then Elliot Noss of Tucows was someone with values. I had correspondence and support from him. There was also one Director of Afilias, a registrar himself, who resigned in protest. In the end, the 'insiders' (for once) were truly called out and they had to back down in the face of the evidence, and all the domains were recalled and the process had to be re-run. It was a rare vindication.

    So I hope you can see that I have 'DNA' when it comes to bad practice in the domain industry, and it's why I'm so touched by your 'creed' and your company. Because the picture has continued to get controlled by powerful insiders - arguably even more so. Large companies like GoDaddy have made huge acquisitions (a billion dollars worth in the past year) - and the name of the game is to buy up potential opposition and hollow them out in their own parent company image, which is all about volumes of revenue, dependent on ways of using namespace as a cash-cow, with the collaboration of registries, ICANN, whoever they get onside: and this tendency towards acquisitions has accelerated in the last two years. It's like a vast consolidation in the industry, with the namespace (which should exist for the benefit of the whole public) reduced to a cash-generating commodity. Don't get me wrong: people need services, it's only right that companies are rewarded for those services. But with the huge and consolidating companies and their clones, service (as you so rightly point out, Simon, on your 'creed' page) is exactly what gets lost...."


    [continued...]
     
  4. Siusaidh

    Siusaidh Well-Known Member

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    [*all the following are my views, recollections and personal beliefs, and should not be read as unrefuted 'facts' unless you choose to*]

    * * * * * * *

    [...continued...]

    "One way for these largest companies to increase their influence and control is to 'colonise' registries: and we see that with major employees of GoDaddy and Team Blue (Namesco) sitting on the Nominet Board as Directors. It's not even impossible that Nominet itself might get bought out in the future by GoDaddy, if they could get away with it, because Nominet is financially tiny in comparison. And this creates (at the very least) the 'appearance' of conflict of interest, to the detriment of smaller business, since the biggest customers are not only now part of the governance of the UK namespace, but (and the mass-registrations were symptomatic) they come to arrangements that please them with Nominet, who step back even when rules are visibly broken, and say (in the old 'laissez-faire' manner of ICANN) that it's up to these huge companies how they act for their customers and how they 'interpret' the rules. It's not. The rules are the same, whether a company is huge or small, and in the case of the mass-registrations the rules are very clear. And now that GoDaddy is itself (since the purchase of Neustar) a competitor Registry, it would seem to many that the risk of conflict of interest is very real.

    Simon, you asked the good question, "What would I be able to do if elected?" Good, because it's the practical issue. The first thing to say is that Nominet are very aware that I am a critical 'opposition' candidate. I've used the Acorn Domains Forum as a platform for my views. But I can say with 99% certainty - and it hasn't been denied - that one of the present Directors came online there (using a false name - but was immediately recognised by all - it was embarrassing, because he's done it before and been banned multiple times) to criticise my position, to claim I was socially lacking in confidence (on the contrary, I am very confident socially, or 'dominant' as Andrew Bennett once described me), and generally on the attack. Anyway, after complaints he's clearly been told to back off by his bosses, because all he was doing was making me look good, and increasing people's support for me. I am not myself a domain catcher like many on Acorn, but I get on well with many people there, and I am a moderator (except during this election period). But I digress. My point is that Nominet do not want me elected (and with the vote weighting system and the sitting Namesco candidate my chances this year are challenging - next year there are two places available and 34% might get me on the Board - this year it's one place so I need 51% and there's a good deal of insider alliances among the largest companies). But I am standing, and I have some good pledges from top 20 registrars, and more further down the company size, which has been touching, so the outcome is still open. One thing that can still happen is that if I am elected, the Board can refuse to appoint me. That would look ugly, but it's possible.

    But 'what could I do?' and how would I go about it?

    1. I live not far from Oxford, so my agenda would be to be very regular in attendance at Nominet in person, building relationships, drawing on knowledge, and embedding and colonising myself there. I'd want to participate in initiatives around Public Benefit because that is often demonstrably good, and I know it means a lot to some staff. I would want to try to support and encourage openness of opinion, humour, decency. The goal would be to build a climate and resistance of a kind, based on the powerful moral principle that people matter and deserve respect, both inside and outside the company. Call that soft diplomacy.

    Simultaneously, I want (and I have a fiduciary duty and right) to have access to all minutes of all committees and meetings. I want to 'record' what I find, on grounds of accountability. I will be keeping a private record of my whole three years, if elected. And after that, well let's just say, I'm a novelist (working on 4 young adult novels right now in my spare time, and my writing has previously been featured in Sunday magazines, and on the BBC). Anyway, not a best-seller yet, but I write. So a long-term spin-off of being 'inside' Nominet might be how best I can communicate that experience in the future. Accountability always accompanies responsibility (or should). Nominet has been given a unique and privileged platform, as the steward of the UK's namespace (part of vital national infrastructure, important to individuals, communities, charities, services, clubs, education, healthcare etc) and that should be the primary purpose and duty of Nominet. It's part of what you provide too at Krystal. There's real responsibility for the way it can benefit people's lives. That's something I just don't feel in giant companies like GoDaddy - that connection with communities, and what the internet is really for.

    Then in terms of actual power in the Boardroom, being real, they would seek to marginalise me to a couple of committees, but what I can do is call out, challenge, dissent, and by keeping up connections with members and the nation of internet users (through media and engagement) I can introduce sense of fear of my actual influence and sort of hidden power. Now I would seek to do that intelligently - through smiling friendly good nature, but like Chaucer's "smiler with the knife under the cloak" I would also be hard as iron on facts and detail and critique. I'm already savouring my first meeting with Russell the CEO, because I will be friendly as anything, but I will tell him straight to his face 'I think your free registration policy, which facilitated and allowed the mass-registrations was a really poor judgment, and frankly a disgrace.' So they will have to learn that I don't play the corporate game uncritically, and I'm likely to find any managerial posturing or power-play facile and not always to be taken seriously. (People have to manage - I've managed schools and prisons - but people matter and values matter and open disagreement matters.) So I will want them to fear me a little, in the knowledge of the moral support I have behind me in the community. To be honest if I am elected and displace Kelly, the sitting Namesco director (against whom I have nothing personally) they would be totally shocked, because they just don't expect that to happen. And they may be right (I acknowledge that to be respectful to the process).

    2. I mentioned platforms in the public view. In the past, I found platforms in the public view, with opportunities for people to join in, were really valuable ways of building (constructive) opposition to create counter-narrative to what the insider cliques wanted to be presented to the world, all as shiny and one direction as a GoDaddy website. With the .info fiasco, it was my website, Bob Connor's website, the IcannWatch website (where I was one of the main contributors), and a number of forums. There was also the 'At Large' which at the time I was elected to what was then 'Icann at Large' was a one-person one-vote internet users' group. In the end ICANN crushed that within its own organisation, and replaced it with approved 'delegates'. But given that Nominet is supposed to be serving the UK from its privileged position, there could be a case for building both a kind of NominetWatch (maybe find a better name) or a national internet users' group tasked with monitoring governance of domains. I think what I am saying is that being an opposition Director inside Nominet has challenges, because of internal power-play, but that changes if a platform is created external to Nominet, or a combination of platforms, and ways of drawing in tech and general media. Then suddenly there's a counter-narrative, an alternative agenda, a policing of what Nominet does. And it re-states the principle that, actually, Nominet primarily exists for the people of the UK and its namespace. If some of those platforms emerge, then an 'opposition' Director then has an authority based on a second mandate.

    3. Thirdly, I mentioned 'good players'. There are individuals and companies that don't dance to the corporate tune, and I think a primary aim should be to win back Nominet to that constituency. Engagement: Nominet is feeble on member engagement, because it doesn't really truly want awkward views, which engagement can introduce, it wants to get on with running its own agenda its own way. So one initiative might be to build a member community that is independent of Nominet, run by the members, and engaging other industry people, but which develops as a 'voice' of the members to increasingly monitor and in a way police what Nominet does. I admit ideas like this are pin-balling, so I don't claim all of them would be right. However, a lot of people want a different way to what Nominet has become, and what it might become in the future. So an alternative voice, platforms, mindset could help create the challenge to wrest the UK namespace free of its present controllers. Of course that would not happen overnight. However, getting back to what I would do: I would aim, as a Director, to straddle my roles inside the company with involvement and engagement outside, speaking publicly about many of these issues, and what the namespace is for, and championing exemplar companies."

    [...continued...]
     
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2020
  5. Siusaidh

    Siusaidh Well-Known Member

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    [*all the following are my views, recollections and personal beliefs, and should not be read as unrefuted 'facts' unless you choose to*]

    * * * * * * *

    [...continued...]


    "You asked me a fair question, Simon, and a necessary one. I've tried to put thoughts on a canvas, more to try to catch some of the possibilities and direction of how I could use my position. The truth is that it is hard to know with any certainty how things will play out. What I do know and believe in is that, for all the ways the internet can be abused, it still has amazing potential for good, both for businesses, and for communities and families (things most precious in my life). It shouldn't exist to be owned by ever-growing corporations for whom 'value' is exponential profit margin. Fair profit - yes. But domination of a sector that's vital for human well-being - no thank you.

    Okay, I *apologise* big time for being so long-winded and emotive. This is who I am: feeling, but also pragmatic and hard as iron in the face of bad practice. So, when needs be, as the poet Yeats put it: "as cold and passionate as the dawn". I am loved by colleagues who work with me. I am emotionally kind and compassionate (as I should be as a nurse). But I can also be very cold and hard against bad practice.

    The rest of the time, when I'm not working, I am blessed with the love of my partner, my family, and a life filled with happiness and a lot of mischievous laughter. Work hard, play hard, and try to crash on free weekends. I will continue nursing during the pandemic. I will continue work on my sci-fi novel series. I will continue putting my partner and family first. To me, life is like a stream. It's constantly in flow. But it is so worth living."
     
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