'ICANN's Naïve and Unprofessional GDPR Approach' A 2018 Lowlight Says nic.at's CEO, But Celebrating Triple .AT Anniversaries A Highlight

Posted in: Domain Names at 17/01/2019 13:27

"ICANN's naïve and unprofessional approach to" the EU's GDPR was one of 2018's lowlights says Richard Wein, CEO of Austria's ccTLD registry nic.at in today's Domain Pulse Q&A with leading industry figures, looking at the year in review and year ahead. GDPR planning dominated many European ccTLDs in the first half of 2018 to the detriment of other work, but while Wein has come concerns about the GDPR, he wonders if it is a "sledgehammer to crack a nut". Overall he thinks it's a positive and now he's happy about how the team at nic.at responded to the European Union's consumer data protection regulation.

A positive highlight was nic.at celebrating 3 anniversaries: "30 years of .at, 20 years of nic.at and Stopline and 10 years of CERT.at." Looking ahead, Wein believes 'it's still far too difficult to register your own domain, set up e-mail or create a new website'. Largely, Wein believes, new gTLDs haven't lived up to expectations, with a few exceptions, and currently doesn't believe a second round of applications is needed.

Domain Pulse:What were the highlights, lowlights and challenges of 2018 in the domain name industry for you?

Richard Wein: I think that the first half of 2018 was particularly shaped by the effects of the GDPR. Many registries (especially European ccTLDs) seemed paralysed and put all other plans and projects on hold. This was also the case for nic.at. ICANN’s naïve and unprofessional approach to this topic was a real disappointment, and the necessary measures were taken far too late. A "normal" company would have been punished by the markets for this kind of performance. But I am proud to say that we manged to finish the project in time with a new privacy policy and new internal processes for .at which were ready on May 25 – with a solution which was at the same time pragmatic, legally correct and end-user friendly. The whole nic.at team had put lots of effort in this project and we can see now, 6 months later, that we took the right decisions and found a good way to deal with it.

The market changes were also exciting, especially among the gTLD registries - the sale of Donuts was a good example of this.

It was also interesting to note the rather sobering registration numbers worldwide. Real (natural) growth is happening only in low single digits, so the whole industry will have to adjust to much tougher times and every market participant, whether registry or registrar, must take appropriate measures.

Our nic.at company highlight was of course the anniversaries we celebrated in 2018: 30 years of .at, 20 years of nic.at and Stopline and 10 years of CERT.at. We had a big party for our partners and were able to show all the activities and initiatives we are undertaking for Austria’s internet community.

DP: GDPR - good, bad and / or indifferent to you and the contrary to industry and why?

RW: Essentially, protection of data is very positive to see and any initiative in this area is to be welcomed.

The only question is whether the GDRP was a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Unfortunately the original goal of putting the big data monsters such as Facebook, Google etc "on a leash" was not achieved, and yet enormous bureaucratic hurdles have been created for many companies and government agencies. It is clearly positive that awareness of data protection and sensitive (personal) data in all areas has significantly increased.

After around 8 months of "live" GDRP the onslaught expected by many (including us), e.g. requests for information because there is now no public WHOIS, completely failed to materialise.
In my opinion, the world can survive very well without a public WHOIS.

DP: What challenges and opportunities do you see for the year ahead?

RW: I think the whole industry will have to make an effort to bring their products to the market in a way that is more understandable, simpler, and accessible without much (technical) know-how. In my opinion it is still far too difficult to register your own domain, then set up your own e-mail or create a new website. The subject of "digitisation" is currently on everyone's lips, but it has negative connotations; so a lot of work must be done to convert this to a more positive, beneficial impression. This involves domains and all associated products.

DP: 2019 will mark 5 years since the first new gTLDs came online. How do you view them now?

RW: All in all (apart from a few exceptions), positive hopes and expectations have not been realised. Many of the gTLD registries are still struggling to survive, and I have not seen any evidence of the frequently described “dotbrand” hype, so the new gTLDs will probably remain a "niche" for another year. The consolidation process will continue, both with the registries and the backend providers, but also with the registrars. A few gTLD's will be established on the market (and among users), many of the others will disappear again.

At the moment I do not see any need for a second round (at least from the demand side), but clearly some want to utilise their (technical and sales) scaling effects to offer new gTLDs as quickly as possible, and put them on the market.

DP: Are domain names as relevant now for consumers - business, government and individuals - as they have been in the past?

RW: A clear YES to this. If you look at the number of users of "social media", such as FB or Instagram, there is a clear negative trend. It's not about either / or, but businesses in particular will develop a balanced "online strategy" and this includes their own website with one (or more) domains.

Of course, there is some saturation, but there is still enough global potential to increase awareness of domains and to secure growth over the long term.

Previous Q&As in this series were with EURid, manager of the .eu top level domain (available here), with Katrin Ohlmer, CEO and founder of DOTZON GmbH (here), Afilias’ Roland LaPlante (here), DotBERLIN’s Dirk Krischenowski (here), DENIC (here) and Internet.bs' Marc McCutcheon (here).

If you’d like to participate in this Domain Pulse series with industry figures, please contact David Goldstein at Domain Pulse by email to david[at]goldsteinreport.com.


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