As DENIC’s CEO Jörg Schweiger Prepares To Step Down, He Speaks About His Time At DENIC, Security, New TLDs, ICANN, GDPR and Future of Domains

In January Jörg Schweiger, DENIC’s CTO from 2007 to 2014 and CEO since 2014, announced he was stepping down from his position in December. It’s been quite a ride and the domain name industry has evolved quite a lot. So we asked Jörg a few questions about his time with DENIC and the changes he’s seen.

Jörg is one of those people that always seems to be smiling, at least at Domain Pulse and ICANN meetings! Always engaging. So when we asked him a few questions, he came up with some insightful views on why he thought new TLDs missed a great opportunity to do something with “innovative new business models”, the importance of security to DENIC and the challenges of GDPR as well as the future of domain names. Jörg even wonders if ICANN can continue its relevance with cost pressures, global regulations and divergent views amongst its “broad multi-faceted community.”

David Goldstein: Having been a member of the Executive Board of DENIC since 2007, 7 years as DENIC’s CTO and then becoming CEO in 2014, what got you interested in the domain name industry in the first place?

Jörg Schweiger: As early as 2007, it was foreseeable that the Internet would further massively penetrate all areas of human life – economic, social and private – and assume an irreplaceable and indispensable role for us all.

The domain industry is and has been an essential building block of the Internet’s basic infrastructure, with high demands on availability, security and reliability.

If these are not enough reasons to participate in an intriguing and growing industry and to become part of an outstanding community?!

DG: From your perspective what have been the biggest changes and challenges in the domain name business in your time at DENIC? And has the industry evolved in ways you could have expected? Or not expected?

JS: The main change is certainly the launch of the new generic top level domains, for ICANN associated with the goal of increasing “consumer choice and competition”. From my perspective, this goal was largely missed. This was foreseeable and one reason why DENIC did not get involved. My general observation is, there is room for new TLDs with innovative new business models rather than for those based solely on registration numbers.

Challenges? Indeed, I consider security and the economic implications it inevitably entails as a major challenge in the management of TLDs in the future. More and more frequent political and regulatory rulings will have a shaping impact as well.

Actually, from the very beginning of my tenure at DENIC, security and governance took a huge amount of my attention and led to globally distributed, redundant data centres, ISO 27001 ff and BCM 22301 certifications, as well as classification of Germany’s ccTLD as critical infrastructure.

With NIS 2, the further implementation of the GDPR, for example (automated) access for groups with legitimate interest, as well as the current discussion about registration data accuracy and completeness, the challenges pertaining to security and regulation will continue to be demanding.

In addition, the ongoing consolidation as well as vertical integration in the industry will trigger further changes not just for the industry but also for the consumer.

Furthermore, it will be interesting to see how ICANN can maintain its role as an independent steward of names and numbers in the context of cost pressures, regulations with transnational implications, and divergent interests of a broad multi-faceted community whose ability to interact and effectively communicate is limited as a result of the pandemic.

DG: The first ccTLDs including .de began being delegated around 35 years ago. A lot has changed in that time. But how do you see the future of domain names?

JS: With respect to domains used primarily as a means for communication and marketing, we have seen a significant slowdown in growth in recent years, caused in part by social media, expanded browser capabilities as well as the trend toward mobile business and apps. The recent resurgence in registration numbers is mainly the result of digitalisation initiatives in response to the pandemic and thus isn’t a long-term trend.

Domains and the DNS will continue to play a key role as technical anchors. The DNS in particular, as a technically simple but very robust and, above all, proven and widely deployed technology, has the potential to conquer other application areas as well. At DENIC and for the ID4me AISBL, for example, we use DNS as the basic technology for implementing an ecosystem for digital identities. DNS could also be an approach worth considering for service discovery, as required by GAIA-X, for example.

DG: Do you see areas for future growth for .de and/or wider afield in other ccTLDs/gTLDs?

JS: As touched on earlier, the DNS offers potential for diversification. In order to exploit this, DENIC has established a successful subsidiary, DENIC Services. Here we’ve assigned additional services such as Anycast for third parties and Escrow and in the future we’ll offer additional services around Identity Management.

This allows DENIC to concentrate on its most important task – the operation of its critical infrastructure (for the Internet in Germany) with the highest reliability, security and availability. We’ve been doing this for more than 3 decades as the undisputed market leader in Germany and a global cost leader. With nearly 17 million domains .de has been the largest ccTLD for years and is among the TOP 5 TLDs worldwide.

DG: You’re much too young to retire yet! So after 14 years at DENIC, what plans do you have for the coming years? Will we see you at future Domain Pulse or ICANN meetings?

JS: Besides my tasks in the management of DENIC, I have been actively involved in shaping the use and further development of the Internet. These roles have included at ICANN as a Working Group Chair, as Chair of the Board of Directors at CENTR, as a Steering Committee member of IGF-D or in the global IGF dialogue as organizer of workshops and panellist, or co-author advising on implementation schemes for the goals of the Enhanced Digital Cooperation of the UN.

In short: Working in the domain industry is a very exciting, multi-faceted and fulfilling task. For the future I can therefore well imagine continuing to be involved here. Open to new challenges!

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