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Consumer Trust? Not at ICANN Compliance

Garth Bruen

Every person and every entity must have a philosophy if they are to be successful. Consumer trust is one of the key issues at the heart of keeping the Internet open as well as prosperous. The ICANN Affirmation of Commitments was signed in 2009 and has been the guiding principle for ICANN's activities going forward. The title of section 9.3 is Promoting competition, consumer trust, and consumer choice. This section is in essence the embodiment of the commitment of ICANN. In specific detail the section defines the promotion of consumer trust as including consumer protection and malicious abuse issues. The furtherance of consumer trust as a philosophy is carried into the IANA transition as the NTIA has testified about the importance consumer trust in the stewardship transfer. Consumer trust has been made a top-level portfolio goal at ICANN, it is part of an entire section of the organization's efforts in this area. As one might expect, in order for the philosophy of an organization to become a reality it must permeate throughout the organization's functions. In this case we see that Consumer Trust has been incorporated into the mission statement of the compliance department of ICANN: The mission is to preserve the security, stability and resiliency of the Domain Name System and to promote consumer trust through prevention, transparency and enforcement. This goes well beyond a posted mission statement. Within ICANN's own metrics consumer trust is directly tied to "confidence in ICANN's compliance function”. Consumer trust seems to be an ingrained fact, part of the fabric of the next version of the Internet.

However, there is a problem. The actual staff of compliance do not recognize this obligation. During last week's face-to-face ICANN meeting I had an exchange with new head of ICANN contractual compliance which was bewildering and concerning.

This is a rough transcript of the dialog from Monday's meeting, you can listen to the whole thing if you need to (our discussion starts around 7 minutes into the 49 minute recording):

Bruen: ...consumer trust is a huge issue ... and part of your mission statement. Have you developed a consumer-centric space on ICANN's website?

Compliance Director: ...ICANN's mission is really the coordination of the addressing system for the Internet...this is what most of our resources are devoted to...we're not focused on content and commerce...we have not created in compliance a consumer-centric space.

Bruen: Do you disagree that consumer-trust is part of your department's mission statement?

Compliance Director: I'm talking about what ICANN's overall fundamental remit is.

Bruen: Is [consumer trust] part of the Affirmation of Commitments?

Compliance Director: It's mentioned

Bruen: Is consumer trust part of the IANA transition requirements?

Compliance Director: I am not part of that process so I don't want to speak to it.

Bruen: But can you speak to [consumer trust] being part of your department's mission statement?

Compliance Director: It's not part our mission statement as a department as far as I am aware.

My question to the compliance director was not intended to be controversial. I was merely framing the context of my question about actual implementation, of which there apparently is none. What can be taken away from this exchange is the following: 1. Compliance is not aware of their own mission statement (or rejects it); 2. Consumer trust is not a serious part of the AoC from the viewpoint of Compliance; and 3. Compliance has no knowledge of the transition process and therefore need not heed those details.

The situation is made even more bewildering by a year-old announcement from ICANN: A newly created position of Consumer Safeguards Director will also report to Grogan, and will focus specifically on implementation of those ICANN contract safeguards directed toward protecting consumers

So what happened to this posting? Why are none of the trumpeted 25 compliance employees dealing directly with consumers and the issue of consumer trust? Here we are, in the middle of the stewardship transition and consumer trust is a phantom. This does not make a very good showing of ICANN stepping into its role of global stewardship.

By Garth Bruen, Internet Fraud Analyst and Policy Developer. More blog posts from Garth Bruen can also be read here.

Related topics: Cybersecurity, Domain Names, ICANN, Internet Governance, Policy & Regulation, Privacy, Top-Level Domains


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The nature of trust John Laprise  –  Oct 28, 2015 12:03 PM PDT

Trust grows over time as deeds match words. ICANN has apparently mastered half the equation but that is insufficient.

Letter issued to CEO Garth Bruen  –  Dec 03, 2015 6:29 AM PDT

ALAC just sent a letter to the CEO on these issues We'll see how they take it.

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