In an unprecedented review by a standing panel of the public interest commitments dispute resolution policy, ICANN found that TLS engaged in conduct that “violated its commitments to operate .feedback in a clear and transparent manner”.
Last year, Adobe and Facebook were among several brands demanding an investigation into TLS.
They argued that the registry had perpetrated “deceptive practices in the .feedback top level domain in violation of its public interest commitments”.
The brands accused TLS of self allocating numerous domain names corresponding to brands, many of which were withheld during the TLD’s sunrise period.
This prevented brand owners from registering these domains that were then allegedly offered to others for “dirt cheap”.
At the time, TLS owner Jay Westerdal said the accusations were “wild” and “baseless”.
TLS is operated in an open manner consistent with general principles of openness and non-discrimination ... This is the first complaint we have seen regarding .feedback not being open,” he said.
“These companies have not reached out to us directly to resolve their complaint.”
But ICANN said TLS was non-compliant in several areas, and failed to be consistent with “general principles of openness and non-discrimination by establishing, publishing and adhering to clear registration policies”.
ICANN said that TLS must fix these breaches by 15 April, or it may commence the agreement termination process.
In a statement, Westerdal said that TLS is "disappointed in a number of factors of the ruling".
"First, the panel confused policy with marketing programmes. ICANN is not in the business of ruling on marketing programmes and the programme was outside of the scope of a public interest commitment."
"Second, for the things identified in the notice, we have already cured 80 percent. We add links and more detail to our website. We are confident that we will cure the remaining issues before April.”
He added: "In the end, it would have been more helpful to the complaint had they chosen to reach out to the registry. Instead they choose to circumvent outreach and constructive dialogue and tried to use a nuclear weapon of complaining to ICANN."
Brian Winterfeldt, partner at Mayer Brown, thinks the decision did not go far enough. “We are disappointed that ICANN did not address TLS’s many false and deceptive marketing practices, which are ongoing and continue to harm the complainants and consumers.”
Winterfeldt said that ICANN “must be accountable” for registries under its control and that its decision not to take corrective action against registries that violate the public interest commitment may “embolden others in this space to adopt similar marketing practices and strategies”.
“By failing to address fraudulent activity by registry operators, ICANN risks undermining the stability and security of the internet and the domain name system as a whole,” he said.