ICANN: complaints and compliance

How much of ICANN’s time is spent dealing with compliance?

Chart showing domain complaints at ICANN, with transfer complaints being the #1 type of complaint

Transfer complaints are the most common. Slide from ICANN presentation, Feb 22, 2022.

ICANN 73 Prep Week is underway, and on Tuesday, ICANN’s Contractual Compliance and Consumer Safeguards

department gave an update on its activity.

The department enforces ICANN’s contracts with registries and registrars. They handle complaints from registrants and end users, conduct audits, and monitor the domain name industry.

During the presentation (login required), the compliance team announced that its adoption of Salesforce has allowed it to slice and dice its data regarding complaint volumes, compliance actions, and other more granular details. It said transfer and renewal issues continue to be the most common sources of complaints (see image above).

Every upheaval in the domain industry has impacted compliance activity within ICANN. Events in the domain space and community pressure typically result in increased compliance efforts.

For example, in 2007, the RegisterFly meltdown spurred Contractual Compliance to initiate audits and led to changes in the Registrar Accreditation Agreement that took effect in 2009. The New gTLD Program led to the creation of a base Registry Agreement with additional audit rights. While growing community concern over DNS abuse has not granted ICANN the power to directly address either maliciously registered or compromised domains, Contractual Compliance seems to be spending more resources on demonstrating that it ensures that registrars and registries post (and follow) procedures and policies for abuse reporting.

GDPR, which has caused most Whois data to be redacted, has had a significant impact on complaints. Since 2018, policy changes focused on personal data protection have reduced the overall number of registration data complaints and raised the rejection rate of the remaining attempts to garner information.


The complaint process is reasonably straightforward for registrants experiencing issues with their registrars. That doesn’t mean the complainant will be successful. Contractual Compliance simply rejects the vast majority of complaints as out of scope, moot, or otherwise invalid. As with ICANN’s DIDP process, submissions can miss the mark for a variety of reasons:

  • In all complaint categories, the number one reason for rejection is insufficient information in the complaint
  • Complaints about transfers are often moot by the time they are read
  • Complaints about abuse must first attempt to address the issue with the registrar – if there’s no record of that, the complaint is automatically rejected
  • Registrars are not obliged to maintain the accuracy of registration data on suspended domains, so complaints that address suspended domains never succeed

There were a couple of takeaways from the presentation on Tuesday. First, report as much information as possible and respond promptly to any follow-up questions. Second, Contractual Compliance generally tries to resolve complaints before issuing a formal notice. So even though ICANN only publishes a handful of formal compliance actions per month, valid complaints are acted upon in other ways.

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