ICANN – signs of institutional bias. What a huge non-shock!

A distant friend worked out I have an interest in ICANN (how did that happen?). She sent me a link to an examination of the backgrounds of people who actively participate in its affairs. Called  “ICANN Diversity Analysis”  it shows that it isn’t. Diverse. I am pretty sure reports have appeared in the past which reached similar conclusions.

With this latest one the authors looked at individuals who were members of the five most active mailing lists between January 2016 and May 2018. Mailing lists are a key part of the way the whole ICANN consultative and policy evolution processes function.

There were 218 people on these lists but only 92 were judged to meet a threshold of active engagement. Of the 92, 17 were ICANN staff and were ruled out. It  might have been interesting to know more about them but, even so, 17 out of 92 does suggest a significant level of involvement by the employees of the agency whose policies the consultative processes, at least to some degree, are meant to be scrutinizing and influencing. I guess that’s inevitable but the ratio was surprising.

So we are left with 75 individuals. 56 were males (74.7%) and 19 were females (25.3%).

57.3% were identified as members of the “technology and industry community” and 25.3% were said to come from “civil society”. Shame there is no gender or other breakdown of these two groups. In particular it is a pity there is no analysis of the civil society participants and the sources of their funding.  Same goes for the 8%  who are described as “Academics” and the  8% “Other”. 8% is 6 people. There is a suspicion that a number, by no means all, of the non-industry participants receive funding from industry sources so they can act as surrogates for industry interests.

There is no breakdown of the ethnicity of the participants but representatives from more prosperous parts of the world are over-represented when compared with their presence among the global population of internet users.  Since they are largely acting on behalf of their employers that is less surprising, but still a worry. The analysis points out, for example, that 48.7% of all internet users are from Asia but people in the study who were based there came to only 14.7%. China, with the world’s largest group of internet users (700 million) had only one person.

ICANN professes a commitment to multistakeholderism but, as the above numbers illustrate, it is substantially phoney. The costs of participation in its complex processes are absurdly high. Someone more cynical than myself might conclude that this is intentional.

Intentional or not, ICANN would benefit greatly from hearing the authentic voice of a broad range of consumer interests of which children are but one. ICANN could act to make the internet safer for children. They choose not to and at least in part that is because we barbarians are not banging hard enough on their gates. We can’t afford to.


About John Carr

John Carr is one of the world's leading authorities on children's and young people's use of digital technologies. He is Senior Technical Adviser to Bangkok-based global NGO ECPAT International and is Secretary of the UK's Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety. John is now or has formerly been an Adviser to the Council of Europe, the UN (ITU), the EU and UNICEF. John has advised many of the world's largest technology companies on online child safety. John's skill as a writer has also been widely recognised. http://johncarrcv.blogspot.com
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