Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

Volkswagen drives IDN dot-brand off a cliff

Kevin Murphy, September 13, 2021, Domain Registries

Volkwagen has decided it no longer wishes to run its Chinese-script dot-brand gTLD.

The car-maker’s Chinese arm has asked ICANN to terminate its contract for .大众汽车 (.xn--3oq18vl8pn36a), which has been in the root for five years.

It’s the standard terminating dot-brand story — the gTLD was never used and VW evidently decided it wasn’t needed.

The company also runs .volkswagen, and that’s not used either, but ICANN has yet to publish termination papers for that particular string.

Fellow German car-maker Audi is one of the most prolific users of dot-brands. Its .audi gTLD has over 1,800 registered domains, most of which appear to be used by its licensed dealerships.

.volkwagen is the 95th terminated dot-brand and the seventh terminated internationalized domain name gTLD.

Comment Tagged: , , , , , ,

CTO Conrad quits ICANN

Kevin Murphy, September 13, 2021, Domain Policy

ICANN chief technology officer David Conrad will leave the Org at the end of the month, ICANN said Friday.

No reason was given for the departure, neither was Conrad’s destination, should there be one, disclosed.

He’s been CTO since 2014. Before that, he was a VP there from 2005 to 2010.

He’ll be temporarily replaced by long-time ICANN staffer John Crain, currently chief security, stability, and resiliency officer, while ICANN carries out a formal recruitment drive.

1 Comment Tagged:

France gets more domain takedown powers

Kevin Murphy, September 13, 2021, Domain Registries

Afnic, the French ccTLD registry, has updated its policies to make it easier for the government to take down .fr domain names, and has banned names that could be used for government-related phishing.

The company has incorporated provisions of a 2020 national law that allows the General Directorate for Competition Policy, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Control to instruct the registry to suspend domains believed to be used in fraud.

It sounds similar to the set-up in the neighboring UK, where consumer protection agencies have a deal with Nominet to take down domains used for things like counterfeiting and piracy.

Afnic has also banned all domains where the second-level string ends in “-gouv”.

In France, official government domains end in .gouv.fr, but fraudsters could register the similar-looking -gouv.fr to trick citizens into thinking they were visiting a legit government web site. Not any more.

Comment Tagged: , ,

MMX to return GoDaddy cash to investors

Kevin Murphy, September 13, 2021, Domain Registries

Former new gTLD portfolio registry Minds + Machines (MMX) said Friday that it has started returning most of its recent GoDaddy windfall to shareholders.

It has launched a tender offer to buy back £58 million ($80 million) worth of shares, after selling off its wedge of 20-odd ICANN contracts to the registrar giant.

The offer price is 9.6p ($0.13) per share. MMX said that’s a premium of 12.9% on its September 8 closing price and 13.1% over the average between August 11 and September 8.

It’s roughly the same price shares were trading for at the start of 2012, when ICANN opened the last new gTLD application window, but substantially lower than its peak when it started making new gTLD money a couple years later.

The proposal does not cover all of its shares; over 31% will remain in shareholder hands after the tender offer expires October 1.

The company has about $110 million in cash right now, and expects to spend $24 million of that on the GoDaddy transition, taxes, employee payments, professional services and the like, as it winds down over the fourth quarter.

MMX will retain its listing on AIM in London after the wind-down of operations, making it a vessel for a potential reverse-takeover, in which another company (not necessarily in the domains business) could back into it for an easier way into the public markets.

The company sold its registry portfolio to GoDaddy for about $120 million, and has wound down its registrars.

Comment Tagged: , , ,

Could registrars get sued under new Texas abortion law?

Kevin Murphy, September 8, 2021, Domain Registrars

Does the controversial new Texas state legislation effectively banning most abortions pose legal risks for domain name registries and registrars?

The so-called Texas Heartbeat Act, or SB 8, came into effect at the start of the month. It bans abortions in Texas when doctors can detect a heartbeat in the fetus, which is usually about six weeks after conception, when most women don’t know they’re pregnant.

In an apparent attempt to circumvent the US Supreme Court’s oversight, the enforcement of the law is left to civil actions — the cops won’t come to get you, but any US citizen will be allowed to file civil suits with a guaranteed payout of at least $10,000 if they win and no risk of paying court costs if they lose.

The ban extends not only to doctors who perform the procedure, but also those who “aid and abet”.

This part of the law has been written in such a way that it’s been broadly interpreted as even opening up taxi drivers who transport patients to abortion clinics to possible liability.

Taxi service giants Uber and Lyft have both already announced they will cover the costs of any legal representation their contractors need.

So if taxi drivers can get sued, why not also registrars and hosting companies? Clinics, counselling services and the like all need web sites, and web sites need domains.

It might be a stretch, and the law is worded in such a way that could give registrars a defense, saying liability is restricted to those who “knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion”.

“Knowingly” is a key word. Taxi drivers dropping off a woman at a clinic know where they are driving. Registrars and hosting companies typically don’t know what is being hosted on their servers.

But what if they are told about pro-abortion content on their services, accompanied by a threat of litigation?

It seems that so far the registrar industry, even one company headed by a right-wing religious individual, are effectively, if not vocally, on the pro-choice side of the debate.

A “whistleblower” web site, run by Texas Right to Life at prolifewhistleblower.com, that was inviting users to essentially “doxx” abortion providers has been kicked off GoDaddy for violating its privacy rules, and even right-leaning Epik has asked the registrant to leave on similar grounds.

Comment Tagged: ,

DropCatch raises antitrust concerns about Donuts’ Dropzone proposal

Kevin Murphy, September 8, 2021, Domain Registrars

TurnCommerce, the company behind DropCatch.com and hundreds of accredited domain name registrars, reckons Donuts’ proposed Dropzone service would be anticompetitive.

Company co-founder Jeff Reberry has written to ICANN to complain that Dropzone would introduce new fees to the dropping domains market, raising the costs involved in the aftermarket.

He also writes that Donuts’ ownership of Name.com, a registrar that DropCatch competes with in the drop market, would have an “unfair competitive advantage” if Dropzone is allowed to go ahead:

Donuts is effectively asking every entity in the ICANN ecosystem to bear the costs of introducing a new service with no benefit outside of a financial benefit to itself, while forcing all registrars to spend more money and resources to register available domain names.

Donuts is proposing Dropzone across its whole portfolio of 200+ gTLDs. It’s a parallel registry infrastructure that would exist just to handle dropping domains in more orderly fashion.

Today, companies such as TurnCommerce own huge collections of shell registrars that are used to ping registries with EPP Create commands around the time valuable domains are going to delete.

Under Dropzone, they’d instead submit create requests with the Dropzone service, and Donuts would give out the rights to register the domains in question on a first-come, first-served basis.

While ICANN had approved a similar request from Afilias before it was acquired by Donuts, the Dropzone proposed by Donuts has one major difference — it proposes a new fee for accessing the system.

No details about this fee have been revealed, which has TurnCommerce nervous.

Donuts is asking for Dropzone via the Registry Services Evaluation Process and ICANN has not yet approved it.

Reberry says ICANN should consult with the relevant governmental competition authorities before it approves the proposal.

You can read Reberry’s letter here (pdf) and our original article about Dropzone here.

2 Comments Tagged: , , , , , , ,

ICANN could get the ball rolling on next new gTLD round this weekend

Kevin Murphy, September 7, 2021, Domain Policy

ICANN may be about to take the next step towards the next round of new gTLD applications at a meeting this Sunday.

On the agenda for the full board of directors is “New gTLD Subsequent Procedures Operational Design Phase (ODP): Scoping Document, Board Resolution, Funding and Next steps”.

But don’t quite hand over all your money to an application consultant just yet — if ICANN approves anything this weekend, it’s just the “Operational Design Phase”.

The ODP is a new piece of procedural red tape for ICANN, coming between approval of a policy by the GNSO Council and approval by the board.

It is does NOT mean the board will approve a subsequent round. It merely means it will ask staff to consider the feasibility of eventually implementing the policy, considering stuff like cost and legality.

CEO Göran Marby recently said the ODP will take more than six months to complete, so we’re not looking at board approval of the next round until second-quarter 2022 at the earliest.

Comment Tagged: , ,

Domain industry SHRINKS again… except of course it doesn’t

Kevin Murphy, September 3, 2021, Domain Registries

Verisign has published its latest Domain Name Industry Brief, once again showing growth numbers thrown off wildly by a single factor.

The second quarter closed with 367.3 million registrations across all TLDs, down by 2.8 million over the same point last year, the DNIB states.

But the entirety of that decline can be attributed to a single TLD. It’s Tokelau again!

.tk was down by 2.8 million domains compared to the year-ago quarter also. This decline was first recorded by Verisign in the fourth quarter last year, where it had a similarly depressing effect on the overall picture.

The ccTLD is operated by Dutch company Freenom, which gives away most of its domains for free, often on a monthly basis, and monetizes residual traffic whenever a name expires or is suspended for abuse.

It’s quite possible that most of its names are registry-owned, so it’s in Freenom’s discretion to keep hold of its entire inventory or periodically purge its database, which may be what happened in Q4.

It’s debatable, in other words, whether .tk’s numbers is really any reflection or guide on the rest of the domain name industry. To it’s credit, Verisign breaks out the non-.tk numbers separately.

The DNIB reports a rosier quarterly growth comparison — total internet-wide regs were up by 3.8 million names, or 1.0%.

The company’s own .com did well, growing by 2.4 million names to end June at 157 million. Even .net did better than usual, adding a net of a couple hundred thousand names, to 13.6 million.

All the top 10 ccTLDs were flat sequentially after rounding, with the exception of Brazil’s .br, which was up by 200,000 names.

Total ccTLD regs were 157.7 million, up 1.2 million sequentially but down 2.4 million year-over year. Factoring out .tk, the increases were 1.2 million and 400,000 respectively.

The second quarter of last year was a bit of a boom time for many registries due largely to the lockdown bump, which saw businesses in many countries rush to get online to survive pandemic restrictions.

Tokelau can not be blamed for the whopping 8.8 million decline in new gTLD registrations between the Junes, of course.

About six million of the plummet can be blamed on heavily discounted .icu, which saw its first junk drop begin about a year ago, and another two million seem to be attributable to .top.

Quarterly, the picture was a little brighter — Verisign says new gTLDs were up by under 100,000 compared to Q1 at 22.9 million.

6 Comments Tagged: , , , , ,

Toilet-maker’s dot-brand gets flushed

Kevin Murphy, September 1, 2021, Domain Services

A Japanese building materials company known for its smart toilets has become the latest multi-billion-dollar brand to decide it doesn’t need a gTLD of its own.

Lixil, which turned over roughly $12 billion in its last fiscal year, has told ICANN to tear up its .lixil registry agreement.

No specific reason was given, but it appears the gTLD was lightly used — just one domain was active, and it redirected to lixil.com.

As usual, ICANN has determined that, as a dot-brand, .lixil will not be redelegated and instead simply removed from the root.

It’s number 94 on the dot-brand dead list, the sixth this year.

4 Comments

Latest geo-gTLD goes to sunrise

Kevin Murphy, August 31, 2021, Domain Registries

After a protracted limited registration process, the latest geographic gTLD is due to shortly go live.

.zuerich, representing the canton and city of Zürich in Switzerland, went into sunrise yesterday. Registrations come with residency restrictions.

The sunrise runs the whole month of September, to be followed by a month-long limited registration period. General availability comes November 22.

In DNS terms, Zürich has the misfortune of having a diacritic in its name. While it could have applied for an internationalized domain name variant, it chose to deumlautize the string with the addition of a “E” instead.

The gTLD has been in the root for almost seven years, believe it or not, but it only now getting around to its formal launch phases.

ICANN records show its first restricted registration phase started in 2017.

Zone files show 25 live domains, but a web search reveals only one active non-registry web site — an addiction treatment center.

.zuerich is government-run, using CentralNic for registry services.

The canton has around 1.5 million inhabitants, around 440,000 of whom live in the city.

Comment Tagged: , , ,