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Vaccine agency to get more domain takedown powers next year

Kevin Murphy, November 24, 2020, Domain Registries

The UK’s health regulator is going to be added to a Nominet pilot program enabling the speedy takedown of suspected criminal .uk domains next year, according to the registry.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency will become the second government agency after the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit of the City of London Police to be added to the program.

The program is an expansion of the years-old takedown procedure coordinated between Nominet and law enforcement agencies, under which domains suspected by LEA of being used in criminal activity such as counterfeiting are promptly suspended by the registry.

In the pilot, when a domain is suspended it will bounce users to this informational image, rather than merely not resolving.

Nominet-landing-page-image.jpg

MHRA is the agency responsible for approving vaccines for, among everything else, COVID-19, so it’s bound to see nefarious activity next year as vaccines actually start hitting the market.

The news of its involvement was first announced in March as the pandemic took hold of the country but, like so much else in the UK government’s technology response to coronavirus, it looks like it’s going to be a year late and a quid short.

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Domain growth dropped off in Q3, says Verisign

Kevin Murphy, November 24, 2020, Domain Registries

The third quarter saw the worldwide domain industry base of registrations increase by 600,000 names over the second quarter, according to Verisign’s latest Domain Name Industry Brief.

September ended with 370.7 million names registered across all TLDs, up 0.2% sequentially and 3% year over year.

Annual growth of 10.8 million names is a sharp drop off from the 15.3 million growth seen in Q2, during which many nations were under coronavirus lockdown.

Breaking it down by sector, it’s a case of .com growth being offset by shrinkages in new gTLDs and ccTLD, at least on an annual basis.

.com ended the quarter with 150.3 million names, up from 148.7 million three months earlier, which .net was flat at 13.4 million.

ccTLDs as a whole were at 160.6 million, up by 500,000 sequentially but down by 1.2 million compared to Q3 2019.

Unusually, the ccTLD numbers were not affected one way or the other by free extension .tk, where domains are never deleted. Verisign reports the TLD flat in Q3, but I suspect that’s due to a lack of fresh data rather than anything else.

In the top 10 largest ccTLDs, most grew or were flat sequentially. The notable standout was .uk, which lost a full million domains compared to Q2 due to the expiry of a million second-level names in September.

New gTLDs declined by 1.5 million names to settle at 30.2 million at the end of the quarter, according to the DNIB.

The report can by downloaded from this page.

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Donuts boss discusses shock Afilias deal

Kevin Murphy, November 20, 2020, Domain Registries

Afilias is to spin off its registrar business and also its contested application for the .web gTLD, following its acquisition by Donuts, according to Donuts CEO Akram Atallah.

Speaking to DI last night, Atallah explained a little about how the deal, which creates a registry with about 450 strings under management, came about.

Rather than a straightforward bilateral negotiation, is seems like Afilias was shopping itself around for a buyer. Several companies were invited to bid, and Donuts won. Atallah said he does not know how many, or which, bidders Donuts was competing against.

Afilias was making over $100 million a year in revenue last time its accounts were published in 2017, but its largest gTLDs are in decline and it took a big hit when Public Interest Registry renegotiated its back-end contract for .org in 2018.

The acquisition, the value of which has not been disclosed, does not include Afilias’ registrar or mobile businesses, which Atallah said will be spun off.

He also revealed that the deal does not include Afilias’ .web gTLD application, which came second in an ICANN auction won by a Verisign-backed bidder a few years back.

Afilias is currently waiting for the results of an Independent Review Process case that seeks to overturn the winning $135 million bid and award the potentially lucrative gTLD to Afilias. The case was heard in August and a decision is surely not many months away.

What the deal does include are all of Afilias’ registry assets, including its owned gTLDs and its back-end service provider contracts.

I asked Atallah what the plans are for migrating or integrating the two registry platforms. While Afilias runs its own data centers, Donuts migrated its registry to Amazon’s AWS cloud service earlier this year.

“We have to make sure whatever we do is as painless as possible to our registrar channel and partners,” he said. “We believe that at least on the new gTLDs that they have it will probably be easier for us to move them to our back-end, which is on the cloud already… We’ll probably do that fairly quickly.”

“But remember they have other registries and ccTLDs that don’t own that they run on their back-end, so there’ll be business issues and negotiations there to see what we can do there,” he added.

While he’s not expecting anyone to notice any big changes immediately, Atallah said that over time features such as the companies’ different EPP commands will be merged, and that valued-added services will start to cross-pollinate.

“All of the features we have on our TLDs will migrate to their TLDs and vice versa,” he said.

That means things like the Domain Protected Marks List, a defensive registration service for trademark owners, will start to show up in Afilias gTLDs before long, he said.

I asked about the possibility of layoffs, something that is no doubt worrying staff at both companies right now and seems quite possible given the move to the cloud, but Atallah said it was too early to say. Nothing will change until the deal closes at the end of the year, he said.

“Once we actually close, we’ll sit down with the management of the Afilias registry team and look at all the different assets that we have and try to pick the best in class in technology and services,” he said.

Having seen some mutterings about competition concerns, I put that question to Atallah. He laughed it away, pointing out that, even combined with Afilias, Donuts will have fewer than 15 million domains under management.

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GoDaddy has a secret weapon in its push into corporate domains

Kevin Murphy, November 19, 2020, Domain Registrars

While GoDaddy has been focused for the last two decades on small and microbusiness customers, its entry this year into the corporate domains management space should not be dismissed — the company has one huge advantage.

Earlier this week, the company announced the launch of GoDaddy Corporate Domains, really just a rebranding of the company Brandsight, which it acquired back in February.

The move pits GoDaddy against industry leaders such as MarkMonitor, CSC, Com Laude, Safenames et al.

But the company has one huge advantage that its new competitors do not have: cybersquatters and criminals.

Buried at the bottom of this week’s press release is the announcement of a new service, the Verified Intellectual Property program, which “provides pre-vetted, well-known and famous brands an escalation path to address IP abuse”.

It sounds basically like a trusted notifier service not unlike those offered at the registry level by the likes of Donuts and Radix.

VIP clients will be able to get sites and domains hosted on GoDaddy taken down much quicker, via a special escalation email address, a spokesperson said. Takedown requests will still be subject to manual review, he said.

VIP is currently invitation-only, but I assume being a Corporate Domains customer would help expedite an invitation.

This kind of service is something GoDaddy’s new rivals cannot offer — they generally have no retail channel or hosting, so have no cyberquatters, pirates or counterfeiters as customers. If they want to take down a domain or web site, it’s not a simple matter of flipping a switch.

They also don’t have tens of millions of domains under management, many of which, through no fault of GoDaddy, will be maliciously registered.

This is potentially a pretty cool USP for GoDaddy, which could have rivals worried.

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Donuts acquires Afilias to create registry giant

Kevin Murphy, November 19, 2020, Domain Registries

Donuts has agreed to acquire Afilias, the two companies have just announced.

The purchase, for an undisclosed sum, will create a registry giant, responsible in one way or the other for over 450 top-level domains.

The deal will not include Afilias’ registrar or mobile software businesses, the companies said.

The acquisition, between two private companies, is expected to close before the end of the year.

Afilias is probably best known for .info, which it has been running for almost two decades. That gTLD has almost 4.7 million domains under management.

It also runs .mobi, .pro and 21 new gTLDs from the 2012 application round, including .global, .green, .pet, .kim and .lgbt.

It acts as the back-end registry provider for over 200 third-party TLDs, the largest of which is .org, and provides DNS resolution services for other TLDs and enterprises.

Donuts owns the largest portfolio of new gTLDs, with 242 in its stable at the last count.

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ICANN finally addresses Net 4 India meltdown, but mysteries remain

Kevin Murphy, November 18, 2020, Domain Registrars

ICANN today made an effort to publicly address the hundreds of complaints that have recently been made about Net 4 India, India’s largest registrar, which has been in insolvency proceedings for over three years and recently started losing its customers’ domains.

In a lengthy blog post, ICANN confirmed that it received roughly 300 complaints about Net4 in August and September, when India was in coronavirus lockdown and the registrar’s customer service department was unable to cope with demand.

Many customers reported on social media and elsewhere that domains were expiring and transfers to third-party registrars were not possible.

ICANN said it had received over 400 complaints since it filed its first notice of suspension against Net4, which came about after ICANN learned of the insolvency proceedings, in June 2019. It says 74% have been resolved and it’s working on the remainder.

The post sets out customers’ options when it comes to filing complaints, which is complicated by the fact that Net4 also acts as a reseller for OpenProvider, which is not in the same financial difficulty.

ICANN’s says that it is closely monitoring Net4’s compliance with its Registrar Accreditation Agreement and has regular contact with the insolvency court where the company’s case is being heard.

What’s unclear is why the company has been permitted to continue to operate as an accredited registrar, despite its insolvency proceeding being a direct violation of the RAA. ICANN filed a suspension notice in June last year, but has postponed its effective date ever since.

While ICANN says it has not ruled out terminating Net4 and transferring its domains to another registrar, the reality may be that it is unable to do so.

In today’s post, ICANN says it “postponed the start date of the Suspension Period after considering information regarding the insolvency proceedings” provided by the court-appointed resolution professional.

Last month, during the ICANN 69 public forum, the org was asked by an Indian registrant what it was doing about Net4, and compliance chief Jamie Hedlund responded:

When they initially filed for insolvency, we attempted to suspend them and prevent them from being able to register new names. But unfortunately due to the insolvency, we were not able to do that.

It seems that a resolution professional appointed by a quasi-judicial Indian court has managed to trump ICANN’s powers under its Californian-law registrar contract.

Net4’s latest registry transaction reports show that it had 90,000 gTLD domains under management at the end of July. It’s bleeding thousands of domains every month. The company claims to have 400,000 customers in total.

The insolvency proceedings were initiated in 2017 by a debt-recovery agency called Edelweiss, which had acquired $28 million of debts Net4 owed the State Bank of India.

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Masochistic mug urgently wanted for thankless, pay-free ICANN leadership role

Kevin Murphy, November 17, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN still hasn’t found itself a volunteer to head up the next round of no-doubt contentious discussions about Whois policy.

Today it put out its second call for a chair of the Expedited Policy Development Process working group, which is continuing to square the circle of keeping Whois data compliant with data protection law whilst also allowing cops and IP lawyers access to the data.

The EPDP was supposed to have concluded a few months ago with the end of the second phase of talks, but a couple of issues were left unresolved, leading to the creation of a third phase, being spun as “Phase 2a”.

The first issue still to be discussed is if and how registries and registrars should be obliged to make a distinction between the data of private individuals, which is protected by law, and legal entities, which isn’t.

The second is whether it would be possible to have a uniform system of anonymized email addresses across Whois records.

They’re not exactly the most controversial of topics under the Whois umbrella, but they’re not easy asks either.

And the role of chair is time-consuming, uncompensated, with few perks.

ICANN wants somebody who is neutral and, unstated but perhaps more importantly, perceived to be neutral. The chairs of the previous two phases have been policy heavy-hitters Kurt Pritz and Janis Karklins.

It also wants somebody with “considerable experience in chairing working groups”, which immediately drains the pool of potential applicants.

If previous phases of the EPDP are any guide, the successful applicant will have to herd the cats through dozens of hours of teleconferences — the more-complex phase two had 74 meetings, most of which were two hours long.

For their efforts, the chair gets no money, and because of coronavirus travel restrictions they won’t even get paid junkets to international face-to-face meetings.

And if the output of the next phase is anywhere as near as divisive as phase two, they probably won’t win much praise either.

That’s perhaps why ICANN has extended the deadline for expressions of interest from last Friday to November 23.

Applicants go here.

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ICANN made over $500k in secret lawyer payments over [REDACTED] legal dispute

Kevin Murphy, November 17, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN has approved a payout of over half a million dollars to outside lawyers for work on a legal dispute it does not want you to know about.

The board of directors a week ago approved the disbursement of a “[Redacted – Privileged & Confidential]” sum to undisclosed parties in relation to “extensive activity in [Redacted – Privileged & Confidential]”.

Under ICANN policy, the fact that board approval was required means that the amount being paid is at least $500,000. The redacted resolution also authorizes additional payments up to $499,999.

ICANN isn’t providing any hints about what the payments concern, other than that it’s a legal dispute of some kind. The resolution states:

When required, ICANN must engage outside legal counsel to help prepare for and defend against all types of disputes that are brought against ICANN. When those disputes become highly contentious they often require significant involvement during a certain time period by outside counsel and that significant amount of time also results in significant fees and related expenses.

The words “related expenses” may be telling. We may not just be talking about lawyers’ fees here.

ICANN also does not state when the expenses were incurred, other than to note that the org’s budget for fiscal 2020, which ended June 30, “contemplated” the need for such payments.

So we’re talking about a legal issue that ICANN was aware of before May 2019, when the FY20 budget was approved, possibly as far back as December 2018, when earlier versions of that budget were published.

Known legal disputes that were active back then and have seen activity in the last few months include the Afilias Independent Review Process complaint about the .web auction and DotConnectAfrica’s court appeal over its .africa loss.

But both of those cases are matters of public record. ICANN even regularly publishes legal documentation on both. They’re not secret.

The only cases I’m aware of that ICANN has actively tried to keep secret involve allegations of sexual discrimination and harassment made against at least one former senior staffer. One such lawsuit was filed late February 2019.

But the hundreds of thousands doled out by ICANN last week could be related to just about anything.

ICANN’s bylaws give the board a broad brush when it comes to redacting information from published resolutions:

any actions relating to personnel or employment matters, legal matters (to the extent the Board determines it is necessary or appropriate to protect the interests of ICANN), matters that ICANN is prohibited by law or contract from disclosing publicly, and other matters that the Board determines, by a three-quarters (3/4) vote of Directors present at the meeting and voting, are not appropriate for public distribution

Usually, when ICANN redacts information, it’s related to personnel matters such as management bonuses.

Whatever it was ICANN just spent your money on, ICANN ain’t saying.

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.spa registry relocates to .xyz

Kevin Murphy, November 16, 2020, Domain Registries

Newly installed .spa registry Asia Spa and Wellness Promotion Council has started using a .xyz domain for its official registry web site.

The organization last week had its IANA records updated to change its “URL for registration services” from aswpc.org to dotspa.xyz.

It currently resolves to a placeholder “Coming Soon” page.

Choosing a TLD other than its own, which entered the DNS root in September, is pretty unusual.

Most new gTLD registries activate nic.example pretty quickly after delegation, even if they ultimately use a domain such as get.example or register.example for their primary marketing sites.

Activating nic.example is actually an obligation under ICANN contracts. ASWPC has registered that domain, but only whois.nic.spa currently resolves.

The dotspa.xyz domain was registered about a year ago, about a month after ASWPC’s former business partner, DotAsia, washed its hands of its stake in the TLD.

Both the .com and .org versions have been registered for well over a decade, so perhaps .xyz was picked as the default third-choice generic.

But that still doesn’t explain why a registry would select a domain outside its own TLD for its primary site.

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.forum sunrise period will cost less than half the regular reg fee

Kevin Murphy, November 13, 2020, Domain Registries

Trademark owners rejoice! There’s a new gTLD registry seemingly not bent on ripping you off during its sunrise period.

Those defensively registering their marks in .forum, which begins its sunrise period on Monday, in some cases could find themselves paying less than half the regular registration fee.

French registrar Gandi today said that its sunrise retail price is $452.13, versus a genera availability price of $1,042.08, and prices at other participating registrars appear to be roughly in line.

.forum’s is being managed by MMX, though the ICANN gTLD contract appears to still belong to original applicant Fegistry.

The first-come, first-served sunrise period will run until December 16. General availability is due to begin.March 2 next year.

I have to admit to finding the $1,000 base registry fee something of a head-scratcher.

I can just about see why gTLDs such as .cars, representing big-ticket niches, can command four-figure reg fees but, anecdotally, I’ve often heard that web forums can be quite expensive to run and difficult to monetize. Hardly obvious candidates for premium-tier recurring prices.

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