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Mucho weirdness as Google “forgets” to renew major domain

Google has lost control of a key domain name, breaking millions of URLs used by its customers.

It emerged today that the domain blogspot.in expired in May and was deleted around June 24.

It was promptly re-registered via a non-ICANN registrar based in India called Domainming and put up for sale on Sedo for $5,999.

Blogspot is the brand used by people using Google’s Blogger platform. While the .com is the primary domain, the company localizes URLs to the ccTLD of the visitor’s home country in most cases.

There are currently over four million blogspot.in URLs listed in Google’s index.

Most of the reports I’ve read today chalk the loss of the domain down to corporate forgetfulness, but it appears to be weirder than that.

Google uses MarkMonitor to manage its portfolio, so if it is a case of the registrar forgetting to renew a client’s domain, it would be hugely embarrassing for whoever looks after Google over there.

However, historical Whois records archived by DomainTools suggests something odder is going on. It looks like MarkMonitor would have been prevented from renewing the domain by the .in registry.

These records show that from June 1, 2018, blogspot.in has had a serverRenewProhibited status applied, basically meaning the registry won’t allow the registrar to renew the domain.

ICANN describes the code like this:

This status code indicates your domain’s Registry Operator will not allow your registrar to renew your domain. It is an uncommon status that is usually enacted during legal disputes or when your domain is subject to deletion.

Often, this status indicates an issue with your domain that needs to be addressed promptly. You should contact your registrar to request more information and resolve the issue. If your domain does not have any issues, and you simply want to renew it, you must first contact your registrar and request that they work with the Registry Operator to remove this status code. This process can take longer than it does for clientRenewProhibited because your registrar has to forward your request to your domain’s registry and wait for them to lift the restriction.

The domain was placed into clientDeleteProhibited, clientTransferProhibited, clientUpdateProhibited, serverDeleteProhibited, serverTransferProhibited, and serverUpdateProhibited statuses at the same time.

Basically, it was fully locked down at both registrar and registry levels.

All of those status codes apart from serverRenewProhibited were removed in the first week of May this year, after almost two years.

The registry for .in is government-affiliated NIXI, but the back-end provider is Neustar.

At the time the domain was locked down, Afilias ran the back end, and there was a somewhat fractious battle going on between the two companies for the .in contract.

Judging by the changing status codes, it appears that two years ago somebody — Google, MarkMonitor, NIXI or Afilias — put the domain into a state in which it could not be renewed, transferred or deleted.

For some reason, the domain stayed like that until just a couple of weeks before it expired, when the prohibitions on deletion and transfer were removed.

I’ve been unable to find any information about legal trouble Google had in India two years ago that would have led to this unusual state of affairs.

It doesn’t seem to be a simple case of forgetfulness, however.

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First deadbeat dot-brand ripped from the root

ICANN has terminated a dot-brand gTLD contract for non-payment of fees for the first time.

The unlucky recipient of the termination notice is aigo, a privately held Chinese consumer electronics manufacturer.

ICANN first hit the company with a breach of contract notice in March 2018, noting its non-payment and a litany of other infractions.

The two parties have been in mediation and arbitration ever since, but the arbitrator found aigo was in fact in breach in late May.

ICANN issued its termination notice June 25 and IANA yanked .aigo from the DNS root servers a couple of days later.

While aigo is not the first dot-brand registry to be hit with a non-payment breach notice, it is the first to have it escalated all the way to involuntary termination.

Also recently, .intel and .metlife — run by the chipmaker and insurance company respectively — both decided to voluntarily their dot-brand registry agreements.

The total number of voluntary terminations is now 78.

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Coronavirus helps .nl beat 6 million regs

Dutch ccTLD .nl passed the six-million-domains milestone recently due in part to a surge in registrations during coronavirus lockdown.

According to SIDN, the registry, the six millionth domain was deyogiclub.nl and it was registered June 18.

According to my data, .nl has grown by about 100,000 domains since the start of 2020, and by about 80,000 names in the second quarter.

SIDN said (Google-translated from the original Dutch):

The number of registrations rose so rapidly during the corona crisis in recent months that the 6 million .nl domain registrations were reached much earlier than expected on the basis of the growth development.

The Netherlands entered its strongest period of lockdown March 15 and started easing restrictions in mid-May.

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NamesCon Online ticket prices and name change revealed

Kevin Murphy, July 7, 2020, Domain Services

NamesCon has published the ticket price list for its upcoming virtual conference, and the first hit’s for free.

Standard tickets start at $59 — which includes a schwag bag delivered to your door if you register before the end of July — but the price is expected to go up after the end of August.

NamesCon has also entered into a promo deal with Michael Cyger’s DNAcademy, an educational service for domainers. If you buy a $399 annual subscription, the NamesCon ticket is free.

Finally, there’s a rather generous offer of a free ticket for those who have never attended a NamesCon event before.

Newcomers have to take a short survey, but there doesn’t appear to be any identity verification going on, so it seems to me there’s a possibility of its generosity being abused.

The conference also said last week that it’s changed its name from NamesCon 360° to NamesCon Online, after .online registry Radix became a sponsor. The domain is now namescon.online.

The conference will run 24/7 from September 9 to September 11 in your bedroom.

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GoDaddy domains doing just fine during pandemic, lays off hundreds anyway

GoDaddy has announced hundreds of lay-offs as part of a restructuring made necessary by the coronavirus pandemic, but it says its domain name business is still doing pretty well.

The market-leading registrar late last week announced changes that will affect 814 of its US-based employees.

Hundreds will be laid off. Others will be offered jobs in states a thousand miles away from home.

But at the same time, GoDaddy increased its estimates for second-quarter revenue, saying its domain business is doing okay.

The main victims of the restructuring are those in outbound sales, employees who cold-call customers to up-sell them on high-margin products such as GoDaddy Social, a social media management service.

Because GoDaddy Social isn’t selling well any more, apparently due to the pandemic, 331 staff are losing their jobs.

There are another 213 employees, currently based in GoDaddy’s native Arizona, that will be moved into customer support roles — which for GoDaddy is also a up-sell role — instead.

Another 135 sales staff based in Iowa will be told to move to Arizona — well over 1,000 miles away — or lose their jobs.

GoDaddy will be closing both of its two offices in Austin, Texas.

Despite the carnage, the company seems to be treating its affected employees quite well by American standards.

They’ll all get paid until at least September 1, and get healthcare benefits (because this is America, where healthcare is a privilege that has to be earned by phone-jockeying) up to the end of the year.

GoDaddy had previously promised it staff that there would be no layoffs in Q2.

The company also said last week that it will make 1% more revenue that it had previously expected.

It now expects $790 million in Q2, up 1% on its previous guidance.

That increase is, according to GoDaddy, due to sales of domains and web sites.

This coincides with other industry evidence that domain sales are doing okay right now.

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I was wrong, rejected “racist” web site didn’t go to Epik

Vdare.com, the domain for a US-based right-wing news blog that was jettisoned from Network Solutions last week under a cloud of racism allegations, did not, as expected, wind up at Epik.

Rather, Whois records reveal that the domain is now under the wing of PublicDomainRegistry.com, a unit of Endurance, having been transferred at the weekend.

Perhaps ironically, PDR is based in India, where white supremacy has been out of style for many decades. How very patriotic.

Unlike NetSol, PDR does not have an explicit ban on racist content in its acceptable use policy.

But Vdare’s editors think there’s a risk they’ll be moved on again, regardless, writing:

The number of ICANN accredited registrars has shrunk significantly in recent years as a result of consolidation. Many consumer-level registrars are not independent, but repackage services from larger companies. These larger companies are increasingly Woke. So while an individual registrar retailer may claim a freedom of speech mission-oriented corporate value, they operate solely at the pleasure of their supply chain.

In other words, we don’t know how long we’ll be tolerated by the new registrar either.

NetSol ejected Vdare earlier this month under pressure from civil rights groups in the wake of the reemergence of the Black Lives Matter movement and worldwide anti-racism protests.

Vdare in unapologetically anti-immigration and has described its role as to “defend the interests of American whites”, which has led to allegations of a white supremacist agenda.

I’d predicted that its domain would be welcomed by Epik, which has built up a bit of a reputation for working with domains kicked out of other registrars.

But when you’re wrong, you’re wrong, and I was wrong, at least for now.

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World’s most deluded new gTLD applicant makes coronavirus pitch

Kevin Murphy, June 29, 2020, Domain Policy

Indian new gTLD applicant Nameshop, which still refuses to accept defeat eight years after its application for .idn was rejected, has a new coronavirus-related pitch to try to persuade ICANN to please, please, give it a gTLD.

You may recall that this company applied for .idn in 2012, overlooking the fact that IDN was banned as the reserved three-letter country code for Indonesia.

Ever since the mistake was noticed, Nameshop has been trying to convince ICANN to let it change its string to .internet, which nobody else applied for, requests that have been repeatedly rejected.

The newest Nameshop plea to ICANN (pdf) pitches .internet as a space where IGOs, NGOs and others could build or host web sites dedicated to coronavirus-related activities.

The company says it wants to:

temporarily — for the length of the pandemic crisis — operate the TLD with a request for heightened involvement of ICANN and the ICANN Community in the interest of making use of the DNS technologies, to help Government Agencies and Communities involve, increase and optimize their efforts to manage the Crisis and the ensuing recovery and renewal.

It wants to offer:

a clean new space for IGOs and NGOs to come together in their efforts to communicate, collaborate, generate solutions and expeditiously resolve the health crisis while also enabling organizations to collaborate on reconstruction efforts

The company says it would not make any money on .internet until after coronavirus is solved.

It’s also offering to set aside a quarter of its profits for good causes.

I don’t know whether Nameshop is motivated by a genuine desire to do good — as so many are during the pandemic crisis — or a sneaky strategy to shame ICANN into giving it its string change. Either way, the plan is pure delusion.

The reason ICANN has continually rejected Nameshop’s request for a string change from .idn to .internet for the last eight years is that it would set a precedent allowing any applicant to apply for any nonsense string and later change it to a desirable, uncontested string.

That hasn’t changed.

But while Nameshop has been tilting at windmills, ICANN has been earning interest on its $185,000 application fee, which I’m sure could be put to a far better use if Nameshop simply requested the full refund ICANN has offered.

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Does ICANN have a race problem?

Kevin Murphy, June 29, 2020, Domain Policy

In the wake of the killing of George Floyd, pretty much every corporation and institution in the US, and many elsewhere, have felt the need to make statements or enact changes in order to show how non-racist they are, and it seems ICANN is now no exception.

The org issued a statement from CEO Göran Marby late last week in which he denounced racism and said ICANN was committed to establishing a set of “guiding principles” to govern “diversity and inclusion”.

I found the statement rather odd. Does ICANN have a racism problem that needs addressing?

I don’t think it does. At least, I’ve never even heard so much as a rumor about such behavior, never mind a confirmed case.

I’ve been scratching my head to think of any examples of ICANN being accused of racism, and the only one I can come up with is a minor controversy 10 years ago when an early draft of the new gTLD Applicant Guidebook banned “terrorism”.

Some Muslim community members complained that the word could be perceived as “racist” and it was eventually removed.

Around the same time, a handful of community members (as well as yours truly) were accused by the head of unsuccessful .africa applicant DotConnectAfrica of being part of a racist conspiracy against the company, but to the best of my recollection we never invited ICANN staff to our meetings.

But that’s basically it.

ICANN already has diversity baked into its power hierarchies. Members of the board of directors and other committees have to be geographically diverse, which will usually lead to racial diversity, for example.

A great many of its senior leaders have been (at least under some definitions) “people of color”. There doesn’t appear to be a glass ceiling.

It’s also got its Expected Standards of Behavior, a system of codified politeness used in community interactions, which explicitly forbids racial discrimination.

The broader community is global, has no ethnic majority, and is self-selecting. Anyone with the means can show up to a public meeting, dial into a remote meeting, or join a working group, regardless of race or origin.

Statistics show that whenever an ICANN meeting is held in Africa or Asia, the largest groupings of participants are African or Asian.

Of course, maybe with such diversity comes problems. There are words that are considered offensive in some parts of the world that are perfectly acceptable in others, for example, but I’ve never heard of any instances of this kind of culture clash.

But is there actual racism going on at ICANN HQ? Marby’s post says:

We will open a facilitated dialogue to support our employees, to ensure that racial bias and discrimination, or bias of any kind, have no place in our workforce. We need to be comfortable having uncomfortable conversations so that we can address the unconscious and conscious ways in which systemic racism is perpetuated. We need to listen more to Black people and people of color to learn about how these issues impact them each and every day. And we need to continue to take meaningful actions to address inequality.

That suggests that either ICANN is aware of some sort of systemic racial bias among its staff, or that it wants to hunt it down and snuff it out before it becomes a bigger issue.

Or they could just be empty words designed to pay lip service to this stuff.

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As the world burns, ICANN gives its richest execs huge pay rises

Kevin Murphy, June 24, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN has just given some of its highest-ranking and richest execs pay rises of up to 15%, even as the world stands on the brink of a global recession and ICANN is predicting its own budget is on the verge of huge shrinkage.

Its board of directors has approved a set of pay deals that would see the CFO, Xavier Calvez — a man who has, year-after-year, consistently failed to predict fluctuations in the domain name industry with any degree of accuracy — a pay rise of 15%.

John Jeffrey, the general counsel, is getting 3.5%, despite his record of losing legal cases and covering up incidents of sexual harassment among ICANN staff.

Theresa Swinehart, newly-minted senior vice president of the Global Domains Division, is getting a 10% pay increase on top of her base salary, which was $459,123 in FY19.

Not only that, but CEO Göran Marby has been granted broad discretion to increase salaries in the same range for other, non-officer ICANN employees.

Marby himself has been granted his second-half bonus, which amounts to over $100,000.

Based on disclosed salaries for ICANN’s fiscal 2019, we can take a punt on how much money this will cost ICANN — and by “ICANN” I of course mean “you”, the domain-registering public, who pays for every cent of ICANN’s budget.

According to ICANN’s fiscal 2019 form 990, Calvez had “reportable compensation” of $445,964. That’s not including another $62,000 in additional compensation.

For him, a 15% pay raise on the base number is an extra almost $68,000 a year, making his salary (excluding extras) now comfortably over half a million dollars a year.

I’m sure there are many readers of this blog who would consider $68k a nice-enough base salary. But no, that’s his annual raise this year.

This is the guy who, for the better part of a decade, has had to wildly meddle with the revenue half of ICANN’s budget every six months because he couldn’t seem to get a grip on how the new gTLD market was playing out.

He’s also the guy predicting an 8% decline in revenue for ICANN’s next fiscal year due to coronavirus, even as he admits its current revenue has been so far unaffected and most of its biggest funders say everything is going really rather well.

Swinehart is going to get an extra $46,000 a year.

Jeffrey’s raise amounts to an extra $21,000 on top of his $604,648 FY19 base salary.

Remember, he’s the guy in charge of ICANN’s legal department, which is consistently beaten in Independent Review Panel cases, and who is ultimately responsible for the decision to not disclose the existence of the sexual harassment cases that have been filed against ICANN by its own employees in recent years.

The reason these three in particular have been given angry-laughable pay rises is the recently-announced executive reshuffle, which I blogged about earlier this month.

The three of them have had their jobs merged with those of two recent departures — COO Susanna Bennett, who’s leaving for undisclosed reasons shortly, and GDD president Cyrus Namazi, who quit following (but, you know, not necessarily because of) sexual harassment allegations earlier this year.

Combined, Namazi and Bennett were taking $860,000 a year out of the ICANN purse, so ICANN is still saving money by increasing the salaries of their replacements by about $134,000.

But the question has to be asked: how much extra work are these execs doing for this money? How many extra hours a day are they putting in to earn what to many people would be a whole year’s salary?

I expect the answer is: none.

I expect the answer is that ICANN didn’t need the number of six-figure execs it had previously, and now that’s it’s lost a couple of them it’s handing out your cash to those who chose to stick around mainly because it can and it hopes nobody will notice or care.

ICANN’s board resolution says that its decision to raise salaries is based on “independent market data provided by outside expert compensation consultants”.

ICANN has long had a “philosophy” of paying its top people in the “50th to 75th percentile for total cash compensation based on comparable market data for the respective positions”.

It’s never been entirely clear which entities ICANN compares itself to when making these judgements.

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Web.com is kicking out a racist web site. How long before it winds up at Epik?

An American news site for white nationalists says it’s been given its goose-stepping orders by Web.com unit Network Solutions, and it’s looking for a new registrar.

VDare, named after Virginia Dare, a semi-mythological American folk hero, has been publishing anti-immigration material on vdare.com under NetSol’s wing for 20 years, but the site claims the registrar has given it 10 days, until June 25, to GTFO.

According to the site, NetSol told VDare that it was in violation of its acceptable use policy and “we consider your continued use of our services a serious issue and risk to our business and corporate reputation”.

That seems plausible, given how corporate America is currently bending over backwards to prove that they support the Black Lives Matter movement.

The move seems to have come due to pressure from the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a campaigning group that persuaded NetSol to dump racist forum Stormfront as a customer a few years ago (it found its new home at Tucows).

The Committee has reportedly written to NetSol twice recently, urging the company to cut Vdare loose.

Vdare says it’s looking for a new registrar, but has also obtained a .onion domain in case it needs to retreat to the “Dark Web”. The .onion space is only accessible to users of the Tor browser.

Anyone care to place a bet on how long it will be before vdare.com winds up at Epik?

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