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Facebook’s war on privacy claims first registrar scalp

Kevin Murphy, July 22, 2021, 16:35:32 (UTC), Domain Registrars

China’s oldest accredited registrar says it will shut up shop permanently next week after being sued into the ground by Facebook, apparently the first victim of the social media giant’s war against Whois privacy.

Facebook sued OnlineNIC in 2019 alleging widespread cybersquatting of its brands. The complaint cited 20 domains containing the Facebook or Instagram trademarks and asserted that the registrar, and not a customer, was the true registrant.

The complaint named ID Shield, apparently OnlineNIC’s Hong Kong-based Whois privacy service, as a defendant and was amended in March this year to add as a defendant 35.cn, another registrar that Facebook says is an alter ego of OnlineNic.

The amended complaint listed an addition 15 squatted domains, for 35 in total.

This week, OnlineNIC director Carrie Yu (aka Carrie Arden aka Yu Hongxia), told the court:

Defendants do not have the financial resources to continue to defend the instant litigation, and accordingly no longer intend to mount a defense. Defendants do not intend to file any oppositions to any pending filing… Subject to any requirements of ICANN, Defendants intend to cease business operations on July 26, 2021.

But Facebook reckons the registrar is about to do a runner to avoid paying almost $75,000 in court fees already incurred and avoid the jurisdiction of the California court where the case is being heard.

Facebook had asked for $3.5 million in penalties in a proposed judgment and OnlineNIC had not opposed.

While it presents itself as American, it appears that OnlineNIC is little more than a shell in the US.

Its official headquarters are little more than a lock-up garage surrounded by builders’ merchants in a grim, windowless facility just off the interstate near Oakland, California.

Its true base appears to be a business park in Xiamen, China, where 35.cn/35.com operates. The company has boasted in the past of being China’s first and oldest ICANN-accredited registrar, getting its foot in the door when the floodgates opened in 1999.

Facebook is now asking the court for a temporary restraining order freezing the defendants’ financial and domain assets, and for a domain broker to be appointed to liquidate its domain portfolio.

If you’re a legit OnlineNIC customer, you might be about to find yourself in a world of hurt.

OnlineNIC had just over 624,000 gTLD domains under management at the last count. 35.cn had another 200,000.

The lawsuit is one of three Facebook is currently fighting against registrars, one prong of its strategy to pressure the ICANN community to open up Whois records rendered private by EU law and consequent ICANN policy.

OnlineNIC is the low-hanging fruit of the trio and the first to be sued. It already faced cybersquatting cases filed by Verizon, Yahoo and Microsoft in 2009. The Verizon case came with a $33 million judgment.

Facebook has also sued the rather less shady registrars Namecheap and Web.com (now Newfold Digital) on similar grounds.

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Comments (15)

  1. Sarah Wyld says:

    Thanks for your ongoing coverage of this issue, but the reference to scalping in the post title is not acceptable due to the racist history of this term and action and should be adjusted accordingly.

    • Kevin Murphy says:

      How about the reference to war? You’re okay with that?

      • Sarah Wyld says:

        Happy to take issues one at a time and end racism before we end all wars, but sure, we can do both.

        • Kevin Murphy says:

          Thanks for clarifying your moral priorities.

        • John says:

          Sarah, you just punking Kevin here? There is no racist history of that term. What planet and country are you from? I’m from the US and probably also a lot older than you. There was scalping. There was no “racist history” of the term “scalping.”

          Sarah, are you the kind of person who would have a problem with using the word “fascist” for anything other than a reference to WWII Nazis too? I’ve seen that before, and also seen a super mega identity-politics “liberal” immediately rebuke the person for being too “politically correct” about that too.

          • Kevin Murphy says:

            “John”, shut up. You’re welcome to talk shit about me, but you’re not welcome to talk shit about my commenters. Say one more bad thing about Sarah and you get perma-banned. Got it?

            • John says:

              Looks like I was posting my last comment below at the same time you were issuing this perma-ban warning. I guess you’ll have to ban me, though I did not and could not have seen the warning before that posted.

            • Kevin Murphy says:

              But now you have.

        • Kevin Murphy says:

          How do you feel about the American Civil War? Just ambivalent? Or would you have had a side?

        • John says:

          Illustrative example:

          “Sarah Wyld is a pc fascist practicing pc-fascism.”

          😉

          • Kevin Murphy says:

            No she is not. She’s a lovely woman who’s just a bit confused and hasn’t really thought about it enough.

  2. Getting a bit like that Fawlty Towers episode. 🙂

    Seriously though, it will be interesting to see if FB specifically targets other registrars with WHOIS privacy services.

    The claim on OnlineNIC’s website to have been an ICANN registrar as far back as 1996 even predates ICANN.

    If FB succeeds in this action against OnlineNIC as a California corporation, where does that leave the registrants who have domain names under OnlineNIC’s accreditation. If OnlineNIC shuts down next week, does this pull ICANN into the equation (possible deaccredited registrar procedure)?

  3. Rubens Kuhl says:

    Registrar accreditations are expendable. One just make a portfolio transfer to a wholesale registrar, and then just transfer the domains back to a new accreditation.

Leave a Reply to Rubens Kuhl