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CentralNic gets 680,000 AlpNames domains for free, kinda

CentralNic has emerged as the gaining registrar for AlpNames’ entire portfolio of gTLD domains.

The company announced late last week that three registrars in its stable — Moniker, Key-Systems LLC and Key-Systems GmbH — will take over roughly 680,000 domains that were left stranded when AlpNames management went AWOL.

US-based Key-Systems LLC appears to be the biggest gainer. It will be taking over domains in every gTLD except .biz, .com, .info, .net, .org, which are going to Moniker, and .pro, which are going to the German Key-Systems division.

While most registrars see their domains under management concentrated in these legacy gTLDs, by volume AlpNames had far more registrations in new 2012-round gTLDs.

It had just 19,000 .com DUM at the last count, compared to hundreds of thousands in new gTLDs such as .top and .gdn.

CentralNic said in a press release that ICANN selected its registrars after a competitive bidding process, which I’ve previously outlined here, but that it did not pay for the names. So AlpNames, presumably, won’t be getting the payday it could have received under the rules.

The transfer won’t be entirely cost-free, of course. CentralNic is going to have to provide support to its incoming customers — who will all be emailed with the details of their new Moniker accounts — for starters.

There’s also the issue of abuse. AlpNames was notorious as a haven for spammers and the like, due to its cheap prices and bulk-registration tools, so CentralNic may find itself having to deal with this legacy.

But CentralNic said it expects these incidental costs to be “minimal”.

The transfers are a big boost for CentralNic’s registrar volume, at least in the short term. The three selected registrars had a combined total of roughly two million gTLD domains at the last count. CentralNic says it acts as registrar for over seven million domains across its 13 accreditations.

For every AlpNames domain that gets renewed, CentralNic gets paid. But if AlpNames’ own track record is any guide, I suspect there’s going to be a lot of drops over the coming year.

NameSilo nets $1.5 million profit

Kevin Murphy, March 28, 2019, Domain Registrars

Fast-growing registrar NameSilo yesterday reported its financial results for 2018.

The Canadian company reported revenue of CDN 17.2 million ($13.3 million) for the year, up from CDN 10.4 million ($8.1 million) in 2017.

Net income was CDN 1.92 million ($1.48 million), compared to CDN 565,000 ($435,000).

Bookings were CDN 28.78 million ($21.45 million), up from CDN 14.04 million ($10.81 million) in 2017.

These are the results of NameSilo LLC, the operating registrar subsidiary of the listed entity, NameSilo Technologies Corp, which is listed on the Canadian pink sheets. The former reversed into the latter in August.

NameSilo says it has added 850,000 new domains under management since then, and now has about 2.7 million names.

According to the most-recent registry transaction reports, NameSilo was the second-fastest growing gTLD registrar in November and the 16th-largest by DUM. It ranks higher if you group registrar accreditations into families.

After NZ shooting, Epik has a Monster PR problem

Kevin Murphy, March 21, 2019, Domain Registrars

Domain name registrar Epik.com has come under fire from prominent domain investors and others after CEO Rob Monster suggested that video of the recent mosque shootings in New Zealand, which he hosted on an Epik service and shared on social media, was a hoax.

Domainer-bloggers including Shane Cultra, Konstantinos Zournas, and DNPlaybook.com have questioned Monster’s decision, and one of his own senior staffers, former DomainNameWire contributor Joseph Peterson, took to a domainer forum to in parts criticize and defend his boss.

Cultra was particularly harsh in his criticism this week, calling for domainers to move their domains out of Epik and for his friend, Epik director Braden Pollock, to remove himself from the board.

He wrote: “I would like to think that any respectable domain investor remove their domains from Epik… Rob Monster’s agenda has no place in our industry”.

DNPlaybook wrote that Monster has become “Facilitator of Hate and Promoter of Conspiracies”.

Other domainers have written that they have removed, or will remove, their domains from Epik, though Monster wrote earlier this week that the impact on its business so far has been minimal.

Epik is an ICANN-accredited registrar with about 400,000 gTLD names under management at the last count. It’s almost doubled in size over the last two years.

The company and its CEO have been subject to criticism for months over their decision to provide services to web sites that enable the promotion of far-right ideologies such as white supremacism and Nazism.

But the latest row kicked off on March 15, when Monster used his personal Twitter account to share a link to the self-shot, first-person video of one of the terrorist attacks at a mosque in Christchurch.

Fifty people, all Muslims attending Friday prayers or in the vicinity of the mosques, were killed by the same person during the attacks.

The first attack was live-streamed on Facebook from a head-mounted camera. Apparently viewed live by fewer than 200 people, copies were nevertheless widely circulated on social media and elsewhere.

The copy of the video linked to by Monster was hosted by Epik-owned privacy services provider Anonymize.com, on an “effectively uncensorable” file-sharing service the company is currently developing.

In a subsequent tweet, Monster threw doubt upon whether the footage was real, writing: “Shell casings simply vanish into thin air. Etc. It looks like low budget CGI”.

Anyone with a grain of common sense who has seen the video will tell you that Monster is clearly talking absolute bollocks here. It’s not a fake.

Monster’s Twitter account has since been deleted. According to Peterson, Epik’s director of operations, Monster deleted it himself. Reading between the lines, it appears he was pressured to do so by his staff, including Peterson.

Monster has not yet deleted — and is in fact still actively using — his @epik account on Gab.com, the Twitter clone often used by far-right activists who have been banned from or choose not to use Twitter due to their views.

A March 15 post on Gab by Monster links to a copy of the Christchurch killer’s rambling “manifesto”, again hosted on anonymize.com. This link is still live, but I’ve redacted it in the screen-cap below, which shows Monster effectively using the manifesto to promote the forthcoming Anonymize service.

Monster on Gab

I’ve been unable to confirm whether Epik is still hosting the video of the attack, though there are reports that it was taken down a matter of hours after posting. (UPDATE 1816 UTC: the video is in fact still live on the Anonymize service).

Epik and Monster drew attention last November when Monster publicly offered to become the registrar for Gab.com, after the domain was suspended by GoDaddy.

Monster at the time said the move was to protect freedom of speech online.

Epik again attracted attention last month when it acquired BitMitigate, a denial-of-service protection startup which has been providing services to unapologetic Nazi propaganda site The Daily Stormer since August 2017, when Cloudflare told the site to GTFO.

It’s also taken on the domain business of video hosting site BitChute, which is often used as a refuge for political vloggers (including some on the far right) who have been demonetized or banned by YouTube.

For these reasons, in January Epik attracted the attention of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an anti-racist group based in the US. The SPLC wrote that “Epik is cornering the market on websites where hate speech is thriving”.

The post, and other news reports, strongly hint that Monster’s own political views might be more aligned with those of his customers than he cares to admit.

Monster naturally rebuts these suggestions, calling the SPLC post “highly defamatory and inaccurate”. In one of his most recent posts on Namepros, before his staff asked him to back away from the public square for a while, he wrote:

As for those members of the domain community who have taken the opportunity this week to rebuke me for allowing free speech to continue on the Internet, please know that I am neither seeking publicity or controversy. I am of sound mind. I am not a Nazi, an anti-semite, a homophobe, a misogynist, a bigot, or a racist. I believe love and understanding will overcome hate and divisiveness.

The future of the domain industry is being determined in 2019. Censorship, WHOIS privacy, sinkholing, DDoS, deplatforming, demonetization, unpersoning, are all symptoms of the disease which is a relentless desire by the few to dictate the narratives and choices to be consumed by the many.

Peterson has also denied that his boss harbors secret extremist views, in a series of lengthy, nuanced posts (starting here) on Namepros this week.

He writes that Monster has a “weird conspiratorial streak” and a natural inclination to believe in “false flag” conspiracy theories. He doubts the official story on 9/11 and believes the moon landings were faked, Peterson said. Monster is also a “Bible-believing Christian”, according to his Gab profile.

Peterson also writes that a significant portion of Epik’s employees, including some in important roles, are Muslims. He writes that he was “appalled” by Monster’s decision to post the video, but added:

But to infer that he did this because he hates muslims and condones murder is not just simplistic; it is LUDICROUS. One person murders 30+ muslims. The other person hires them and works with them closely on a daily basis. To equate these 2 is simply wrong. Whatever the reasons Rob felt it necessary to re-publish a link to content others had decided to censor, hatred of muslims was NOT the reason.

He goes on to say:

I object to Epik — the team I work with and the customers we look after — being portrayed falsely as some epicenter of “hate speech” or the alt right. We are not. We are a domain registrar and marketplace with a wide range of services. We are a company whose boss has taken controversial (and in some ways courageous) steps to protect free speech. Unfortunately, that same boss has stepped on that message with some very bad PR moves. When Rob does that, it irritates me to the point of exasperation. And I tell him so.

According to Peterson, Monster and his wife came under attack last year with a leafleting campaign in his local neighborhood, denouncing him as a Nazi.

He suspects this kind of behavior may have caused his boss to “double-down” on exactly the same kinds of activities that invited the controversy in the first place.

Whatever the reason, Epik certainly has got a PR problem on its hands right now.

I doubt this is the last we’ll hear of it.

Whois vacuum AppDetex raises $10 million

Kevin Murphy, March 20, 2019, Domain Registrars

Brand protection registrar AppDetex, which counts Facebook as its key customer, has raised $10 million in funding.

It’s the second round of venture capital for the six-year-old Boise, Idaho company. This one was led by First Analysis, with first-round investors EPIC Ventures and Origin Ventures each also taking an extra piece.

AppDetex says it has raised $17.5 million to date.

The company will be best known to registrars and other DI readers for its attempts last year to vacuum up vast amounts of Whois data, post-GDPR, on behalf of mainly Facebook.

The AppDetex WHOIS Requestor System (AWRS) is a semi-automated service that streamlines the process of requesting unredacted Whois records from registrars. I was given a demo last October.

The company came in for criticism for allegedly misrepresenting the results of its initial testing of the system, using the data to lobby ICANN and to market its product.

But AppDetex is apparently not just about the domains. It also offers brand monitoring services for social media platforms, app stores and web sites.

As a registrar, the company had a little over 1,500 gTLD domains under management at the last count, so the new investment is clearly not based upon its prowess as a volume registrar but rather on its value-added managed services.

AppDetex was founded by Faisal Shah (a founder of MarkMonitor) and Chris Bura (previously of AllDomains.com) in 2012.

The company has been closely affiliated with Facebook for some time.

Back in 2016, Facebook acquired RegistrarSEC, a registrar accreditation run by Shah and Bura that at the time was actually doing business under the name “AppDetex”, in order to protect Instagram.com from a Chinese court.

AppDetex has also hired staff from Facebook, and its general counsel is married to Facebook’s head of domain strategy.

According to data Tucows released a month ago, almost two thirds of the Whois requests it received since GDPR came into effect came from Facebook and AppDetex.

Tucows splurges $30 million on Ascio

Kevin Murphy, March 19, 2019, Domain Registrars

Tucows has spent almost $30 million on rival channel-focused registrar Ascio Technologies.

The company announced this morning that the $29.44 million deal will add about 1.8 million domains to its portfolio of managed names, along with an extra 500 resellers.

Ascio was generating $4 million of annual EBITDA before the deal closed, Tucows said in a press release, adding:

The Ascio reseller base fits squarely with Tucows’ core customer profile — ISPs, web hosting companies and website builders serving quality businesses that reward outstanding customer service with long-term loyalty.

Ascio has been owned by CSC Digital Brand Services since 2016, when it was acquired as part of a bundle of registrars in the NetNames group.

As a channel play, it was not really a fit with CSC’s core brand-protection market. It is of course a fit with Tucows, which owns OpenSRS.

The deal, which closed yesterday, has reduced choice in the space, which may not sit well with some resellers.