Guy hit with $1,600 bill a month after registering “premium” name for $12.99

Kevin Murphy, April 23, 2014, Domain Registrars

101domain has sent out almost 50 invoices, believed to total many thousands of dollars, to customers who had bought “premium” domain names for $12.99 well over a month ago.

One DI reader, who said he’d rather not be named, received a bill from the registrar today for $1587.01 for a .みんな domain name he hand-registered March 10 for the base fee of $12.99.

The email from 101domain stated that unless he pays the bill by 5pm PST tomorrow, his domain will be deleted:

It has come to our attention that the .みんな registry considers certain name(s) that you have registered with us as premium names and that there were some intermittent pricing errors on our website allowing you to purchase these name(s) at regular pricing. The cause of this error has been resolved and we sincerely apologize for the error.

In order to correct these pricing errors, the Registry has granted us the option to delete these names if we are unable to collect the premium pricing from our customers.

Due to a short deadline, payment must be received by Thursday, April 24, 2014, 5pm PST in order for deletion of the name not to occur. In the event that payment isn’t received by Thursday, April 24, 2014, 5pm PST the domain name(s) will be deleted, released back into the pool of available domain names, and any payments previously received for the domain names will be fully refunded to you.

The registrar offered a full refund of the $12.99 and a 20% discount coupon as compensation.

“I am not sure what’s the legal status of this,” the registrant told DI. “Also asking for this a more than a month later (purchased on 10th of March), besides being not cool, is just wrong.”

.みんな is one of Google’s new gTLDs. It’s Japanese for “everyone”.

101domain COO Anthony Beltran told DI that “fewer than 50″ names were affected by the pricing error, all of them in .みんな.

“Literally every registry is doing things differently, but we have committed to offering them as our customers overwhelmingly demand them,” he said. “Most of them understand, as early adopters, there will be occasional issues, and our disclaimers and T&Cs speak to this.”

He offered the following explanation for the error:

In order to offer pre-paid orders, 101domain’s practice is to put up pricing as soon as it is confirmed and as soon as we receive lists of premium names, reserved names, and name collisions from a registry. This is generally well before EPP is available so there is no live domain:check. Our search queries these lists internally to offer accurate pricing well before most other registrars do so that our clients are well ahead of the curve with plenty of time to research and submit orders. Mistakes do rarely occur; some premium lists are fluid, complications have been introduced with SEDO and AFTERNIC getting exclusive listings of premium names (while we have access through their distribution channels like SEDO MLS), or names are snapped up in Sunrise, EAP, or Landrush. We will typically notify clients prior to names becoming active of any changes in pricing or availability and promptly refund in full if requested. With this TLD, this did not happen properly unfortunately.

Nobody’s claiming Google did anything wrong.

I’m not sure what American or Californian consumer protection law says about this kind of thing, but it is a quite startling situation.

Are there any other fields of commerce where you can be billed a month later because a retailer got confused about its wholesale prices?

Bug takes out HostGator, BlueHost for a day

Kevin Murphy, April 17, 2014, Domain Registrars

Endurance International, the domain name registrar that owns some of the world’s biggest web hosting brands, has been hit by a “network firmware” bug that took out one of its data centers.

It’s not currently clear how many many of the 10 million+ domains that EIG hosts were affected, but the outage seems to have lasted at least 17 hours and is only just being resolved right now.

Customers of EIG brands BlueHost and HostGator are among those known to be affected. HostGator alone hosts over 9 million domains, according to Wikipedia.

The outage, affecting a Provo, Utah data center, seems to have begun at 11am local time (7pm UTC) yesterday.

On the BlueHost Facebook page, the company wrote at about 8am UTC today:

Our NetOps team addressed the source of the problems affecting some customers: a bug in the firmware utilized in our vendor’s hardware. We worked very closely with this vendor and we have implemented a bug fix that is beginning to propagate across the network now. You may find some performance inconsistencies during this rollout, but they should resolve fairly quickly.

In more recent updates on Twitter and Facebook and forums, the companies said that some customers may still be affected by the bug, but that they’re quickly coming back online.

Endurance owns dozens of domains and hosting brands. In the registrar space, its best known and largest are probably FastDomain, Domain.com, Dotster and, following the recent acquisition, Directi.

Today’s downtime is the third significant outage in the last 12 months.

The same data center was hit by a prolonged outage in August 2013, which was followed by a shorter outage on December 31.

Are Whois email checks doing more harm than good?

“Tens of thousands” of web sites are going dark due to ICANN’s new email verification requirements and registrars are demanding to know how this sacrifice is helping solve crimes.

These claims and demands were made in meetings between registrars and ICANN’s board and management at the ICANN 49 meeting in Singapore last week.

Go Daddy director of policy planning James Bladel and Tucows CEO Elliot Noss questioned the benefit of the 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement during a Tuesday session.

The 2013 RAA requires registrars to verify that registrants’ email addresses are accurate. If registrants do not respond to verification emails within 15 days, their domains are turned off.

There have been many news stories and blog posts recounting how legitimate webmasters found their sites gone dark due to an overlooked verification email.

Just looking at my Twitter stream for an “icann” search, I see several complaints about the process every week, made by registrants whose web sites and email accounts have disappeared.

Noss told the ICANN board that the requirement has created a “demonstrable burden” for registrants.

“If you cared to hear operationally you would hear about tens and hundreds of thousands of terrible stories that are happening to legitimate businesses and individuals,” he said.

Noss told DI today that Tucows is currently compiling some statistics to illustrate the scale of the problem, but it’s not yet clear what the company plans to do with the data.

At the Singapore meeting, he asked ICANN to go to the law enforcement agencies that demanded Whois verification in the first place to ask for data showing that the new rules are also doing some good.

“What crime has been forestalled?” he said. “What issues around fraud? We heard about pedophilia regularly from law enforcement. What has any of this done to create benefits in that direction?”

Registrars have a renewed concern about this now because there are moves afoot in other fora, such as the group working on new rules for privacy and proxy services, for even greater Whois verification.

Bladel pointed to an exchange at the ICANN meeting in Durban last July, during which ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade suggested that ICANN would not entertain requests for more Whois verification until law enforcement had demonstrated that the 2013 RAA requirements had had benefits.

The exact Chehade line, from the Durban public forum transcript, was:

law enforcement, before they ask for more, we put them on notice that they need to tell us what was the impact of what we did for them already, which had costs on the implementers.

Quoted back to himself, in Singapore Chehade told Bladel: “It will be done by London.”

Speaking at greater length, director Mike Silber said:

What I cannot do is force law enforcement to give us anything. But I think what we can do is press the point home with law enforcement that if they want more, and if they want greater compliance and if they want greater collaborations, it would be very useful to show the people going through the exercise what benefits law enforcement are receiving from it.

So will law enforcement agencies be able to come up with any hard data by London, just a few months from now?

It seems unlikely to me. The 2013 RAA requirements only came into force in January, so the impact on the overall cleanliness of the various Whois databases is likely to be slim so far.

I also wonder whether law enforcement agencies track the accuracy of Whois in any meaningfully quantitative way. Anecdotes and color may not cut the mustard.

But it does seem likely that the registrars are going to have data to back up their side of the argument — customer service logs, verification email response rates and so forth — by London.

They want the 2013 RAA Whois verification rules rethought and removed from the contract and the ICANN board so far seems fairly responsive to their concerns.

Law enforcement may be about to find itself on the back foot in this long-running debate.

Registrars screwing up new gTLD launches?

Kevin Murphy, March 18, 2014, Domain Registrars

Some of the largest domain name registrars are failing to support new gTLDs properly, leading to would-be registrants being told unregistered names are unavailable.

The .menu gTLD went into general availability yesterday, gathering some 1,649 registrations in its first half day.

It’s not a great start for the new gTLD by any stretch, but how much of it has to do with the channel?

I tested out searches for available names at some of the biggest registrars and got widely different results, apparently because they don’t all properly support tiered pricing.

Market leader Go Daddy even refuses to sell available names.

The .menu gTLD is being operated by a What Box? subsidiary, the inappropriately named Wedding TLD2.

The company has selected at least three pricing tiers as far as I can tell — $25 is the baseline registry fee, but many unreserved “premium” names are priced by the registry at $50 and $65 a year.

For my test, I used noodleshop.menu, which seems to carry the $65 fee. Whois records show it as unregistered and it’s not showing up in today’s .menu zone file. It’s available.

This pricing seems to be accurately reflected at registrars including Name.com and 101domain.

Name.com, for example, says that the name is available and offers to sell it to me for $81.25.

Name.com

Likewise, 101domain reports its availability and a price of $97.49. There’s even a little medal icon next to the name to illustrate the fact that it’s at a premium price.

101domain

So far so good. However, other registrars fare less well.

Go Daddy and Register.com, which are both accredited .menu registrars, don’t seem to recognize the higher-tier names at all.

Go Daddy reports the name is unavailable.

Go Daddy

And so does Register.com.

Register.com

For every .menu name that carried a premium price at Name.com, Go Daddy was reporting it as unavailable.

With Go Daddy owning almost half of the new gTLD market, you can see why its failure to recognize a significant portion of a new gTLD’s available nice-looking names might impact day-one volumes.

The experience at 1&1, which has pumped millions into marketing new gTLD pre-registrations, was also weird.

At 1&1, I was offered noodleshop.menu at the sale price of $29.99 for the first year and $49.99 thereafter, which for some reason I was told was a $240 saving.

1&1

Both the sale price and the regular price appear to be below the wholesale cost. Either 1&1 is committed to take a $15 loss on each top-tier .menu name forever, or it’s pricing its names incorrectly.

A reader informed me this morning that when he tried to buy a .menu premium at 1&1 today he was presented with a message saying he would be contacted within 24 hours about the name.

He said his credit card was billed for the $29.99, but the name (Whois records seem to confirm) remains unregistered.

I’d test this out myself but frankly I don’t want to risk my money. When I tried to register the same name as the reader on 1&1 today I was told it was still available.

If I were a new gTLD registry I’d be very worried about this state of affairs. Without registrars, there’s no sales, but some registrars appear to be unprepared, at least in the case of .menu.

French registrar gets Whois data waiver

Kevin Murphy, March 14, 2014, Domain Registrars

The French registrar OVH has been told by ICANN that it can opt out of a requirement to retain its customers’ contact data for two years after their domain names expire.

The move potentially means many more registrars based in the European Union will be able to sign the 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement and start selling new gTLD domains without breaking the law.

OVH was among the first to request a waiver to the 2013 RAA’s data retention provisions, which EU authorities say are illegal.

ICANN said last night:

ICANN agrees that, following Registrar’s execution of the 2013 RAA, for purposes of assessing Registrar’s compliance with the data retention requirement of Paragraph 1.1 of the Data Retention Specification in the 2013 RAA, the period of “two additional years” in Paragraph 1.1 of the Data Retention Specification will be deemed modified to “one additional year.”

It’s a minor change, maybe, and many EU-based registrars have been signing the 2013 RAA regardless, but many others have resisted the new contract in fear of breaking local laws.

Now that OVH has had its waiver granted, it’s looking promising that ICANN will also start to allow other EU registrars that have requested waivers to opt-out also.

ICANN has been criticized for dragging its feet on this issue, and I gather the OVH is still the only registrar to have been given the ability to opt out.