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Pirate Bay founder launches piracy-friendly domain privacy service

Kevin Murphy, April 19, 2017, Domain Registrars

The founder of controversial BitTorrent search engine The Pirate Bay has entered the domain name market with a new proxy service.

It’s called Njalla, it’s based in a Caribbean tax haven, and it says it offers a higher level of privacy protection than you get anywhere else.

The company described itself in its inaugural blog post today like this:

Think of us as your friendly drunk (but responsibly so) straw person that takes the blame for your expressions. As long as you keep within the boundaries of reasonable law and you’re not a right-wing extremist, we’re for promoting your freedom of speech, your political weird thinking, your kinky forums and whatever.

Founder Peter Sunde was reluctant to describe Njalla as a proxy registration service, but it’s difficult to think of another way of describing it.

When you buy a domain via the company’s web site, the name is registered by Njalla for itself. You can still use the domain as you would with a regular registrar, but the name is “owned” by Njalla (1337 LLC, based in Saint Kitts & Nevis).

The company is a Tucows reseller via OpenSRS, and it supports almost all gTLDs and several ccTLDs (it’s declined to support Uniregistry due to recent price increase announcements).

Prices are rather industry standard, with a .com setting you back €15 ($16).

The big difference appears to be that the service doesn’t want to know anything about its registrants. You can sign up with just an email address or, unusually, an XMPP address. It doesn’t want to know your name, home address, or anything like that.

This means that whenever Njalla receives a legal request for the user’s identity, it doesn’t have much to hand over.

It’s based on Nevis due to the strong privacy laws there, Sunde said.

Under what circumstances Njalla would suspend service to a customer and hand over their scant private information appears to be somewhat vague and based on the subjective judgement or politics of its management.

“As long as you don’t hurt anyone else, we’ll let you do your thing,” Sunde said.

Child abuse material is verboten. Spam is in a “gray zone” (although forbidden by Njalla’s terms of service).

Copyright infringement appears to be just fine and dandy, which might not be surprising. Sunde founded The Pirate Bay in 2003 and spent time in prison in Sweden for assisting copyright infringement as a result.

“You don’t hurt people by putting a movie online,” Sunde said. “You do hurt someone by putting child porn or revenge porn or stuff like that… If you look at any statistics on file sharing, it proves that the more people file-share the more money goes into the ecosystem of the media.”

While this is likely to upset the IP lobby within the domain name community, I think there’s a possibility that existing ICANN policy will soon have an impact on Njalla’s ability to operate as it hopes.

ICANN is in the process of implementing a privacy/proxy services accreditation program that will require registrars to only work with approved, accredited proxy services.

Sunde thinks Njalla doesn’t fall into the ICANN definition of a proxy service, and said his lawyers agree.

Personally, I can’t see the distinction. I expect ICANN Compliance will probably have to make a call one way or the other one day after the accreditation system comes online.

GoDaddy sold over $1 billion of domains in 2016

Kevin Murphy, February 17, 2017, Domain Registrars

GoDaddy’s domain sales topped $1 billion for the first time last year, CEO Blake Irving told analysts this week.

The milestone was revealed as the registrar reported its fourth-quarter and full-year 2016 earnings late Wednesday.

In the fourth quarter, the company had a net loss of $800,000, compared to a year-ago loss of $500,000, on revenue that was up 14.2% at $485.9 million.

For the year, its loss was $21.9 million, compared to $120.4 million in 2015, on revenue that was up 15% at $1.85 billion.

GoDaddy also breaks out its revenue by segment, showing that domains revenue was up 11.2% at $242.5 million for the fourth quarter and up 11% at $927.8 million for the year.

Domain “bookings” — a somewhat informal measure that gives an indication of cash sales from domain names (as opposed to revenue under GAAP accounting) — surpassed $1 billion for the first time, Irving said.

Tucows says eNom may be shrinking as Melbourne IT drives 2016 growth

Kevin Murphy, February 8, 2017, Domain Registrars

Tucows yesterday reported an 11% increase in revenue for 2016, driven partly by an acquisition, but warned that its more recent acquisition, eNom, may be shrinking.

The company reported revenue for 2016 of $189.8 million, up from $171 million in 2015. Net income was up 41% at $16 million.

For the fourth quarter, revenue was up 9% year-on-year at $48.8 million. Net income was down 9% at $2.8 million.

In a conference call, executives linked some of the growth to the April 2016 acquisition of Melbourne IT’s reseller business, which added 1.6 million domains to Tucows’ DUM.

While Tucows also operates its Ting mobile phone service, the majority of its revenue still comes from domains and related services.

In the fourth quarter, revenue was $30 million for this segment. Of that, $23.1 million came from domains sold via its wholesale network and $3.8 million came from Hover, its retail channel.

CEO Elliot Noss noted that the acquisition of the eNom wholesale registrar business from Rightside last month made Tucows easily the second-largest registrar after GoDaddy, but made eNom sound like a neglected business.

“The eNom business is a flat, potentially even slightly negative-growth business in terms of gross margin dollars,” he told analysts.

eNom’s channel skews more towards European and North American web hosting companies, which are a growth challenge, he said. He added:

We acquired a mature retail business and associated customers which for the past few years has been more about maintaining and servicing eNom’s existing customers as opposed to growth. It has not been actively promoted and as a result has a flat to declining trajectory. It’s something we don’t intend to change in the short-term, but as we look under the hood and get a better sense of the platform as we will with all of the operations, the long-term plan might be different.

The acquisition was “overwhelmingly about generating scale and realizing cost efficiencies”, Noss said.

Tucows paid $83.5 million for eNom, which has about $155 million in annual revenue and is expected to generate about $20 million in EBITDA per year after efficiencies are realized.

GoDaddy Super Bowl ad results “best ever”

Kevin Murphy, February 6, 2017, Domain Registrars

GoDaddy said its Super Bowl commercial, which aired yesterday, resulted in its “best ever” Sunday for new customers.

The company said in a press release it had seen its “its best-ever Sunday for attracting new customers in the books”.

That doesn’t necessarily mean it sold more domains than its previous Super Bowl efforts, nor that it made more money.

It seems the web site builder service GoCentral, which is currently offered with a free trial period, accounted for “about half” of these new customers.

GoCentral was the subject of the ad, in which the abstract concept of “The Internet” is embodied as an irritating hipster. It can be viewed here:

Complaints about registrars dip in 2016

Kevin Murphy, February 2, 2017, Domain Registrars

There were slightly fewer complaints about domain name registrars in 2016, compared to 2015, according to newly published ICANN data, but complaints still run into the tens of thousands.

There were 43,156 complaints about registrars to ICANN Compliance in 2016, compared to 45,926 in 2015, according to the data (pdf). That’s a dip of about 6%.

The overall volume of complaints, and the dip, can be attributed to Whois.

About three quarters of the complaints directed at registrars in 2016 were for Whois inaccuracy — 32,292 complaints in total, down from 34,740 in 2015.

The number of complaints about gTLD registries was pretty much flat at 2,230, despite hundreds of new gTLDs being delegated during the year.

The vast majority of those gTLDs were dot-brands, however, with nowhere near the same kind of potential for abuse as generally available gTLDs.

The biggest cause for complaint against registries, representing about half the total, was the Zone File Access program. I’ve filed a few of these myself, against dot-brands that decide the ZFA policy doesn’t apply to them.

Formal, published breach notices were also down on the year, with 25 breaches, four suspensions and four terminations, compared to 32 breaches, six suspensions and eight terminations in 2015.

That’s the second consecutive year the number of breach notices was down.