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Facebook, under Chinese court threat, transfers Instagram.com to its new registrar

Kevin Murphy, April 19, 2016, Domain Registrars

It’s not quite cyberflight, but Facebook has transferred threatened domain name instagram.com to its newly acquired in-house registrar.

Whois records show that the domain, used for the popular photo-sharing social network, was moved from MarkMonitor to RegistrarSEC yesterday.

It emerged on Friday that Facebook had recently acquired RegistrarSEC.

So why the transfer?

It does not appear that the move is part of a wholesale transfer of domains — facebook.com, whatsapp.com, fb.com and all the other Facebook domains I checked are still with MarkMonitor.

Instead, I would speculate that it’s related to the lawsuit in China in which the family of a deceased cybersquatter are fighting for the return of the domain to their ownership.

Instagram acquired the name for $100,000 from the Guangdong-based Zhou family in January 2011, just a couple of months after Zhou Weiming, the now deceased patriarch, bought it from an American domainer.

According to a lawsuit (pdf) filed against the family in California by Instagram this January, Zhou’s widow and two daughters are suing the third daughter in a Chinese court for selling the domain without the proper authority.

They want the domain returned to them.

By transferring instagram.com to a registrar completely controlled by Facebook, the company has removed one huge risk factor from the Chinese lawsuit.

If MarkMonitor were to be served with a Chinese court order ordering the transfer of the domain to the Zhous, and it were to comply, the Instagram service used by millions could be held hostage by a group of known cybersquatters.

Now that the domain is at RegistrarSEC, Facebook gets the ability to refuse to comply with any such order.

This all begs the question of whether the deep-pocketed social network would go to the trouble of acquiring a registrar (with only 11 names to its accreditation) purely to provide a layer of insurance.

A fresh ICANN accreditation would be cheaper, but would take longer, and transferring to a different third-party registrar wouldn’t really solve the problem.

Instagram is predicted by one analyst to provide Facebook with $5.8 billion in annual revenue by the end of the decade.

Google registrar dumps .com for dot-brand

Kevin Murphy, March 30, 2016, Domain Registrars

Google has started using its primary dot-brand gTLD for its registrar business.

The URL domains.google.com now bounces users to domains.google. The site sells domains from $12 a year with free Whois privacy.

Is this move a big deal for improving new gTLD awareness? I don’t think so.

Anyone visiting any major registrar’s storefront is likely to become aware that new gTLDs exist really rather quickly, regardless of the registrar’s own choice of domain.

A registrar using its dot-brand is not going to work wonders for new gTLD awareness in the general populace.

If Google were to start using .google for any of its non-domain projects, such as search.google, that would be different.

The company was already using registry.google for its registry business’s web site.

Tucows pays $6.5 million for Melbourne IT’s channel

Kevin Murphy, March 17, 2016, Domain Registrars

Canadian registrar Tucows has acquired the reseller network of Australian rival Melbourne IT for up to $6.5 million.

The company said the deal will “add hundreds of resellers and approximately 1.6 million domains under management to Tucows’ OpenSRS wholesale domain business.”

Melbourne IT said that the low-margin business was a “drag” on the performance of its core business as a retail registrar focused on small and medium sized businesses.

The price, the Aussie company said, will be between AUD 8.1 million and AUD 8.5 million, depending on exchange rates. That’s as much as $6.5 million.

Tucows did not disclose the price, saying it was “immaterial”.

Small registrar suspended by ICANN

Kevin Murphy, March 15, 2016, Domain Registrars

Small US-based registrar Mobile.co, which usually does business at Mobile.domains, has been suspended by ICANN.

From March 24 to June 22, the company will be unable to sell new domains or accept incoming transfers.

ICANN said in its notice (pdf) that Mobile.co has been failing to escrow its registrant data with Iron Mountain, as required under the Registrar Accreditation Agreement.

It first told the company about the problem in January (pdf), but the problem persisted.

ICANN also says the registrar has failed to make a port 43 Whois service available, also required by the RAA.

If Mobile.co does not come back into compliance, ICANN said it could terminate its contract.

The company had roughly 2,000 gTLD domains under management at the last count, down from a five-year peak of over 17,000.

Mobile.domains does not currently resolve for me.

Registrars object to “unreasonable” .bank demands

Registrars are upset with fTLD Registry Services for trying to impose new rules on selling .bank domains that they say are “unreasonable”.

The Registrar Stakeholder Group formally relayed its concerns about a proposed revision of the .bank Registry-Registrar Agreement to ICANN at the weekend.

A key sticking point is fTLD’s demand that each registrar selling .bank domains have a dedicated .bank-branded web page.

Some registrars are not happy about this, saying it will “require extensive changes to the normal operation of the registrar.”

“Registrars should not be required to establish or maintain a “branded webpage” for any extension in order to offer said extension to its clients,” they told ICANN.

i gather that registrars without a full retail presence, such as corporate registrars that sell mainly offline, have a problem with this.

There’s also a slippery slope argument — if every gTLD required a branded web page, registrars would have hundreds of new storefronts to develop and maintain.

fTLD also wants registrars to more closely align their sales practices with its own, by submitting all registration requests from a single client in a single day via a bulk registration form, rather than live, or pay an extra $125 per-name fee.

This is to cut down on duplicate verification work at the registry, but registrars say it would put a “severe operational strain” on them.

There’s also a worry about a proposed change that would make registrars police the .bank namespace.

The new RRA says: “Registrar shall not enable, contribute to or willing aid any third party in violating Registry Operator’s standards, policies, procedures, or practices, and shall notify Registry Operator immediately upon becoming aware of any such violation.”

But registrars say this “will create a high liability risk for registrars” due to the possibility of accidentally overlooking abuse reports they receive.

The registrars’ complaints have been submitted to ICANN, which will have to decide whether fTLD is allowed to impose its new RRA or not.

The RrSG’s submission is not unanimously backed, however. One niche-specializing registrar, EnCirca, expressed strong support for the changes.

In a letter also sent to ICANN, it said that none of the proposed changes are “burdensome”, writing:

EnCirca fully supports the .BANK Registry’s efforts to ensure potential registrants are fully informed by Registrars of their obligations and limitations for .BANK.  This helps avoid confusion and mis‐use by registrants, which can cause a loss of trust in the Registry’s stated mission and commitments to the banking community.

fTLD says the proposed changes would bring the .bank RRA in line with the RRA for .insurance, which it also operates.

The .insurance contract has already been signed by several registrars, it told ICANN.