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GoDaddy signs up for basically unrestricted .travel gTLD

Donuts has started to market the now practically prehistoric and newly liberalized gTLD .travel, and it’s signed up GoDaddy to offer domains there.
The registry, which acquired .travel from former owner Tralliance in February, announced a soft relaunch on its blog last week, highlighting that GoDaddy, Name.com and Encirca are now among its registrars.
GoDaddy appears to be only new signing there — Encirca and Name.com have been carrying .travel from long before Donuts got involved and are in fact its two largest registrars.
The big daddy of the registrar space appears to have become interested after Donuts “simplified” the process of registering .travel domains. Donuts said:

Since the acquisition, Donuts has simplified the registration process, enabling registrants to stay on the registrar’s website for the entirety of the registration/checkout process. Donuts believes that this streamlined registration process will increase registrations, as compared to the previous process, which was disjointed and complex for registrants.

What this seems to translate to is: .travel is essentially an unrestricted TLD, despite being applied for in 2003’s round of “sponsored” gTLDs.
If you attempt to register a .travel domain at GoDaddy today, the only additional friction en route to the purchase button is a simple, prominent check-box asking you to confirm you are a member of the travel community.
That’s apparently enough for Donuts to say it has fulfilled the part of its ICANN contract that says it has to carry out a “review of Eligibility prior to completion of all registrations.”
Under its previous ownership, .travel required registrars to bounce their customers to the registry web site to obtain an authentication code during the registration process.
.travel names are still pretty pricey — GoDaddy was going to hit me with a bill of over $110 before I abandoned my cart, and that was just a year-one promotional price.
The gTLD peaked at 215,000 domains 10 years ago but now sits at under 18,000, having seen slight declines every month for the past five years.

Web.com to be acquired for $2 billion

Web.com is to go private in a deal valued at roughly $2 billion.
The company, which owns pioneering registrars Network Solutions and Register.com as well as SnapNames and half of NameJet, will be bought by an affiliate of Siris Capital Group, a private equity firm.
The cash, $25-a-share deal has been approved by the Web.com board but is still open to higher bids from third parties until August 5.
The offer is a 30% premium over Web.com’s 90-day average price prior to the deal’s announcement.
While Nasdaq-listed Web.com has briefly topped $26 over the last year, you’d have to go back five years to find it consistently over the $25 mark.

Christians rail against GoDaddy’s six-color gay rights flag

GoDaddy changed its social media avatars to a gay rights flag yesterday, incurring the wrath of some self-declared Christians and US right-wingers.
GoDaddy rainbow
The change was made in recognition of LGBT Pride Month, in which every June gay rights groups hold marches and generally celebrate/call for equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
The most egregious thing about the change is surely that there’s a color missing. For some reason, the world’s largest registrar has decided that rainbows look better with only six colors.
But many customers took to Facebook to decry the change on religious or political grounds.
Here’s a sample of some of the comments on the logo.

Now finding another service !!! I don’t support this crap !! I serve s higher power and I am as a Christian warrior to turn my back on this !!!

Don’t you start making a hard left turn to GoDaddy, are you gonna choose the coastal liberals over the other half of the country? Stay out of politics and picking sides. Your not above Boycott like every other Mega Company that chooses a Globalist agenda…

Keep your sexual or political opinion out of your business or I’ll leave your business son! Weather I agree or disagree Im not doing business with you for you to push your views upon me! Just sell me websites and hosting and keep your mouth shut, thanks!

Not doing business there anymore

To be fair, compared to the size of GoDaddy’s customer base, the number of outraged commenters was vanishingly small. I don’t think anyone at GoDaddy is shaking in their boots over the possible loss of a few hard-core right-wing customers.
But those saying it’s a political statement may have a point.
It might be interesting to note that on GoDaddy’s Facebook page for the UK, where equal rights are far less controversial and barely considered a mainstream political issue, the company has not changed its logo.
There were also lots of comments in favor of the change, of course.

Always been a huge fan of godaddy. Your customer service and products are superior. Now I’m even more of a fan. Thanks for taking a powerful stand, even amidst these trolls. I can’t even believe the hate spewing from them. #teamGoDaddy

Comment section, its not getting political or “imposing views” on others to support & respect gays as human beings. They’re not talking about gun rights or abortion or whatever, its LGBT, thats not a belief, or a view. So if you’re gonna seriously stop using the website over human decency & compassion during pride month, thats on you if ya wanna be a whining mope

The amount of offended people in these comments is killing me 😂 much love, GoDaddy. Happy pride. To all the high- strung offended snowflakes: you and your kind have enjoyed thousands of years without LGBT visibility. One site changes their profile pic and your anger burns for nothing. Suck it.

And there were plenty of ambivalent comments.

I am ok with supporting LGBT rights. I am not ok with my slow as hell server that I paid extra for it to be fast, but I paid up front for 3 years so whatever I guess I am hanging out awhile.

While I generally tend to steer away from stories about bogus, whipped-up, social media controversies (this is maybe the third time DI has posted such an article) I find it interesting as it reflects GoDaddy’s perception shift as a company.
A large reason GoDaddy got into the leading position it is today is due to its unabashedly breast-based advertising and sponsorship of sports only Republicans understand.
Less than a decade ago, it was more common for the company to attract controversy when founding CEO Bob Parsons did something dumb like brag about shooting an elephant.
Now it’s taking flak for making a half-assed nod towards gay rights? How times change.
Disclosure: it’s not lost of me that throughout this article I’ve used the word “gay” interchangeably with “LGBT”.

EnCirca partners with PandoraBots to push .bot names to brands

Specialist registrar EnCirca has partnered with bot development framework vendor PandoraBots to market .bot domains at big brands.
The two companies are pushing their wares jointly at this week’s International Trademark Association annual meeting in Seattle.
In a press release, the companies said that PandoraBots is offering bot-creation “starter kits” for brand owners that tie in with .bot registration via EnCirca.
Bots are rudimentary artificial intelligences that can be tailored to answer customer support questions over social media. Because who wants to pay a human to answer the phones?
Amazon Registry’s .bot gTLD is a tightly restricted space with strict preregistration verification rules.
Basically, you have to have a live, functioning bot before you can even request a domain there.
Only bots created using Amazon Lex, Botkit Studio, Dialogflow, Gupshup, Microsoft Bot Framework, and Pandorabots are currently eligible, though Amazon occasionally updates its list of approved frameworks.
The .bot space has been in a limited registration period all year, but on May 31 it will enter a six-month sunrise period.
Despite not hitting general availability until November, it already has about close to 1,800 domains in its zone — most of which were registered via EnCirca — and hundreds of live sites.
EnCirca currently offers a $200 registration service for brand owners, in which the registrar handles eligibility for $125 and the first year reg for $75.

Registrars want six-month stay on new Whois policy

Registrars representing the majority of the gTLD industry want ICANN to withhold the ban hammer for six months on its new temporary Whois policy.
As I reported earlier today, ICANN has formally approved an unprecedented Temporary Policy that seeks to bring the Whois provisions of its contracts into compliance with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.
It comes into effect next Friday, May 25, but it contains a fair few items that will likely take longer for registrars to implement.
While ICANN’s top lawyer has indicated that ICANN Compliance will act as reasonably as possible about enforcing the new policy, registrars want a moratorium of at least six months.
In a letter (pdf) dated May 16 (before the policy was voted through, but while its contents were broadly known), Registrar Stakeholder Group chair Graeme Bunton wrote:

Any temporary specification adopted now that significantly deviates from previously held expectations and models will be far too late for us to accommodate for a May 25, 2018 implementation date.
For this reason, we ask that any temporary specification include a formal ICANN compliance moratorium, not shorter than six (6) months, providing us an opportunity to conform, to the extent possible, our GDPR implementation with the GDPR-compliant aspects of any ICANN temporary specification

He added that some registrars may need even more time, so they should have the right ask for an extension if necessary.
The letter is signed by Endurance, GoDaddy, Tucows, Blacknight, 1&1, United Domains, NetEarth One and Cloudflare, which together account for most gTLD domains.

101domain founders suing Afilias over unpaid $1 million after $15.5 million acquisition

The two former owners of 101domain are suing Afilias over an unpaid $1 million portion of their $15.5 million acquisition deal.
And Afilias is suing them right back, claiming it doesn’t have to pay because the deal left it saddled with an undisclosed tax bill in excess of $1 million.
The suit was filed by Anthony Beltran and Wolfgang Reile, who has since died, in February and Afilias counter-sued a couple of weeks ago, but I only recently became aware of the case and I don’t believe it’s been reported elsewhere.
Afilias bought 101domain back in 2015 for a then-undisclosed sum, its first big push into the registrar side of the industry.
Court documents now reveal that the Ireland-registered company gave 90%-owner Reile and 10%-owner Beltran a combined $12.5 million cash, along with a promissory note to pay $3 million more over the next two years.
Afilias paid them the first $2 million owed in September 2016, but when it came to paying the remaining $1 million the company refused, saying it had discovered 101domain had a VAT liability from before the deal closed of around $875,000.
Last month, after the suit was filed, it re-estimated the alleged liability at over $1 million.
Under the terms of the promissory note, Afilias reckons it does not have to pay up. What’s more, it wants the two men to cover the difference between the money it owes them and the amount of the tax bill.
In their initial complaint (pdf), Reile and Beltran disputed whether the liability even exists, saying “Afilias has failed to provide an adequate accounting for the purported pre-closing VAT liability”.
Reile died April 6, but Afilias filed its counter-complaint (pdf) April 19 and the legal wheels still appear to be turning.
Beltran, who declined to comment on the case, is still listed as 101domain’s president on the registrar’s web site.

ICANN cancels registrar audit as GDPR headaches loom

Kevin Murphy, April 30, 2018, Domain Registrars

ICANN has decided to call off a scheduled audit of its registrar base, to enable registrars to focus on sorting out compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation.
The biannual audit, carried out by ICANN Compliance, was due to start in May. As you likely know by now, May 25 is GDPR Day, when the EU’s privacy law comes into full effect.
In a letter (pdf) to registrars, senior VP of compliance Jamie Hedlund said: “The April 2018 registrar audit round is on hold.”
He added: “We are reviewing the schedule, resources and risks associated with holding a single, larger audit round in autumn of 2018, as well as considering alternative approaches.”
His letter came in response to a plea (pdf) from Registrar Stakeholder Group chair Graeme Bunton, who said an audit that clashed with GDPR deadline would be an “enormous undertaking” for affected registrars.
The audits, which have been running for a few years, randomly select a subset of registries and registrars to spot-check compliance with their Registrar Accreditation Agreements and Registry Agreements.
The program looks at 20-odd areas of compliance, one of which is Whois provision.

Drop-catcher drops almost all remaining registrars

Kevin Murphy, April 23, 2018, Domain Registrars

Drop-catch specialist Pheenix has terminated almost all of its remaining registrar accreditations, leaving it with just its core registrar.
By my count, 50 shell registrars have terminated their ICANN contracts over the last few days, all of them part of the Pheenix dropnet.
Only Pheenix.com remains accredited.
That’s one registrar, down from a peak of about 500 at the end of 2016.
Almost 450 were terminated in November.
With registrars equating to connection time with the .com registry, it looks like Pheenix’s ability to catch dropping names through its own accreditations has been severely diminished.
By my count, ICANN currently has 2,495 accredited registrars, having terminated 524 and accredited about 40 since last July, when it said it expected to lose a net 750 over the coming 12 months.
Fifty registrars is worth a minimum of $200,000 in fixed annual fees to ICANN.

101domain founder Wolfgang Reile dies at 67

Kevin Murphy, April 14, 2018, Domain Registrars

Wolfgang Reile, founder and former CEO of the registrar 101domain, has died, according to his former business partner and other sources.
He died unexpectedly at 67, April 6, according to Anthony Beltran, who took over the management of 101domain from Reile when Afilias acquired it back in 2015.
Born in Munich, Reile migrated to the US in the early 1990s and founded the registrar in 1999, Beltran said. He told DI:

He was a regular fixture in the ICANN scene, was a fun guy to be around, and was a natural storyteller (once you got used to the authentic German accent)
He was a friend and mentor to many, especially the staff at 101domain, and if you knew him and his straight-forward German fashion — was very opinionated, passionate, and yelling at you only meant he considered you a friend. He brought a passionate and dedicated energy that’s rare these days.

His international business background, including a spell at Disney in Asia, inspired 101domain’s strategy of providing access to the broadest possible range of ccTLDs and gTLDs, Beltran said.
The company currently has close to 140,000 gTLD domains under management and says it has tens of thousands of clients.
After the two men sold 101domain to Afilias, Reile stepped away from the industry to focus on family, travel and other businesses, Beltran said.
He is survived by his wife and three daughters. I gather his funeral will be held in San Diego, California, later today.

ICANN confirms GoDaddy Whois probe

ICANN is looking into claims that GoDaddy is in breach of its registrar accreditation contract.
The organization last week told IP lawyer Brian Winterfeldt that his complaint about the market-leading registrar throttling and censoring Whois queries over port 43 is being looked at by its compliance department.
The brief note (pdf) says that Compliance is “in receipt of the correspondence and will address it under its process”.
Winterfeldt is annoyed that GoDaddy has starting removing contact information from its port 43 Whois responses, in what the company says is an anti-spam measure.
It’s also started throttling port 43 queries, causing no end of problems at companies such as DomainTools.
Winterfeldt wrote last month “nothing in their contract permits GoDaddy to mask data elements, and evidence of illegality must be obtained before GoDaddy is permitted to throttle or deny port 43 Whois access to any particular IP address”.
It’s worth saying that ICANN is not giving any formal credibility to the complaint merely by looking into it.
But while it’s usual for ICANN to publish its responses to correspondence it has received and published, it’s rather less common for it to disclose the existence of a compliance investigation before it has progressed to a formal breach notice.
It could all turn out to be moot anyway, given the damage GDPR is likely to do to Whois across the industry in a matter of weeks.