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MMX drops two registrars

Kevin Murphy, August 4, 2021, Domain Registrars

MMX has dumped two registrar contracts with ICANN, as the company’s asset-sale to GoDaddy nears completion.

ICANN records show that Minds and Machines LLC and Minds and Machines Registrar UK Limited both entered “terminated” status over the last few days, meaning they’re no longer accredited to sell gTLD domains.

But they weren’t doing any selling of domains anyway. The UK company had 108 domains under management and the US on had none at the last count.

The US accreditation was the one used primarily by the company under its original business model of a “triple-play” registry/registrar/back-end, when it was still going by Minds + Machines, which was abandoned five years ago.

The registrar peaked at about 50,000 names, which were then transferred over to Uniregistry. The back-end business was also abandoned, with Nominet taking over technical management of most of its gTLDs.

MMX is currently in the process of getting out of its sole remaining third business, that of gTLD registry.

GoDaddy has already taken over most of its 27 gTLDs under a $120 million deal announced earlier this year. Four TLDs remain, and will be transferred subject to approval from government partners.

Domainers at risk as EnCirca takes over deadbeat registrar’s customer base

Customers of defunct registrar Pheenix risk losing their domains because the company was not properly escrowing its registrant data, according to the registrar taking over their domains.

EnCirca, which is taking over up to 6,000 domains previously registered with Pheenix, says the registrar’s shoddy escrow practices mean some of these domains may not be reunited with their rightful owners.

Pheenix “failed to properly escrow domain ownership information for many of the domains utilizing WHOIS proxy services”, EnCirca recently wrote, adding:

We anticipate that many domains will remain unclaimed due to bounced emails or inoperable proxy services. Locating rightful owners will be problematic since the data escrow is often devoid of any identifying ownership information.

To try to mitigate the problem, EnCirca is offering affected registrants the chance to prove ownership by filling out a form and uploading other evidence, such as Pheenix receipts or bank statements.

EnCirca added that because Pheenix disappeared still owing money to registries, the registries may be forcing renewal or restore fees that will then be passed on registrants.

If your domains were at or near expiration, restoring them could be complex and pricey or impossible.

If you’re affected, you can find information here.

Most or all Pheenix customers are likely to be domain investors. It was a drop-catcher, which once had over 500 dummy registrars in its expansive dropnet, most of which it subsequently de-accredited.

But it went AWOL last May, not responding to ICANN or paying its dues, apparently disappearing from the face of the Earth.

ICANN terminated its accreditation in May this year, and initiated a bulk transfer to EnCirca a couple weeks ago (which it only disclosed this week).

EnCirca has experience handling this kind of problem, which is presumably why ICANN gifted it the bulk transfer. In 2018 it took on the domains 49 of Pheenix’s shell registrars, which it says were suffering from the same escrow problems.

As judge freezes assets, is this OnlineNic domain portfolio really worth $70,000?

A California court has frozen the assets of beleaguered Chinese/American registrar OnlineNic, at the behest of Facebook, which is suing the company for alleged cybersquatting.

The judge in the case Friday mostly granted Facebook’s request for a temporary restraining order, banning OnlineNic from transferring money or domains out of the country.

It had discovered that the registrar had started transferring domains it has registered in its own name — about 600 of them — out of the country, to China-based Ename.

OnlineNic had told the court it could no longer afford to defend the case, and that it would shut up shop July 26.

Following Facebook’s request for a TRO, the registrar said it was merely moving the names to Ename so it could use its secondary market platform to raise $70,000 of the $75,000 needed to pay the so-called “Special Master”.

This is a court-appointed agent who had conducted a review of OnlineNic’s ticketing system records and found the company had deleted or obfuscated huge chunks of potential evidence.

OnlineNic has now told the court that it’s found a potential buyer, willing to pay $70,000 for the names in question.

This is the portfolio (pdf).

I’m no domain broker — I’m not even a domain investor — but even I have to wonder who would pay $70,000, or about $120 per name, for this junk. By sight alone, hardly any of them seem to be worth the base reg fee.

I’m guessing they’re dropped domains with traffic and/or the opportunity of selling them back to a forgetful original registrant.

Facebook’s war on privacy claims first registrar scalp

China’s oldest accredited registrar says it will shut up shop permanently next week after being sued into the ground by Facebook, apparently the first victim of the social media giant’s war against Whois privacy.

Facebook sued OnlineNIC in 2019 alleging widespread cybersquatting of its brands. The complaint cited 20 domains containing the Facebook or Instagram trademarks and asserted that the registrar, and not a customer, was the true registrant.

The complaint named ID Shield, apparently OnlineNIC’s Hong Kong-based Whois privacy service, as a defendant and was amended in March this year to add as a defendant 35.cn, another registrar that Facebook says is an alter ego of OnlineNic.

The amended complaint listed an addition 15 squatted domains, for 35 in total.

This week, OnlineNIC director Carrie Yu (aka Carrie Arden aka Yu Hongxia), told the court:

Defendants do not have the financial resources to continue to defend the instant litigation, and accordingly no longer intend to mount a defense. Defendants do not intend to file any oppositions to any pending filing… Subject to any requirements of ICANN, Defendants intend to cease business operations on July 26, 2021.

But Facebook reckons the registrar is about to do a runner to avoid paying almost $75,000 in court fees already incurred and avoid the jurisdiction of the California court where the case is being heard.

Facebook had asked for $3.5 million in penalties in a proposed judgment and OnlineNIC had not opposed.

While it presents itself as American, it appears that OnlineNIC is little more than a shell in the US.

Its official headquarters are little more than a lock-up garage surrounded by builders’ merchants in a grim, windowless facility just off the interstate near Oakland, California.

Its true base appears to be a business park in Xiamen, China, where 35.cn/35.com operates. The company has boasted in the past of being China’s first and oldest ICANN-accredited registrar, getting its foot in the door when the floodgates opened in 1999.

Facebook is now asking the court for a temporary restraining order freezing the defendants’ financial and domain assets, and for a domain broker to be appointed to liquidate its domain portfolio.

If you’re a legit OnlineNIC customer, you might be about to find yourself in a world of hurt.

OnlineNIC had just over 624,000 gTLD domains under management at the last count. 35.cn had another 200,000.

The lawsuit is one of three Facebook is currently fighting against registrars, one prong of its strategy to pressure the ICANN community to open up Whois records rendered private by EU law and consequent ICANN policy.

OnlineNIC is the low-hanging fruit of the trio and the first to be sued. It already faced cybersquatting cases filed by Verizon, Yahoo and Microsoft in 2009. The Verizon case came with a $33 million judgment.

Facebook has also sued the rather less shady registrars Namecheap and Web.com (now Newfold Digital) on similar grounds.

.com and NameSilo fingered as “most-abused” after numbers rocket

SpamHaus has revealed the most-abused TLDs and registrars in its second-quarter report on botnets.

The data shows huge growth in abuse at Verisign’s .com and the fast-growing NameSilo, which overtook Namecheap to top the registrar list for the first time.

Botnet command-and-control domains using .com grew by 166%, from 1,549 to 4,113, during the quarter, SpamHaus said.

At number two, .xyz saw 739 C&C domains, up 114%.

In the registrar league table, NameSilo topped the list for the first time, unseating Namecheap for the first time in years.

NameSilo had 1,797 C&C domains on its books, an “enormous” 594% increase. Namecheap’s number was 955 domains, up 52%.

Botnets are one type of “DNS abuse” that even registrars agree should be acted on at the registrar level.

The most-abused lists and lots of other botnet-related data can be found here.

Net4 domains now parked after “fraud” ruling

The primary operating domain names of disgraced registrar Net 4 India are now parked, after the company lost its ICANN accrediation and was hit by a finding of fraud in an insolvency case.

The names net4.com and net4.in, which once hosted its customer-facing retail site, now return parking pages.

It emerged in recent court documents that Net4 paid $14,068 for net4.com in March 2011 via Sedo.

Net4 saw its ICANN termination terminated in May. All of its gTLD domains under management were transferred to PublicDomainRegistry, which also made side deals with registries to accept .tv, .me and .cc domains.

.in registrant were being dealt with by NIXI, the local ccTLD registry.

Net4 had been in insolvency proceedings for a few years before its customers started noticing serious problems renewing and transferring their names, or even contacting customer support.

Now it emerged that the insolvency court in late May found that Net4 had acted “fraudulently” in order to “defraud” its creditors.

The company had defaulted on millions of dollars in loans from the State Bank of India, debts that were subsequently sold to a debt recovery company called Edelweiss, which filed for Net4’s insolvency.

In a lengthy and complex May ruling (pdf), the Delhi insolvency court found that Net4 had transferred its primary operating assets including its domains, trademarks and registrar business to a former subsidiary, Net4 Network, in order to keep them out of the hands of Edelweiss.

Net4 had “fraudulently transferred” the assets in “undervalued and fraudulent transactions” designed to put the assets “beyond the reach of the Creditors so as to defraud the Creditors”, the court ruled.

The court ruled that the resolution professional handling the case is now free to pursue Net4 Network and its director for the money that would have otherwise have been held by Net4 proper.

Afilias leftovers rebrand as Altanovo

The non-registry bits of Afilias that were not acquired by Donuts in the acquisition deal announced last December have been rebranded as Altanovo Inc.

The new Delaware company owns the registrar 101domain, the mobile device software company DeviceAtlas, and the Irish new gTLD application vehicle Afilias Domains No. 3 Ltd, now renamed Altanovo Domains Ltd.

Altanovo Domains is the entity currently fighting ICANN and Verisign for the right to run the .web gTLD.

Afilias’ registry business, including .info, its portfolio of new gTLDs and its .org-running registry back-end business, joined Donuts earlier this year.

Altanovo means “new height”, the company says on its new web site.

Sav.com buys FIFTY new registrars

Who said competition in the domain drop-catching space was dying?

Domain registrar Sav.com, which has been emerging as a bit of a favorite among domain investors over the last year or so, has just formed 50 new registrars with ICANN accreditation to power its drop-catching service.

ICANN records show the creation of newly accredited registrars named “Sav.com, LLC – 1” through “Sav.com, LLC – 50” in recent days, each with the same contact information.

They’re no doubt there to increase Sav’s pool of registry EPP connections, increasing the company’s chance of successfully securing dropping domains.

The company has proven popular among domainers recently due to its no-win-no-fee back-ordering service and its habit of passing on registry wholesale discounts to its customers, resulting in very low first-year pricing.

Since its launch in late 2019, it’s been using its original accreditation, purchased from NameKing.com that year, to catch names. It’s grown from around 4,000 names under management to over 400,000 in that time.

Fifty new registrars means at least an extra $200,000 a year going into ICANN’s pocket for accreditation fees. ICANN’s budget for its current fiscal year predicted its registrar base decreasing by 380 accreditations.

The emergence of this new dropnet comes just days after ICANN canned former dropcatcher Pheenix, which used to have over 500 registrars in its network.

“Origami pinwheel” wins logo contest as Newfold comes out

Newfold Digital, by my reckoning the second-largest registrar group, has officially announced itself with a new logo and branding.

Newfold logoThe company was formed in February when Clearlake Capital merged Endurance International with Web.com, bringing dozens of domain and hosting brands under one roof.

The company now acts as an umbrella for Web.com, Register.com, Network Solutions, Domain.com, CrazyDomains, ResellerClub, BigRock, BuyDomains, SnapNames and Namejet, among others.

It’s run by former Web.com CEO Sharon Rowlands.

The new logo was the result of a contest among over 100 Newfold employees that was won by system administrator Vishnu Pradeepan.

In a press release, he said:

The abstract shape of the ‘N’ in an origami-style pinwheel symbolizes good luck and represents an endless cycle of energy. That endless cycle of energy represents not just our team, who work tenaciously to ensure our customers are successful, but also the endless possibilities available in our connected world.

It seems you don’t need to pay an expensive ad agency for a decent-looking logo with a free side order of marketing waffle.

Pheenix goes AWOL, gets canned

Drop-catch registrar Pheenix has had its registrar contract terminated by ICANN after apparently going AWOL.

ICANN has been chasing the company for breaches related to Whois and access to registrant data since October 2019, but hasn’t heard a peep out of the outfit for a year.

As I noted when ICANN published its first breach notice last month, ICANN hasn’t been able to connect with Pheenix via email or phone or fax since May 2020.

Since then, it’s also discovered that the company is no longer at the mailing address it has on record.

The registrar has not added any domain names since April 2020. It seems clear it no longer has any interest in doing, or perhaps ability to do, business.

The de-accredited registrar bulk transfer process will now kick in. ICANN will select a registrar to move Pheenix’s 6,000-odd domains to.

Pheenix once specialized in drop-catching, and had over 500 ICANN-accredited registrars to its name. Almost all of those were ditched in November 2017.