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Vaccine agency to get more domain takedown powers next year

Kevin Murphy, November 24, 2020, Domain Registries

The UK’s health regulator is going to be added to a Nominet pilot program enabling the speedy takedown of suspected criminal .uk domains next year, according to the registry.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency will become the second government agency after the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit of the City of London Police to be added to the program.

The program is an expansion of the years-old takedown procedure coordinated between Nominet and law enforcement agencies, under which domains suspected by LEA of being used in criminal activity such as counterfeiting are promptly suspended by the registry.

In the pilot, when a domain is suspended it will bounce users to this informational image, rather than merely not resolving.

Nominet-landing-page-image.jpg

MHRA is the agency responsible for approving vaccines for, among everything else, COVID-19, so it’s bound to see nefarious activity next year as vaccines actually start hitting the market.

The news of its involvement was first announced in March as the pandemic took hold of the country but, like so much else in the UK government’s technology response to coronavirus, it looks like it’s going to be a year late and a quid short.

Domain growth dropped off in Q3, says Verisign

Kevin Murphy, November 24, 2020, Domain Registries

The third quarter saw the worldwide domain industry base of registrations increase by 600,000 names over the second quarter, according to Verisign’s latest Domain Name Industry Brief.

September ended with 370.7 million names registered across all TLDs, up 0.2% sequentially and 3% year over year.

Annual growth of 10.8 million names is a sharp drop off from the 15.3 million growth seen in Q2, during which many nations were under coronavirus lockdown.

Breaking it down by sector, it’s a case of .com growth being offset by shrinkages in new gTLDs and ccTLD, at least on an annual basis.

.com ended the quarter with 150.3 million names, up from 148.7 million three months earlier, which .net was flat at 13.4 million.

ccTLDs as a whole were at 160.6 million, up by 500,000 sequentially but down by 1.2 million compared to Q3 2019.

Unusually, the ccTLD numbers were not affected one way or the other by free extension .tk, where domains are never deleted. Verisign reports the TLD flat in Q3, but I suspect that’s due to a lack of fresh data rather than anything else.

In the top 10 largest ccTLDs, most grew or were flat sequentially. The notable standout was .uk, which lost a full million domains compared to Q2 due to the expiry of a million second-level names in September.

New gTLDs declined by 1.5 million names to settle at 30.2 million at the end of the quarter, according to the DNIB.

The report can by downloaded from this page.

Donuts boss discusses shock Afilias deal

Kevin Murphy, November 20, 2020, Domain Registries

Afilias is to spin off its registrar business and also its contested application for the .web gTLD, following its acquisition by Donuts, according to Donuts CEO Akram Atallah.

Speaking to DI last night, Atallah explained a little about how the deal, which creates a registry with about 450 strings under management, came about.

Rather than a straightforward bilateral negotiation, is seems like Afilias was shopping itself around for a buyer. Several companies were invited to bid, and Donuts won. Atallah said he does not know how many, or which, bidders Donuts was competing against.

Afilias was making over $100 million a year in revenue last time its accounts were published in 2017, but its largest gTLDs are in decline and it took a big hit when Public Interest Registry renegotiated its back-end contract for .org in 2018.

The acquisition, the value of which has not been disclosed, does not include Afilias’ registrar or mobile businesses, which Atallah said will be spun off.

He also revealed that the deal does not include Afilias’ .web gTLD application, which came second in an ICANN auction won by a Verisign-backed bidder a few years back.

Afilias is currently waiting for the results of an Independent Review Process case that seeks to overturn the winning $135 million bid and award the potentially lucrative gTLD to Afilias. The case was heard in August and a decision is surely not many months away.

What the deal does include are all of Afilias’ registry assets, including its owned gTLDs and its back-end service provider contracts.

I asked Atallah what the plans are for migrating or integrating the two registry platforms. While Afilias runs its own data centers, Donuts migrated its registry to Amazon’s AWS cloud service earlier this year.

“We have to make sure whatever we do is as painless as possible to our registrar channel and partners,” he said. “We believe that at least on the new gTLDs that they have it will probably be easier for us to move them to our back-end, which is on the cloud already… We’ll probably do that fairly quickly.”

“But remember they have other registries and ccTLDs that don’t own that they run on their back-end, so there’ll be business issues and negotiations there to see what we can do there,” he added.

While he’s not expecting anyone to notice any big changes immediately, Atallah said that over time features such as the companies’ different EPP commands will be merged, and that valued-added services will start to cross-pollinate.

“All of the features we have on our TLDs will migrate to their TLDs and vice versa,” he said.

That means things like the Domain Protected Marks List, a defensive registration service for trademark owners, will start to show up in Afilias gTLDs before long, he said.

I asked about the possibility of layoffs, something that is no doubt worrying staff at both companies right now and seems quite possible given the move to the cloud, but Atallah said it was too early to say. Nothing will change until the deal closes at the end of the year, he said.

“Once we actually close, we’ll sit down with the management of the Afilias registry team and look at all the different assets that we have and try to pick the best in class in technology and services,” he said.

Having seen some mutterings about competition concerns, I put that question to Atallah. He laughed it away, pointing out that, even combined with Afilias, Donuts will have fewer than 15 million domains under management.

Donuts acquires Afilias to create registry giant

Kevin Murphy, November 19, 2020, Domain Registries

Donuts has agreed to acquire Afilias, the two companies have just announced.

The purchase, for an undisclosed sum, will create a registry giant, responsible in one way or the other for over 450 top-level domains.

The deal will not include Afilias’ registrar or mobile software businesses, the companies said.

The acquisition, between two private companies, is expected to close before the end of the year.

Afilias is probably best known for .info, which it has been running for almost two decades. That gTLD has almost 4.7 million domains under management.

It also runs .mobi, .pro and 21 new gTLDs from the 2012 application round, including .global, .green, .pet, .kim and .lgbt.

It acts as the back-end registry provider for over 200 third-party TLDs, the largest of which is .org, and provides DNS resolution services for other TLDs and enterprises.

Donuts owns the largest portfolio of new gTLDs, with 242 in its stable at the last count.

.spa registry relocates to .xyz

Kevin Murphy, November 16, 2020, Domain Registries

Newly installed .spa registry Asia Spa and Wellness Promotion Council has started using a .xyz domain for its official registry web site.

The organization last week had its IANA records updated to change its “URL for registration services” from aswpc.org to dotspa.xyz.

It currently resolves to a placeholder “Coming Soon” page.

Choosing a TLD other than its own, which entered the DNS root in September, is pretty unusual.

Most new gTLD registries activate nic.example pretty quickly after delegation, even if they ultimately use a domain such as get.example or register.example for their primary marketing sites.

Activating nic.example is actually an obligation under ICANN contracts. ASWPC has registered that domain, but only whois.nic.spa currently resolves.

The dotspa.xyz domain was registered about a year ago, about a month after ASWPC’s former business partner, DotAsia, washed its hands of its stake in the TLD.

Both the .com and .org versions have been registered for well over a decade, so perhaps .xyz was picked as the default third-choice generic.

But that still doesn’t explain why a registry would select a domain outside its own TLD for its primary site.

.forum sunrise period will cost less than half the regular reg fee

Kevin Murphy, November 13, 2020, Domain Registries

Trademark owners rejoice! There’s a new gTLD registry seemingly not bent on ripping you off during its sunrise period.

Those defensively registering their marks in .forum, which begins its sunrise period on Monday, in some cases could find themselves paying less than half the regular registration fee.

French registrar Gandi today said that its sunrise retail price is $452.13, versus a genera availability price of $1,042.08, and prices at other participating registrars appear to be roughly in line.

.forum’s is being managed by MMX, though the ICANN gTLD contract appears to still belong to original applicant Fegistry.

The first-come, first-served sunrise period will run until December 16. General availability is due to begin.March 2 next year.

I have to admit to finding the $1,000 base registry fee something of a head-scratcher.

I can just about see why gTLDs such as .cars, representing big-ticket niches, can command four-figure reg fees but, anecdotally, I’ve often heard that web forums can be quite expensive to run and difficult to monetize. Hardly obvious candidates for premium-tier recurring prices.

.trust finds a new home with UNR

Kevin Murphy, November 12, 2020, Domain Registries

UNR has acquired the contract to run the .trust new gTLD.

According to ICANN records, the registry agreement was transferred to UNR, the registry arm of the former Uniregistry, back in June.

It’s the second time the TLD has changed hands since it was delegated back in 2014.

It was originally awarded by ICANN to Deutsche Post, but was quickly sold to NCC Group, which launched it in early 2015.

While .trust is technically live, it has not actually sold any domain names yet and doesn’t appear to have any registrars. The only domains in use, a mere half-dozen, all appear to belong to NCC.

Expect that to change under its new ownership.

I first speculated that .trust was for sale back in 2016, after the then-CEO of NCC utterly slagged off the new gTLD program.

But when NCC sold off its domain name assets in 2017, .trust remained with the company.

The gTLD seems to be following UNR’s chief legal officer, Jean-Christophe Vignes, who ran it under NCC before joining UNR two years ago.

I believe it’s UNR’s 25th gTLD. The company has not yet announced its plans for .trust.

Verisign increases focus on .com after flogging public DNS to Neustar

Kevin Murphy, November 3, 2020, Domain Registries

Neustar has taken another nibble at former archrival Verisign, buying the company’s public DNS resolution service.

The companies announced yesterday that Neustar has acquired Verisign Public DNS, and will incorporate it into its existing UltraDNS Public service.

The deal means that several IP addresses used to provide the services will transition to Neustar, so end users don’t need to make any changes.

Recursive DNS services are often used by people or organizations that, for whatever reason, don’t trust their ISP to treat their browsing records confidentially.

Big players in the market include Google, Cloudflare, and Cisco’s OpenDNS.

Signing up for such services is usually free — users simply reconfigure their devices to point their DNS resolution to a provider’s IPs.

Providers get greater insight into network activity that they can use to boost their paid-for enterprise security services, and they sometimes monetize NXDOMAIN (non-existing domain) landing pages.

No monetary value was put on the deal.

“Verisign is committed to focusing on its core mission of providing critical internet infrastructure, including Root Zone management, operation of 2 of the 13 global internet root servers, operation of .gov and .edu, and authoritative resolution for the .com and .net top-level domains, which support the majority of global e-commerce,” Verisign senior VP Eb Keshavarz, said in a press release.

That quote buries the lede, of course — operating .com and .net is the only activity listed that makes Verisign any money, and now it’s pretty much the only thing Verisign does.

Neustar acquired Verisign’s security services business, including its fee-paying recursive DNS customers, two years ago.

Neustar is of course no longer competing with Verisign in the registry services market, having sold that business to GoDaddy earlier this year. It’s now GoDaddy Registry.

Blood on the boardroom floor after MMX admits revenue screwup

Kevin Murphy, October 30, 2020, Domain Registries

MMX’s top two execs are out, after the new gTLD registry admitted that the company misstated its revenue in 2019 and the first half of 2020.

CEO Toby Hall and CFO Michael Salazar both quit from the board and their executive roles with immediate effect, after a board probe concluded that its 2019 revenue was overstated to the tune of $1.7 million. Its 2019 net income was also overstated by $1.9 million.

In the first half of 2020, it understated revenue by about $80,000 and net income by about $200,000.

The screwups relate to not only the mystery $1.1 million contract MMX warned about earlier this month, but also two more contracts last year worth a total of $790,000.

The company received the cash from these unnamed partners and reported it as revenue immediately, when it should have recognized it only when the partners made sales to end users, MMX said.

Its revenue for 2019 should have been correctly reported as $17.2 million, and its net income should have been $2.8 million.

For the first half of 2020, revenue should have been $8.4 million and net income should have been $1.4 million.

The company said that Tony Farrow, an ICM Registry import who until recently worked as MMX’s COO, will return to the company as interim CEO.

Bryan Disher, an independent MMX director, will be interim CFO. Guy Elliott, currently non-executive chair, will become executive chair.

Angry investor sues for 30% of new .spa gTLD

Kevin Murphy, October 28, 2020, Domain Registries

Barely had the new gTLD .spa made it into the DNS root than it got sued by a company that claims it was stiffed out of a 30% stake in the domain.

Malaysia-based Asia Spa and Wellness Promotion Council, the newly minted registry, is being sued in Hong Kong by DotPH, the company that runs the Philippines ccTLD, .ph, over an eight-year-old investment deal DotPH says is being ignored.

It’s also named as defendants .asia registry DotAsia, DotAsia subsidiary Namesphere, and several DotAsia directors.

DotPH claims in its lawsuit that its CEO, Joel Disini, got together with DotAsia CEO Edmon Chung in early 2012 to come up with a deal whereby ownership of .spa, should its application be successful, would be split three ways.

ASWPC would hold half the shares, Namesphere 20%, and DotPH the remaining 30%, according to the complaint. DotPH claims it paid $60,000 for its stake in April 2012.

Now it claims that these shares were never formally issued, and it wants the Hong Kong court to force Namesphere to hand them over and force the original three-way ownership structure originally agreed.

But it turns out that DotAsia seems to have abandoned .spa anyway. Its board of directors a year ago voted to give ASWPC “sole rights” to the gTLD, enabling it to concentrate on .asia.

Disini, who was a member of the board at the time, claims he was only emailed about the vote a day before the meeting and did not see the email until it was too late.

He told DI: “the board of dotAsia moved to give away DotPH’s 30% equity in SPA”. He’s not happy about it. He reckons .spa could easily be a $2 million-a-year business.

The suit was filed October 19. You can read it here (pdf).

I’ve yet to receive a response to my request for comment from Chung, and will of course provide an update should he get back to me.