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.xyz back on sale in China

Kevin Murphy, September 25, 2017, Domain Registries

Chinese registrars have started to carry .xyz domains again, about five months after a Chinese government ban.

West.cn and Net.cn are two of the China-based companies that appear to be selling .xyz names at the yuan equivalent of a US dollar, based on a spot check this morning.

West.cn flagged the “restoration” of service on its blog today, saying it was “overjoyed” to resume sales.

XYZ.com revealed back in May that its new gTLD domains were “temporarily” no longer available via Chinese registrars, after the government there suspended its license.

The reason for the suspension has always been a little vague, but the registry told DNW back in May that it related to Real Names Verification.

RNV is the government-mandated identity check that must take place before anyone in China can register and use a domain name.

XYZ had been outsourcing the function to ZDNS, but that relationship fell apart for some reason (rumor has it there was a money dispute) and XYZ decided to switch to Tele-info.

In the interim, Chinese registrars, apparently under order of their government, dutifully stopped carrying .xyz domains.

XYZ also went through ICANN’s Registry Services Evaluation Process to get its move to Tele-info approved at the Registry Agreement level.

The downtime prevented XYZ from masking the precipitous decline in its number of domains under management, which has fallen by over three million since May.

XYZ and the Chinese government have yet to issue statements about the newly reinstated license.

UPDATE 10/10/2017 — XYZ.com got in touch last week to say that .xyz was never “banned” in China.

A spokesperson said in an email: “We had RNV in place with ZDNS and opted to switch. To be compliant with ICANN, we suspended registrations in China.”

He declined to clarify whether the suspension was voluntary or ICANN-mandated.

He also declined to confirm or deny that Chinese registrars been told to suspend .xyz registrations by the government, as local sources have previously told DI and Domain Name Wire.

Other gTLDs owned by other registries have previously obtained Chinese licenses without ICANN first approving their RNV providers.

puntCAT head of IT charged with “sedition”

Kevin Murphy, September 20, 2017, Domain Registries

Catalan gTLD registry puntCAT has confirmed that its head of IT, Pep Masoliver, has been arrested as part of a Spanish government crackdown on pushes for independence.

He’s been charged with “sedition” and is still in police custody this evening, a company spokesperson told DI.

His arrest coincided with the military police raid of puntCAT’s office in Barcelona that started this morning, related to a forthcoming Catalan independence referendum.

Spanish authorities had called for the registry to delete .cat domain names used to host content related to the referendum, which has been ruled illegal by the Spanish courts.

puntCAT, which had already alerted ICANN to what it characterized as the sweeping “censorship” of .cat, has now started up a social media campaign calling for Masoliver’s release.

The hashtag appears to translate as “All With You, Pep”.

Masoliver was among a dozen people arrested today by Spanish national authorities in a series of raids that have been condemned as anti-democratic.

The Guardian has a good round-up of the day’s events and local reaction.

“Sedition” isn’t a word you hear very often nowadays, particularly in democratic Western Europe, and I’m not going to pretend to have the first idea how it is treated under Spanish law.

UPDATE 1944 UTC: puntCAT issued a statement condemning the events of today in very strong terms. It’s worth quoting in its entirety.

The Fundació puntCAT wants to express its utmost condemnation, indignation and reprobation for the actions that it has been suffering lately with successive judicial mandates, searches and finally the arrest of our Director of Innovation and Information Systems, Pep Masoliver.

We are a private and non for profit foundation devoted to ensuring that Catalan – a persecuted and maltreated language – has its space in the digital world. We assist all our users with the greatest professionalism and we are a reference entity in Catalonia and in the world.

The show that we have experienced in our offices this morning has been shameful and degrading, unworthy of a civilized country. We feel helpless in the face of these immensely disproportionate facts.

We demand the immediate release of our colleague and friend.

We will continue to work for our foundational objectives as well as for the defense of freedom of expression on the Internet.

Spanish cops raid .cat registry offices in referendum censorship row

Kevin Murphy, September 20, 2017, Domain Registries

Spanish police this morning raided the offices of .cat gTLD registry Fundació puntCAT, just days after demanding the company shut down any domains referring to a forthcoming referendum.

There are reports, unconfirmed by puntCAT at this time, that head of IT Pep Masoliver has been arrested in connection with the incident.

On Twitter, puntCAT said shortly after 10am local time (translation by Google Translate): “At this time @guardiacivil is performing an intervention in our offices.”

Guardia Civil is one of Spain’s various police forces.

The raid comes as the national government cracks down on a local referendum on independence for the Catalonia region.

Catalonia was to go to the polls October 1 to decide whether it should split from Spain, but the vote was recently declared illegal by Spain’s highest constitutional court.

Local government officials have reportedly been arrested this morning as part of the crackdown.

It has been reported by Spanish media that puntCAT’s head of IT Pep Masoliver was been arrested at his home.

puntCAT declined to confirm the arrest immediately, telling DI: “Our IT manager has been required for the intervention at our office.”

At the weekend, the registry wrote to ICANN to warn it that Spanish authorities had instructed it on Friday to “block all .cat domains that may contain any kind of information about the forthcoming independence referendum”.

“We are being requested to censor content and suppress freedom of speech,” the letter, which condemned the “unprecedented and absolute scope” of the order, said.

The letter was posted to Twitter in its entirety.

.cat, which is designed for people from the Catalonia region or who speak Catalan, went live in 2006 following ICANN’s 2003 round of “sponsored” gTLD applications.

It had 112,000 domains under management at the last count and a smooth growth curve that would make most new gTLD operators salivate.

As the raid happened just a couple of hours ago and appears to be ongoing, this is breaking news. I’ll provide updates throughout the day as more information emerges.

UPDATE 0950 UTC: The raid appears to have been temporarily frozen while the parties await the arrival of the court order authorizing the raid and the company’s CTO.

UPDATE 1022 UTC: Story updated to reflect reports of a puntCAT employee arrest.

UPDATE 1056 UTC: Updated with statement from puntCAT.

UPDATE 1653 UTC: Masoliver has been charged with “sedition”.

Okay, pedants, only 36% of new gTLDs are shrinking

Kevin Murphy, September 19, 2017, Domain Registries

Thirty-six percent of non-brand new gTLDs are shrinking, DI analysis shows.

According to numbers culled from zone files, 156 of the 435 commercial gTLDs we looked at had fewer domains yesterday than they did a year earlier.

On the bright side, that means the majority of them are still growing, but…

You: Wait, Kev, didn’t you write this exact same story yesterday, but said that 40% of new gTLDs were shrinking? Why are you now saying it’s 36%?

Me: People in the comments and on social media complained that I’d used domains under management (DUM) from May’s registry transaction reports — the most recent available — to collate the data yesterday, rather than more recent but less accurate zone files.

You: Why did they complain?

Me: I think because the May numbers show .xyz gaining on an annual basis, and yet everyone and his grandmother knows that .xyz’s numbers dropped off a cliff in July.

Your Grandmother: It’s true, they did. They lost millions…

You: Shut up, Gran. So, Kev, presumably if you do the same survey again, using the same TLDs, but use zone file data from this week instead, you’ll discover that the number of shrinking TLDs is far greater than 40%?

Me: Why would you presume that?

You: Because I also hate new gTLDs in general, not just .xyz specifically.

Me: Actually, the number of shrinking new gTLDs turns out to be smaller.

You: How come?

Me: Because only 36% of the gTLDs I surveyed had fewer numbers in their September 18, 2017 zone file than they did in their September 18, 2016 zone file.

You: So you actually over-reported the shrinkage in your first post? How come? I thought you were a shameless stooge of the new gTLD industry.

Me: I get that a lot.

You: Is .xyz at least on the list of biggest losers now?

Me: It is. Right at the top.

You: Good. I really fucking hate .xyz. What else changed? Stands to reason that some losers first time around are now gainers.

Me: Correct. Famous Four Media’s .party, for example, was a top 10 loser in the report comparing May 2016 DUM to May 2017 DUM, losing over 100,000 names, but it’s a top 10 gainer in the September-September zone file report, adding 85,000.

You: Explain.

Me: Well, .party’s reg numbers fell off a cliff in July 2016, and were still pretty depressed a year ago, but have since regained ground, presumably due to them costing less than a pack of gum.

You: Got it. Any others?

Me: It’s a similar story for .webcam, .work, .bar, .audio, .rest and a few others. They all shrunk May-May but gained September-September.

You: So, in summary, the new gTLD industry isn’t as unhealthy as you made out on Monday?

Me: Maybe. To be honest I don’t think the disparity between 36% and 40% makes a whole lot of difference. It’s still quite a lot of TLDs growing in the wrong direction. At one time, that kind of thing was virtually unheard of.

You: True dat.

Me: Anyway, can I get back to my blog post now?

You: Sure. Just don’t expect me to read to the end.

L’Oreal is using “closed generic” .makeup in an interesting way

Kevin Murphy, September 18, 2017, Domain Registries

What do you call a registry that defensively registers names on behalf of the very people that would be its most likely customers if the TLD weren’t so hideously overpriced?

L’Oreal, apparently.

About half of its .makeup new gTLD comprises the names or nicknames of social media “influencers” in the make-up scene, and they all seem to belong to the registry.

Ironically, these are precisely the kind of people you’d expect to actually go out and register .makeup domains, if they didn’t cost close to $7,000 a pop.

L’Oreal put a $5,500 wholesale price-tag on .makeup domains, evidently as a Plan B to avoid actually having to sell names to people, after its original plan to keep the string as a “closed generic” failed due to ICANN politicking.

As you might expect, uptake has been minimal. The zone file currently has about 266 domains in it.

Beyond L’Oreal itself, there are defensive registrations by companies not remotely related to the make-up industry, such as BMW and Intuit, and registrations by competing companies in the cosmetics industry, such as Christian Dior and Estee Lauder.

But there are also something like 150 .makeup domains that were all registered at the same time, this April, representing the names and social media handles of young women who post YouTube videos about makeup for their often thousands of subscribers.

It turns out these women are all participants (willing, it seems) in WeLove.Makeup, a web site created by L’Oreal to promote its products.

The site is basically a social media aggregator. Each “influencer” has their own page, populated by their posts from YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and such. It’s maintained by Findie, which specializes in that kind of thing.

The domains matching the participants names do not resolve to the site, however. They’re all registered to L’Oreal’s registry management partner Fairwinds and resolve to ad-free registrar parking pages.

The names were registered via 101Domain, which prices .makeup names at $6,999, but I’ve no idea what payment arrangement Fairwinds/L’Oreal has for this kind of thing.

This is what a wannabe closed generic can look like, it seems — the registry pricing its customers out of the market then registering their names on their behalf anyway.

Is this “innovation”?