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.gay gets rooted

Kevin Murphy, August 12, 2019, Domain Registries

The new gTLD .gay, which was often used as an example of a controversial TLD that could be blocked from the DNS, has finally made it to the DNS.

While no .gay domains are currently resolving, the TLD itself was added to the root zone over the weekend.

Its registry is Top Level Design, which currently also runs .design, .ink and .wiki.

The company won the string in February, after an auction with three other applicants.

While Top Level Design had planned to launch .gay this October on National Coming Out Day in the US, but had to postpone the release so as not to rush things.

It’s now eyeing a second-quarter 2020 launch, possibly timed to coincide with a major Pride event.

The registry is currently hiring marketing staff to assist in the launch.

It’s the first new TLD to hit the internet since February, when South Sudan acquired .ss.

But it’s been over a year since the last 2012-round new gTLD appeared, when .inc was delegated in July 2018.

There are currently 1,528 TLDs in the root. That’s actually down a bit compared to a year ago, due to the removal of several delegated dot-brands.

.gay was, prior to 2012, often used as an example of a string that could have been blocked by governments or others on “morality and public order” grounds.

But that never transpired. The protracted time it’s taken to get .gay into the root has been more a result of seemingly endless procedural reviews of ICANN decision-making.

Neustar takes control of two new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, August 12, 2019, Domain Registries

Neustar has started taking over former dot-brand new gTLDs belonging to its former clients.

It recently took control of .compare and .select, which previously belonged to Australian insurance company iSelect.

Neustar had been the back-end registry provider for both TLDs.

As previously blogged, iSelect abandoned its primary dot-brand, .iselect, in June.

That was despite that fact that it was actually in use, with domains such as home.iselect, news.iselect and careers.iselect all resolving to web sites.

Now, the generic dot-brands .compare and .select have been assigned to the blandly named Registry Services LLC, a new Neustar subsidiary.

They’re not the first examples of dictionary words functioning as dot-brands being repurposed as generics.

Notably, XYZ.com took over .monster from Monster.com and ShortDot bought .bond from Bond University.

Neustar has not yet announced its plans for its two new acquisitions.

EFF becomes second to appeal new .org contract

Kevin Murphy, August 7, 2019, Domain Registries

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has appealed ICANN’s decision to add stronger trademark protection rules to .org.

The civil liberties organization has filed a Request for Reconsideration with ICANN, saying that the new .org contract should not oblige Public Interest Registry to implement the Uniform Rapid Suspension policy.

URS is a swifter, cheaper version of the anti-cybersquatting UDRP policy. It can lead to clear-cut cases of trademark-infringing domains being relatively quickly suspended, but not transferred.

But the EFF is worried that it could be abused to curtail free speech.

It said URS is “particularly dangerous for the many .org registrants who are engaged in an array of noncommercial work, including criticism of governments and corporations”.

URS was created via ICANN’s bottom-up, community-led policy-making process to apply to new gTLDs applied for in 2012, not legacy gTLDs such as .org, EFF argues,

Adding more rights protection to a legacy gTLD “should be initiated, if at all, through the multistakeholder policy development process, not in bilateral negotiations between a registry operator and ICANN staff”, the RfR states.

The EFF is also concerned that the new contract allows PIR to unilaterally create its own additional rights protection mechanisms.

I don’t think this is a new power, however. Remember when PIR proposed a “Copyright UDRP” a couple of years ago, evidently as a way to turf out The Pirate Bay? That plan was swiftly killed off after protests from, among others, the EFF.

The EFF’s reconsideration request (pdf) does not address the issue of price increase caps, which were removed in the new contract.

That more-controversial provision is already the subject of an RfR, filed by NameCheap last month.

Both RfRs will be dealt with by ICANN’s Board Accountability Mechanisms Committee before being passed to the full board.

Google has big, innovative plans for .new

Kevin Murphy, August 5, 2019, Domain Registries

Google is set to launch .new next year with a innovative value proposition that changes how domain names are used.

The company plans to slowly release .new domains to a carefully controlled customer base, starting in the first quarter 2020.

In a Registry Service Evaluation Process request filed with ICANN last week, the company said:

Google Registry plans to launch the .new TLD with a usage-based restriction in its domain registration policy that requires that all domain names be used for action generation or online content creation

The phrase “action generation or online contention creation” is key here, repeated across multiple Google documents.

What it means is that registrants will have to commit to use their .new domains in much the same way as Google itself is using its own batch of proof-of-concept names.

If you type doc.new into your browser address bar today, you’ll be taken to a fresh word processing document hosted on Google Docs, assuming you’re logged in to Google.

The same goes for domains such as spreadsheet.new, slides.new and a few others.

Looking at the .new zone file, it appears Google has plans to expand the concept beyond Office-style online applications into areas such as email, bug-reporting, support-ticketing, forms, reminders, and web site creation.

These services appear to be live but currently restricted to authorized users.

When Google opens up the .new space to third-party registrants, it’s easy to imagine domains such as tweet.new taking users directly to a Twitter composition page or blog.new immediately opening up a new post on something like WordPress or Medium.

Right now, Google is declining to comment on the specifics of its launch plan, but we can infer some details from its activity in the ICANN world.

I get the impression that the company does not want to be overly prescriptive in how .new domains are used, as long as they adhere to the “action generation or online contention creation” mantra.

Stephanie Duchesneau, Google program manager, told attendees at an ICANN summit this May that .new will be a space “where anyone is able to register, but the domain name has to be used in a certain way”.

While that may eventually be the case, at first Google plans to operated a Limited Registration Period under ICANN rules, during which only hand-vetted registrants will be able to grab domains.

Its recent RSEP request (pdf) asks ICANN permission to deploy an authentication system based on RFC 8495 to handle the LRP roll-out.

To the best of my understanding, RFC 8495 is a newish extension to EPP designed to deal with domain allocation, rather than usage, so it does not appear to be the means by which Google will enforce its policies.

The RSEP says it is Google’s plan to “seed” the gTLD with a bunch of third-party .new domains that adhere to the usage concept it has laid out.

This is due to happen some time in Q1 next year, but Google has not yet filed its TLD startup information with ICANN, so the exact dates are not known.

Under ICANN rules, as far as I can tell an LRP can run more or less indefinitely, so it’s not entirely clear when .new will become available to the general registrant.

Amazon and Google have been BEATEN by a non-profit in the fight for .kids

Kevin Murphy, August 5, 2019, Domain Registries

One of the longest-fought new gTLD contests has finally been resolved, with a not-for-profit bid beating out Google and Amazon.

Amazon last week withdrew its application for .kids, leaving Hong Kong-based DotKids Foundation the only remaining applicant.

DotKids now has a clear run at the gTLD, with only ICANN contracting and technical testing before .kids goes live in the DNS root. We could be looking at a commercial launch within a year.

It’s a surprising outcome, not only because Amazon has all the money in the world, but also because it actually has a product called the Echo Dot Kids Edition, a candy-striped, parentally-controlled version of its creepy corporate surveillance device.

The fight between the two applicants was settled privately.

While ICANN has scheduled them in for a “last resort” auction more than once, the contention set was “On Hold” due to DotKids’ repeated use of ICANN appeals processes to delay.

My understanding is that it was not an auction. I don’t know whether any money changed hands to settle the dispute. It may just be a case of DotKids beating Amazon in a war of attrition.

DotKids, much like ultimately successful .music applicant DotMusic, pulled every trick in the book to delay .kids going to auction.

It’s filed no fewer than four Requests for Reconsideration with ICANN over the last five years, challenging almost every decision the organization made about the contention set.

Last year, DotKids (which had a reduced application fee under ICANN’s applicant support program) even asked ICANN for money to help it fight Amazon and Google at auction, then filed an RfR when ICANN refused.

The company has been in a Cooperative Engagement Process — a precursor to more formal appeals — with ICANN since February.

DotKids until recently also faced competition from Google, which had applied for the singular .kid but withdrew its application last October.

DotKids Foundation is run by Edmon Chung, perhaps best-known as the founder and CEO of 2003-round gTLD .asia.

I can’t help but feel that he has grasped a poison chalice.

The two examples we have of child-friendly domains to date are .kids.us, which was introduced by point-scoring US politicians under the Bush administration and promptly discarded when (almost literally) nobody used it, and .дети, the Russian equivalent, which usually has fewer than a thousand names in its zone file.

I believe that would-be registrants are broadly wary of signing up to vague content restrictions that could prove PR disasters if inadvertently violated.

In its 2012 application, DotKids said that .kids “will have a core mandate to advocate the production and publishing of more kids friendly content online”.

But what is a “kid”? DotKids said it would adopt the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child definition as “every human under 18 years old”.

Because the parents of every five-year-old would be happy for their kid to view sites designed for 17-year-olds, right?

It’s going to be challenging to get this one right, I think.

Radix releases huge amount of premium domain data

Radix made $1,360,865 from premium domain names in its portfolio of new gTLDs in the first half of the year, according to the company’s latest report.

The company said that $522,365 of that came from new registrations — there were 619 in total — with the balance of $838,500 coming from renewals.

Radix is one of the registries that charges a premium fee every year over the life of the registration.

Because of this, its first-year renewal rates for premiums are not fantastic — just 54% of names registered in the first half of 2018 were renewed a year later.

But older premiums renewed at a more-than-respectable 78%, comparable to peak-.com, according to the Radix report.

.store and .online accounted for about half of renewal revenue.

.online and .tech accounted for more than half of new registration revenue.

GoDaddy sold 41.6% of all the names moved in the half.

For Radix, a premium domain is anything priced at $100 or above. That’s lower than some gTLDs’ base non-premium fee.

It sold three names at $10,000 during the period.

Now auDA loses its CEO too

The CEO of Australian ccTLD registry auDA has quit, just weeks after the organization’s chair resigned.

Cameron Boardman submitted his resignation yesterday, according to a statement.

Former chair Chris Leptos also quit last month, reportedly after a disagreement with Boardman.

Boardman said he wants “to seek new challenges”.

His functions will be carried out by other members of the executive team while a replacement is sought by the board.

Boardman joined as CEO in March 2016, after 16-year veteran Chris Disspain was fired.

For much his tenure, auDA has been beset by controversy, with fights between the board and members leading to government review, several board resignations, police investigation, and a seemingly endless series of tit-for-tat allegations.

Boardman was among four auDA directors who survived a no-confidence vote brought by domain investors last year.

Porn blocks could be worth millions to MMX

Minds + Machines could find itself making millions of dollars a year out of non-resolving defensive registrations in its recently acquired portfolio of porn-themed gTLDs.

The company recently announced the launch of AdultBlock and AdultBlock Plus, which will enable trademark owners to prevent anyone else registering their marks, and variants thereof, for up to 10 years.

Running the numbers, and taking into account MMX’s already substantial established client base for such services, AdultBlock could bring in as much as $11 million a year. But it’s almost certainly going to be much less than that.

The company won’t disclose it’s exact pricing for AdultBlock, or its revenue estimates, but it’s possible to do some back-of-the-envelope calculations and come to some ball-park guesses.

MMX has said that it’s pricing the service such that customers should be able to see a 35% saving compared to the cost of registering a single string across all four of its porn TLDs

The company acquired .xxx, .porn, .adult and .sex when it bought ICM Registry last year.

The wholesale fee for each of the four is believed to be about $68 a year. From this, we can calculate that the wholesale price of AdultBlock may well be around the $175-a-year mark.

There’s some room for error here, as MMX hasn’t revealed precisely how it came to its 35% number, but I think we can safely say we’re looking at $150 to $200 a year. For the purposes of this envelope, let’s split the difference and assume it’s $175.

It’s quite a high number, a bit like a recurring sunrise fee for a domain that you don’t even get to use.

But how many domains can MMX expect to be blocked?

A low-ball estimate could be modeled on the .porn/.adult/.sex sunrise periods.

.porn launched in 2015 and gathered 2,091 sunrise registrations, according to ICANN records, making it one of the largest new gTLD sunrise periods. The other two TLDs weren’t far behind.

If that’s a good guide for AdultBlock uptake, we’re talking about a piddling $360,000-a-year business.

But MMX has a secret weapon that it inherited from .xxx.

When .xxx launched back in 2011, it kicked off with two sunrise periods. Sunrise A was for trademark owners in the porn business who wanted to use their .xxx names. Sunrise B was for everyone else, who didn’t.

In Sunrise B, brand owners paid $162 (plus their registrar’s markup) to block their domains for a flat period of 10 years.

Customers couldn’t use their domains. They were registered to ICM and used specially designated ICM name servers to resolve to a standard, non-monetized placeholder page stating “This domain has been reserved from registration.”

There are over 80,000 domains using these name servers, but about 15,000 of those represent names of celebrities, cities, and religiously and culturally sensitive terms that ICM culled from Wikipedia and unilaterally reserved to help avoid a tabloid crucifixion if mileycyrus.xxx ever started bouncing children to something pornographic, such as one of her music videos.

(As an aside, I think it’s worth mentioning that the .xxx zone file only has 93,000 names in it. These means about nine out of 10 live .xxx domains are reserved by the registry.)

So we’ve got 65,000 trademarks that are currently blocked in .xxx, and they’re all going to expire in 2021 because ICM only sold blocks for the duration of its original 10-year ICANN contract.

If all 65,000 domains are upgraded to AdultBlock, the service would be worth over $11 million a year, to a company currently reporting annual revenue around $15 million.

But they won’t.

You don’t have to scroll too far down the .xxx zone file (and I didn’t) to discover some absolute garbage, no doubt the result of scaremongering around the 2011 .xxx launch.

I mean, seriously, look at some of this Sunrise B guff:

100percentwholewheatthatkidslovetoeat.xxx, 101waystoleaveagameshow.xxx, 1firstnationalmergersandacquisitions.xxx, 1stchoiceliquorsuperstore.xxx, 2bupushingalltherightbuttons.xxx, 247claimsservicethesupportyouneed30minutesguaranteed.xxx, 3pathpowerdeliverysystembypioneermagneticsinc.xxx

I think we’re going to be looking at a significant junk drop of blocked domains come 2021.

That said, I think MMX may have a psychological advantage here, when it comes to persuading Sunrise B users to “renew”.

Who hasn’t renewed a domain name they strongly suspect they will never use or sell, simply because they couldn’t bear the thought of somebody else owning “their” domain?

An additional consideration for brand owners is that these Sunrise B names are going to show up on drop-lists when they are eventually deleted from the .xxx zone file, perhaps giving inspiration to cybersquatters.

This is a fantastic opportunity for MMX and brand protection registrars to put the hard sell on its Sunrise B customers to “renew” their blocks by upgrading to the new and improved AdultBlock service, which could cost literally 10 times more than what they originally signed up for.

AdultBlock is of course more comprehensive than Sunrise B. It covers three additional TLDs, for starters, and customers can pay a little more for potentially thousands of potential homographs (non-Latin-script domains that look almost identical to the original) to also be blocked.

MMX isn’t waiting until 2021, however. It’s currently offering companies that buy a 10-year-block before the end of 2019 the AdultBlock+ service for the price of the vanilla, no-variants offering.

Existing Sunrise B customers have until the same deadline to purchase the new service without having to have their trademarks re-verified, which carries an additional fee.

For those that miss this early-bird offer, come December 2021, the holders of up 65,000 trademarks are going to face a stark choice: sign up to pay a couple hundred bucks a year, or risk their brands being snapped up by pornsquatters.

Cryptocurrency firms to be banned from .bank

The registry for the already heavily restricted .bank and .insurance gTLDs wants to change its policies to make it clear that cryptocurrency firms are not welcome.

fTLD Registry Services has opened up a public comment period on proposed changes to its eligibility policies for the two TLDs which would drop the “service provider” category of registrant.

It would also clarify that eligible entities have to be “retail” banks regulated by a proper government authority.

The elimination of “service providers” is an effort to clarify that .bank is for banks and not peer-to-peer or cryptocurrency payment providers.

Heather Diaz, senior director of compliance and policy at fTLD, told us that the service provider category was created to allow “banking core processors” and the like to register domains. She said in an email:

More recently, as the financial services arena has evolved, particularly as it relates to fintechs offering financial products/services (e.g., P2P payment providers, cryptocurrency companies), we have found that some prospective Registrants were seeking domains to enhance their legitimacy to market to regulated entities and/or consumers.

By eliminating the category, fTLD hopes to clarify that .bank is just for regulated banks.

Registrants that already own service provider domains (it sounds like there are only one or two) would be grandfathered under the proposed policy, so nobody’s going to lose their existing domains.

The proposed changes were boiled up by fTLD’s bank-led Advisory Committee and its board of directors.

Comments are being accepted until August 24, after which the company’s board will decide whether to implement the new policies.

Cybersquatting cases down a bit in the UK

The number of cybersquatting complaints filed with Nominet declined slightly in 2018, according to the registry.

Nominet’s Dispute Resolution Service, which is a bit like the UDRP, handled 671 cases last year, compared to 712 in 2017.

The number of domains at issue was down from 783 to 763.

The slight decline appears to be because fewer complaints were filed against .org.uk, .me.uk and plain .uk domains.

The number of .co.uk registrations challenged was flat between 2017 and 2018 at 617 domains.

Only 49% of cases resulted in the disputed domain being transferred, according to the registry’s annual report (pdf).