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CEO lost millions on Manhattan apartment deal just days before AlpNames went dark

The CEO of AlpNames lost his $2.1 million deposit on a $10.6 million Manhattan apartment just days before his company went belly-up earlier this year, DI can reveal.

ApartmentsA New York District Court judge in February found in favor of property developer Highline Associates, which had sued Iain Roache for his deposit after he failed to pay the balance of the luxury residence’s purchase price in 2017.

The ruling appears to have been published February 25 this year. By March 7, just 10 days later, ICANN had already started compliance proceedings against AlpNames.

The timing could just be a coincidence. Or it might not.

According to Judge Robert Sweet (in what appears to be one of his final decisions before his death at 96 in March this year), Roache agreed in December 2015 to buy a condo, parking space and storage unit at 520 West 28th St, a then under-development luxury apartment complex designed by award-winning architect Zaha Hadid, in Manhattan’s fashionable Chelsea district.

The purchase price of the one-bedroom apartment was an eye-watering $9.8 million. Another $770,000 for the parking space and storage unit brought the total agreed price to $10,565,000. Roache plunked $2,113,000 of that into escrow as a deposit.

At that time, AlpNames, majority-owned by Roache, was quite a young company.

It was on the cusp of selling its millionth domain, and had got to that milestone in just over a year in business. Earlier in 2015, it had been bragging about how it was second only to GoDaddy in terms of new gTLD domains sold.

Famous Four Media, the new gTLD registry that Roache also led (also no longer a going concern), had already launched 10 of its eventual 16 TLDs. In total, the portfolio had roughly 1.5 million domains under management. It was one of the leaders, volume-wise, of the new gTLD industry.

When the apartment was finally ready to move into, in June 2017, Highline approached Roach to close the deal.

According to the court’s findings, Roache declined to immediately pay and seems to have given the developer the runaround for several months, requesting and receiving multiple extensions to the closing date.

It wasn’t until early 2018 that Highline, apparently determining that it was never going to see the money, terminated the contract and attempted to take ownership of the $2.1 million deposit.

But Roache’s lawyers instructed the escrow agent not to release the funds without a court order. Obligingly, Highline sued in February 2018.

During the case, Roache argued among other things that he had been verbally duped into signing the purchase agreement, but the judge wasn’t buying it.

He noted that Roache is a “sophisticated businessman” who had hired an experienced New York real estate lawyer to advise him on the purchase.

He also noted that the contract specifically said that the buyer is buying based on the contents of the agreement and specifically not any prior verbal representations (nice clause for all those bullshit-happy real estate agents out there, I reckon).

The judge finally decided that Highline, and not Roache, was rightfully owed the $2.1 million deposit.

It wasn’t long after the ruling that AlpNames customers started experiencing issues.

I first reported that the web site was offline, and had been offline for at least a few days, on March 12 this year. A NamePros thread first mentioned the downtime March 10.

It later emerged (pdf) that ICANN had already started calling AlpNames on March 7, after receiving complaints from AlpNames’ customers that the site was down.

On March 15, after receiving no response from Roache, ICANN made the decision to immediately terminate its Registrar Accreditation Agreement.

A couple of weeks later, CentralNic took over AlpNames’ customer base and around 600,000 domain names, under ICANN’s De-Accredited Registrar Transition Procedure.

That’s the timeline of events.

Am I saying that there was a causal link between Roache’s real estate deal going south and AlpNames going AWOL within a couple of weeks? Nope. I don’t have any evidence for that.

Am I saying it’s possible? Yup. The timing sure does look fishy, doesn’t it?

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Zimbabwe wants to rebuild its domain market from scratch

Zimbabwe has put out a call for feedback on plans to modernize its almost non-existent domain name industry.

The local ccTLD manager, Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ), has issued a consultation document discussing plans to essentially architect the .zw market from scratch.

.zw currently has no automated registration process, no Whois, no formal registry-registrar framework, no DNSSEC, no IPv6, and no governing policies.

POTRAZ is proposing to adopt “best practices” from fellow ccTLDs in Africa and elsewhere, by appointing a new registry operator that will work with a registrar channel under policies created by POTRAZ, as sponsoring organization, itself.

It looks rather like the contract to run the ccTLD could soon be up for grabs.

But first, POTRAZ wants to know how much involvement the Zimbabwean government should have in the operations of the TLD, presenting four options ranging from full governmental control to industry self-regulation.

Currently, POTRAZ, a government regulator, has handed off registry operations for .zw to state-owned telecoms company TelOne.

It has a three-level structure, with TelOne looking after .org.zw, the Zimbabwe Internet Service Providers Association looking after .co.zw and the University of Harare managing .ac.zw.

Interestingly, POTRAZ has not yet decided whether .zw domains should be free or paid for, and whether annual renewals should be required.

The consultation is open until August 9.

Zimbabwe has a population of about 16 million and, according to Internet World Stats, 6.8 million internet users.

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Net 4 India gets brief reprieve from ICANN suspension

India registrar Net 4 India has been given a bit of breathing space by ICANN, following its suspension last month.

ICANN suspended the registrar’s accreditation a month ago, effective June 21, after discovering the company had been in insolvency proceedings for some time.

But on June 20 ICANN updated its suspension notice to give Net4 more time to comply. It now has until September 4, the same day its insolvency case is expected to end, to provide ICANN with documentation showing it is still a going concern.

The registrar was sued by a debt collector that had acquired some Rs 1.94 billion ($28 million) of unpaid debts from an Indian bank.

ICANN’s updated suspension notice adds that Net4 is to provide monthly status updates, starting July 18, if it wants to keep its accreditation.

The upshot of all this is that the registrar can carry on selling gTLD domains and accepting inbound transfers for at least another couple months.

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Luxembourg tops 100,000 .lu domains

Luxembourgish ccTLD .lu has grown to more than 100,000 domain names for the first time.

ccTLD operator Restena said last week that the domain crossed the threshold June 21. At the end of the month, it had 100,056 domains under management.

While it’s certainly not a lot for a ccTLD, it is when compared to the size of the country it represents.

Luxembourg has a population of under 600,000, so in theory 1 in 6 Luxembourgish people own a .lu domain.

That’s close to the ratio as you’d see in the UK, with its 66 million inhabitants and 12 million .uk domains, though it trails Germany’s 1:5 and the Netherlands’ 1:3.

The per capita numbers are probably not all that useful, however. Restena said that 75% of its domains are in corporate hands.

Many companies are “based” in Luxembourg for tax reasons, which may have some impact on reg numbers.

Restena said that about 3,000 names of the 100,000 are “reserved” and not actively used.

The growth of .lu has not been particularly fast. My records show it has only grown by about 3,000 names over the last year.

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China domain smaller than expected

The Chinese national ccTLD registry has reported 2018 registration figures below what outsiders had estimated.

CNNIC said last week (in Chinese) that it ended last year with 21.24 million .cn domain names under management.

That’s quite a lot below the 22.7 million domains reported by Verisign’s Q4 Domain Name Industry Brief (pdf).

It would also slip .cn into second-place after .tk in the ccTLD rankings, and into third place overall, if the DNIB’s estimate of .tk’s 21.5 million domains is accurate.

Tokelau’s repurposed ccTLD is unusual in that the registry does not delete domains that expire or are suspended for abuse, meaning it’s often excluded from growth comparisons.

China would still be comfortably ahead of Germany’s .de, the next-largest “real” ccTLD, with 16.2 million domains.

CNNIC added that it ended 2018 with 1.72 million registered domains in .中国 (.xn--fiqs8s), which is the Chinese name for China and the country’s internationalized domain name ccTLD.

CNNC has been coy about its reg numbers for the last couple of years.

It stopped publishing monthly totals on its web site in February 2017, when it had 20.8 million .cn domains under management.

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Charities “could move to .ngo” if .org prices rise

File this one under “wrong-headed argument of the day”.

The head of policy at the Charities Aid Foundation reportedly has said that the recent removal of price increase caps at .org could lead to charities moving to other TLDs, “like .ngo”, which would cause confusion among charitable givers.

Rhodri Davies told The Telegraph (registration required) newspaper:

One of the benefits at the moment is you have at least at least one very well known and globally recognised domain name, that indicates to people that what they’re looking at is likely to be a charity or a social purpose organisation. If in the future, the pricing changes, and suddenly organisations have all sorts of different domain names, it’s going to be much harder for the public to know what it is they’re looking at. And that will get confusing and will probably have a negative impact on on people’s trust

The Telegraph gave .ngo (for non-governmental organization) as an example of a TLD they could move to. It’s not clear whether that was the example Davies gave or something the reporter came up with.

While Davies’ argument is of course sound — if charities were forced en masse to leave .org due to oppressive pricing, it would almost certainly lead to new opportunities for fraud — the choice of .ngo as an alternative destination is a weird one.

.ngo, like .org, is run by Public Interest Registry. It also runs .ong, which means the same thing in other languages.

But as 2012-round new gTLDs, neither .ngo or .ong have ever been subject to any pricing controls whatsoever.

At $30 a year, PIR’s wholesale price for .ngo is already a little more than three times higher than what it charges for .org domains. I find it difficult to imagine that .org will be the more expensive option any time soon.

.org domains currently cost $9.93 per year, and PIR has said it has no current plans to increase prices.

PIR does not have a monopoly on charity-related TLDs. Donuts runs .charity itself, which is believed to wholesale for $20 a year. It’s quite a new TLD, on the market for about a year, and has around 1,500 domains under management compared to .org’s 10 million.

Of course, .charity doesn’t have price caps either.

In the gTLD world, the only major TLDs left with ICANN-imposed price restrictions are Verisign’s .com and .net.

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Airline hit with $230 million GDPR fine

Kevin Murphy, July 8, 2019, Domain Policy

British Airways is to be fined £183.39 million ($230 million) over a customer data breach last year, by far the biggest penalty to be handed out under the General Data Protection Regulation to date.

This story is not directly related to the domain name industry, but it does demonstrate that European data protection authorities are not messing about when it comes to GDPR enforcement.

About 500,000 BA customers had their personal data — including full payment card details — stolen by attackers between June and September last year, the UK Information Commissioner’s Office said today..

It is believed that they obtained the data not by hacking BA’s database, but rather by inserting a script hosted by third-party domain that executed whenever a customer transacted with the site, allowing credentials to be captured in real time.

The ICO said its decision to fine $183.39 million — which amounts to more than 1.5% of BA’s annual revenue — is preliminary and can be appealed by BA.

Under GDPR, which came into effect in May 2018, companies can be fined up to 4% of revenue.

The biggest pre-GDPR fine is reportedly the £500,000 penalty that Facebook was given due to the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

GDPR is of course of concern to the domain industry due to the ongoing attempts to make sure Whois databases are compliant with the laws.

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After five-year wait, .madrid domains coming this month

Madrid will become the newest city to get its own gTLD later this month.

The Spanish capital will start accepting sunrise and landrush applications in concurrent priority periods that run from July 16 to October 3.

October 2 marks the five-year anniversary of .madrid being delegated. It’s taken the city a long time to figure out its launch plan.

General availability is due to begin October 10.

The sunrise period includes an option for European trademark owners that are not registered in the Trademark Clearinghouse to obtain names, but with deference to matching TMCH mark holders.

A couple hundred names of local public services have already been tentatively allocated under a pre-sunrise priority period.

.madrid does have local “nexus” eligibility requirements, but it does not appear that you actually need to be located in Madrid, or even in Spain, to obtain a domain.

By my reckoning, the launches of .madrid and .zuerich (which is currently in sunrise and slated to hit GA next April) means MMX’s .budapest is the only 2012-round city-gTLD that has yet to outline its launch plans.

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Foreigners mostly speak foreign, ccTLD study finds

English may be the lingua franca of the internet, but most foreigners still stubbornly stick to their own tongues, a study has found.

The research, carried out by Oxford Information Labs for CENTR, covered 10 ccTLDs and geo-gTLDs and found that “on average, 76% of web content associated with each TLD reflects the languages spoken in the relevant country or territory.”

English was used in 19% of cases, with other languages coming in at 4%.

The Latin-script ccTLDs in question were .ch (Switzerland), .nl (Netherlands), .pt (Portugal), .ru (Russia), .se (Sweden) and .sk (Slovakia).

Also surveyed was the Cyrillic-script Russian ccTLD .рф and .nu, which is designated to English-speaking Niue but marketed primarily in Swedish-speaking Sweden (it also helpfully makes its zone files available for this kind of research).

The research also covered .cat, a gTLD specifically targeted at the Catalonia region of Spain.

In total, 16.4 million domains, culled from zone files, were looked at. The results were supplemented by research carried out in .nl by local registry SIDN.

Oxford Information Labs said that it was hired “to test the hypothesis that ccTLDs support local languages”

In each TLD, the minimum amount of content in the TLD-appropriate language (after parked pages and spam had been weeded out) was 64% of domains. That appears to be the score for .sk, the Slovakian TLD run by a British registry.

The highest concentration of local language occurred, as you might expect, in the IDN .рф.

Surprisingly, .cat, which I believe is the only TLD in the survey to contractually require “substantial” local-language content in its registrants’ web sites, appears to be about 30% non-Catalan.

The average across all the surveyed TLD was 76% local-language content. The researchers concluded:

This study’s findings indicate that country and regional TLDs boost the presence of local languages online and show lower levels of English language than is found in the domain name sector worldwide.

It is estimated that 54% of all web content is in English.

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.icu joins the million-domains club in one year, but spam triples

Another new gTLD has joined the exclusive list of those to enter seven figures in terms of domains under management.

.icu, managed by ShortDot, topped one million names this week, according to COO Kevin Kopas.

It’s taken about a month for DUM to increase from 900,000 names, and if zone files are any guide half of that growth seems to have happened in the last week.

.icu domains currently sell for between $1 and $2 for the first year at the cheap end of the market, where most regs are concentrated, with renewals closer to the $10 mark.

The gTLD joins the likes of .club, .xyz, .site and .online to cross the seven-figure threshold.

When we reported on the 900,000-reg mark at the end of May, we noted that .icu had a SpamHaus “badness” rating of 6.4%, meaning that 6.4% of all the emails coming from .icu addresses that SpamHaus saw were classified as spam.

That score was roughly the same as .com, so therefore pretty respectable.

But in the meantime, .icu’s badness score has almost tripled, to 17.4%, while .com’s has stayed about the same.

Picking through the Google search results and Alexa list for .icu domains, it appears that high-quality legit web sites are few and far between.

Whether that’s a fixable symptom of .icu’s rapid growth — it’s only about 13 months post-launch — or a predictor of poor long-term potential remains to be seen.

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