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.hotel fight gets nasty with “criminal” hacking claims

Kevin Murphy, April 19, 2016, Domain Registries

A group of would-be .hotel gTLD registries have called on ICANN to reject the winning applicant’s bid or be complicit in “criminal acts”.

The group, which includes Travel Reservations, Famous Four Media, Radix, Minds + Machines, Donuts and Fegistry is threatening to file a second Independent Review Process complaint unless ICANN complies with its demands.

Six applicants, represented by Flip Petillion of Crowell & Moring, claim that Hotel Top Level Domain Sarl should forfeit its application because one of its representatives gained unauthorized access to their trade secrets.

That’s a reference to a story we covered extensively last year, where an ICANN audit found that DotBerlin CEO Dirk Krischenowski, or at least somebody using his credentials, had accessed hundreds of supposedly confidential gTLD application documents on ICANN’s web site.

Krischenowski, who has denied any wrongdoing, is also involved with HTLD, though in what capacity appears to be a matter of dispute between ICANN and the rival .hotel applicants.

In a month-old letter (pdf) to ICANN, only published at the weekend, Petillion doesn’t pull many punches.

The letter alleges:

Allowing HTLD’s application to proceed would go agaist everthing that ICANN stands for. It would amount to an acquiescence in criminal acts that were committed with the obvious intent to obtain an unfair advantage over direct competitors.

ICANN caught a representative of HTLD stealing trade secrets of competing applicants via the use of computers and the internet. The situation is even more critical as the crime was committed with the obvious intent of obtaining sensitive business information concerning a competing applicant.

It points out that ICANN’s Applicant Guidebook disqualifies people from applying for a new gTLD if they’ve been convicted of a computer crime.

To the best of my knowledge Krischenowski has not been convicted of, or even charged with, any computer crime.

What ICANN says he did was use its new gTLD applicants’ customer service portal to search for documents which, due to a dumb misconfiguration by ICANN, were visible to users other than their owners.

Krischenowski told DI in an emailed statement today:

According to ICANN, the failure in ICANN’s CSC and GDD portals was the result of a misconfiguration by ICANN of the software used (as mentioned at https://www.icann.org/news/announcement-2-2015-11-19-en). As a user, I relied on the proper functioning of ICANN’s technical infrastructure while working with ICANN’s CSC portal.

HTLD’s application for .hotel is currently “On Hold”, though it is technically the winner of the seven-application contention set.

It prevailed after winning a controversial Community Priority Evaluation in 2014, which was then challenged in an Independent Review Process case by the applicants Petillion represents.

They lost the IRP, but the IRP panelists said that ICANN’s failure to be transparent about its investigation into Krischenowski could amount to a breach of its bylaws.

In its February ruling, the IRP panel wrote:

It is not clear if ICANN has properly investigated the allegation of association between HTLD and D. Krischenowski and, if it has, what conclusions it has reached. Openness and transparency, in the light of such serious allegations, require that it should, and that it should make public the fact of the investigation and the result thereof.

The ruling seems to envisage the possibility of a follow-up IRP.

ICANN had told the panel that its investigation was not complete, so its failure to act to date could not be considered inaction.

The ICANN board resolved in March, two days after Petillion’s letter was sent, to “complete the investigation” and “provide a report to the Board for consideration”.

While the complaining applicants want information about this investigation, their clear preference appears to be that the HTLD application be thrown out.

.shop gTLD sells for record $41.5 million

Kevin Murphy, January 28, 2016, Domain Registries

The nine-way fight for the .shop gTLD has raised $41.5 million at auction.

It’s the most-expensive reported new gTLD sale to date.

The victor was GMO Registry of Japan, which runs a few Asian geographic gTLDs and acts as service provider for over a dozen dot-brands.

GMO wanted .shop so badly it actually applied twice for the gTLD in the 2012 application round.

Only two bidders, GMO and an unidentified rival, were prepared to pay over $15 million, according to ICANN.

The previous record-holder for an ICANN gTLD auction was .app, which Google bought for a smidgen over $25 million last February.

Dozens of contention sets have “self resolved” via private auction, but the winning bids of those are typically not disclosed.

According to GMO’s .shop application, .shop will be an open, unrestricted namespace. The company seems to be planning to sell value-added e-commerce services in addition to domain names.

But domainers will not be welcome in the gTLD. GMO’s application reads:

Registration of a .SHOP domain name solely for the purpose of selling, exchanging, trading, leasing the domain name shall be deemed as inappropriate use or intent.

The company plans to do random spot checks to make sure no registrants are breaking this rule.

GMO is using CentralNic as its back-end registry services software provider, following a 2013 deal.

Radix, Famous Four, Donuts, Google, Amazon, 2000-round applicant Commercial Connect and a company called Beijing Jingdong 360 had all applied for .shop.

But according to ICANN only seven of the original applicants qualified for the auction.

One of the drop-outs was GMO itself. The company has actually applied for .shop twice — once as a regular applicant and once as a “community”.

The non-community application was the one that participated in the auction.

Unsuccessful community applicant Commercial Connect, which has been fighting for .shop since first applying for it in 2000, also did not participate.

On Tuesday, it filed a futile Request for Reconsideration (pdf) with ICANN, complaining about the fact that it lost its Community Priority Evaluation.

.shop was originally linked to .shopping, due to a badly decided String Similarity Objection, but that contention set was resolved separately by Donuts and Uniregistry last week.

Web.com just gave itself another reason to bid high for .web gTLD

Kevin Murphy, November 9, 2015, Domain Registrars

Registrar group Web.com is changing its stock market ticker symbol to WEB tomorrow, in another sign that it really, really wants to be identified with the string.

The switch from WWWW may indicate that the NASDAQ-listed company’s six rivals for the new gTLD .web have a fight — and a possible big payday — on their hands when .web finally goes to auction.

Web.com is competing with Nu Dot Co, Radix, Google, Donuts, Afilias and Schlund for the gTLD.

The company has already fiercely defended its “right” to .web, filing successful String Confusion Objections against .webs applicant Vistaprint.

Vistaprint subsequently filed an ICANN Independent Review Process complaint to appeal its SCO loss.

Last month, the IRP was won by ICANN, but the panel left the door open for ICANN to reconsider its decision.

The .web auction is not likely to go ahead until the Vistaprint issue is resolved.

If ICANN decides the two strings can be delegated separately, what I think is the last barrier to the .web auction going ahead disappears.

If not, then Vistaprint finds itself as the seventh contender in the auction, which may give it the impetus to carry on challenging the ruling.

ICANN’s board plans to discuss the issue at its next meeting, December 10.

Which way it leans will give an indication of how long it will be before .web goes to auction.

Now Uniregistry shifts to Early Access launch model

Kevin Murphy, October 28, 2015, Domain Registries

Uniregistry has become the latest registry to adopt the Early Access Period model for some new gTLD launches.

.cars, .car and .auto will all use the EAP, in place of the more typical landrush period, when they launch in January.

Technically, while Uniregistry is running the back-end, the three gTLDS are all being offered by Cars Registry, a partnership between Uniregistry and .xyz registry XYZ.com.

Uniregistry CEO Frank Schilling said it was felt that EAP was needed due to the “stupendous cost” of acquiring the strings.

EAP is a period lasting usually about a week in which the price of registering any domain descends daily from a very high fee on day one — usually above $10,000 at the storefront — to maybe a hundred bucks when the period closes.

The model was pioneered by portfolio registries Donuts and Rightside, but has since been adopted by the likes of Minds + Machines, Radix and XYZ.com.

It’s rapidly becoming the de facto industry standard for new gTLD launches, replacing the auction-based approach to landrush most registries have used in the past.

The driving factor for the industry switch is surely revenue.

Donuts told us late last month that it had sold 48,381 EAP domains across all of its launches to date, where registry prices are believed to start at around the $10,000 mark.

M+M said yesterday that it sold $1.18 million after it chose to use EAP with its recently launched .law gTLD, where registration restrictions suggest many of the sales will have been to legit end users.

Registrars also get a bigger slice of the pie. In an auction model they might wind up with just the regular registration fee, but with EAP they can mark up day one domains by thousands of dollars.

Cars Registry says its EAP is targeted at “OEMs, dealerships, vendors”, but it will almost certainly get a healthy chunk of domainer interest too.

Radix targets a million .online names in 2-3 years

Kevin Murphy, August 27, 2015, Domain Registries

Having just finished the most-successful new gTLD launch day to date, Radix Registry reckons it can get .online to seven figures in two to three years.

“We’re at 37,170 names as of an hour ago,” Radix CEO Bhavin Turakhia told DI at about 1000 UTC this morning.

That represents less than a full day of general availability. The company said last night that 28,000 names were registered in the first 30 minutes.

UPDATE: At the 24-hour mark, Radix tweeted this:

That beats .club’s 25,000-ish, which was Radix’s publicly stated goal, but it also tops .berlin’s 31,000 first-day names.

The CEOs of both these rival registries had publicly predicted their positions would be toppled and actively encouraged Radix to claim the crown.

Turakhia said that the majority of names registered came from pre-orders, largely at 1&1.

“Fourteen thousand names came from 1&1, 6,000 from Go Daddy, 2,700 from United Domains, 1,900 from Name.com and 1,400 from Tucows,” he said, partially breaking down the 37,170 figure by registrar.

He said the goal is to have a .online zone measured in the millions of names.

“I estimate that we should be able to get to a million names in a period of two to three years,” he said. “That’s on a conservative basis.”

Depending on how you count domains, .xyz may have already been the first to hit one million. Its zone never got as high as a million names, but it may have briefly crossed a million in terms of domains under management earlier this year.

At auction, .online sold for what is believed to be an eight-figure sum, originally to a joint venture of Radix, Tucows and Namecheap.

Radix bought out its partners earlier this year.

That was an increase in risk exposure Radix business head Sandeep Ramchandani said made him nervous. He said launch day’s numbers show .online’s potential.

Turahkhia said that there are 680,000 names in the .com zone that end in “online” today, and a million that have “online” somewhere in the second level, showing that the string is desirable to registrants.

Radix said last night that its Early Access Period — during which names are sold for a higher price — ended with 1,130 sales.

Turahkhia said that of these, about 1,000 were registered in the last three days, during which time the price was $100. Regular .online pricing is around the same as .com ($14.99 at 1&1 and Go Daddy), but some registrars are selling for as much at $50.