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Irish domain sales closely track pandemic restrictions

Kevin Murphy, August 4, 2021, Domain Registries

Sales of .ie domains saw their best-ever first half this year, with registration growth closely tracking pandemic-related restrictions.

Local registry IEDR reported this week that it added 33,815 new .ie domains in the six months to June 30, up 1.6% on last year. It ended the period with 324,074 .ie domains under management, up 9.6% on last year.

The registry is in no doubt that it benefited from the cross-industry lockdown bump associated with the coronavirus pandemic.

Comparing first quarter numbers show Q1 2021 regs up 34% on Q1 2020.

Ireland was in strict lockdown measures in the first months of this year, but did not enter lockdown until towards the end of the quarter in 2020.

Second quarter number reflected the same pattern in reverse — regs were down 22% this year, when lockdown had been eased, IEDR said.

The lockdown bump is a phenomenon whereby domain name sales spiked as traditional bricks-and-mortar small businesses rushed to establish an online presence in order to carry on business behind closed doors.

Domain keywords directly related to the pandemic were down in H1 compared to last year, while domains related to summertime, pools and barbecues spiked, the registry said.

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MMX drops two registrars

Kevin Murphy, August 4, 2021, Domain Registrars

MMX has dumped two registrar contracts with ICANN, as the company’s asset-sale to GoDaddy nears completion.

ICANN records show that Minds and Machines LLC and Minds and Machines Registrar UK Limited both entered “terminated” status over the last few days, meaning they’re no longer accredited to sell gTLD domains.

But they weren’t doing any selling of domains anyway. The UK company had 108 domains under management and the US on had none at the last count.

The US accreditation was the one used primarily by the company under its original business model of a “triple-play” registry/registrar/back-end, when it was still going by Minds + Machines, which was abandoned five years ago.

The registrar peaked at about 50,000 names, which were then transferred over to Uniregistry. The back-end business was also abandoned, with Nominet taking over technical management of most of its gTLDs.

MMX is currently in the process of getting out of its sole remaining third business, that of gTLD registry.

GoDaddy has already taken over most of its 27 gTLDs under a $120 million deal announced earlier this year. Four TLDs remain, and will be transferred subject to approval from government partners.

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“Crimes against humanity” claims against Afilias

Kevin Murphy, August 4, 2021, Domain Registries

Donuts subsidiary Afilias has been accused of participating in “crimes against humanity” and imperialist “apartheid”, due to its management of the contested .io ccTLD.

A London-based lawyer has filed a complaint with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, seeking either the redelegation of .io or a big chunk of its profits.

The complaint was filed on behalf of Crypto Currency Resolution Trust (CCRT), representing people allegedly ripped off by cryptocurrency scams on .io domains, and the Chagos Refugees Group UK (CRG UK).

The latter group represents some of the people forcibly deported from the Chagos Islands in the 1970s, when the British government evicted the entire native population to make way for a US military base on Diego Garcia, the largest island.

The islands were renamed the British Indian Ocean Territory and, in the early days of the DNS, became eligible for the ccTLD .io

The TLD was delegated by IANA to Paul Kane’s London-based outfit Internet Computer Bureau in 1997, in the pre-ICANN days when such decisions were made without very much oversight.

ICB was quietly bought by Afilias for $70 million in 2017, as I broke the following year.

In 2019, the International Court of Justice ruled that the UK’s continued administration of BIOT is unlawful, and that the territory should be returned to the Chagossians, but the current Conservative UK government has shown no indication that it plans to abide by that ruling.

The lawyer for the Chagossians, Jonathan Levy, now claims in his OECD complaint that for Afilias to continue to run .io — which he reckons brings in over €10 million a year — amounts to a human rights abuse in violation of OECD guidelines.

The complaint states:

The British military occupation of the Chagos Archipelago has been severe and resulted in the Chagossians wandering the globe as a displaced people deported from their homeland in a forcible exile reminiscent of British tactics also used on Irish home rule advocates in the 19th Century. It is just simply an outrage that an Irish multinational company is deliberately complicit in crimes against humanity and apartheid on behalf of one of last vestiges of British imperialism and apartheid.

While Levy recognizes on his blog that Afilias has been acquired by US-based Donuts, only Afilias and its subsidiaries in the UK and Ireland are named as respondents.

In a second prong of the attack, Levy claims that Afilias is somehow complicit in cryptocurrency frauds carried out using .io domains.

Blaming a registry for the actions of its registrants is pretty tenuous. Imagine if Verisign got blamed for every nefarious action carried out with a .com domain — there would not be enough lawyers in the world to handle that workload.

But Levy reckons .io is a special case because BIOT lacks law enforcement and because Afilias promotes .io as the best TLD for tech companies “knowing full well” it is often used for crypto fraud. The complaint reads:

Complaina[n]ts submit that while other general purpose domains like GLTD .com may have as much or even more crypto fraud, ccTLD .io is an exception because it represents a political entity with no permanent population and no companies law and no law enforcement. Consequently, unlike ccTLD .com or .net where US authorities may seize websites; .io criminals have little to fear as BIOT has no civil police force nor financial intelligence unit. ICB has promoted ccTLD .io to the tech community knowing full well it will be misused by a significant criminal element specializing in crypto assets.

This still feels pretty tenuous to me. You cannot evade the long arm of the law simply by registering on offshore domain.

Still, Levy’s asking for restitution in the form of a percentage of the ICB acquisition price, ongoing and backdated royalties from the sale of .io domains and, failing that, redelegation of the ccTLD to the Chagossian people.

While I think the notion of Donuts/Afilias actively abusing human rights is pretty weak, there’s no denying it’s the beneficiary of an historical wrong. Imagine how many credibility points it could earn by voluntarily negotiating a profit-share with the displaced Chagossians.

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Dead dot-brands #92 and #93

Kevin Murphy, August 4, 2021, Domain Registries

Two more companies have withdrawn from the new gTLD space, asking ICANN to rip up their dot-brand contracts.

The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, an Australian university, has terminated its contract for .rmit, and SwiftCover, an American insurance company, has withdrawn .swiftcover.

SwiftCover next used its gTLD, according to zone file records. Not once.

RMIT had registered a small handful of domains under .rmit, and had been using at least one of them — which wasn’t even a redirect to the uni’s main .au site — as recently as February this year.

But by May the experiment was over, with RMIT filing its ICANN papers.

These are the 92nd and 93rd dot-brand termination notices to be published by ICANN.

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GoDaddy and MMX delay closure of $120 million gTLD deal

GoDaddy and MMX have extended the deadline for final closure of their $120 million gTLD acquisition deal by a couple weeks.

MMX said this week the delay is to give them more time to seek approvals from business partners in the four gTLDs that have not already made the move, believed to be .bayern, .boston, .miami and .nrw.

These are all geographic strings that require local government sign-off to complete the transfers.

The deadline had been August 7. It’s now August 23.

GoDaddy Registry has already taken control of 23 of MMX’s gTLDS.

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This company had every reason to want a dot-brand, but just killed it off

The latest dot-brand to terminate its new gTLD registry contract with ICANN could have been a case study in why dot-brands are a good idea.

Dabur India is 137 years old and makes over a billion dollars a year selling consumer goods — mainly cosmetics and personal care products, but also shady-looking Ayurvedic alternative medicines and supplements — in its home country and beyond, and it had experimented with using its .dabur gTLD over the last six years.

But it’s no longer interested, telling ICANN recently that it wants its Registry Agreement torn up, which ICANN has agreed to.

That’s despite the fact that Dabur appears to be suffering from exactly the kind of problem that dot-brands were supposed to help mitigate.

If you visit its web site at dabur.com today, you’ll be immediately presented with a very prominent pop-up warning you about scammers exploiting the Dabur trademark to grift money out of people who think they’re signing up to be official distributors.

The notice is lengthy but in part reads:

DABUR is only dealing with trade through www.dabur.com and any person claiming themselves to be taking order for the supply of DABUR products via phone/online may be cheating with you. DABUR shall not be responsible for any order placed other than on our official website www.dabur.com

One of the biggest selling points for the dot-brand concept is that customers can be taught to distrust any solicitation purporting to be legit if it does not originate from a domain in the relevant dot-brand.

If the notice on dabur.com is any guide, turns out you can do the same thing with a .com domain.

Dabur had briefly experimented with its gTLD not long after it was delegated. Current zone files show half a dozen .dabur names, but only two seem to resolve or show up in search engines. One redirects to the .com site.

Ironically, the other is doctor.dabur, in which Dabur solicits doctors to sign up to push its Ayurvedic products. Ayurveda is a form of medical quackery popular in South Asia.

Added to the recent self-termination of QVC’s .qvc, the total number of dot-brands to lose their registry contracts is now 91.

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Olympics: Australia preemptively blocking Brisbane 2032 regs

With the venue for the 2032 Olympic Games revealed as Brisbane, Australia last week, the .au registry this week asked people to stop trying to register Olympics-related domains, because they won’t work.

Local ccTLD registry overseer auDA said in a blog post that it’s seen a spike in attempts to register domains containing the string “olympics” and variants since the announcement was made a week ago.

But these strings are on auDA’s reserved list, which cannot be registered even as substrings without government permission. Only the Australian Olympic Committee is allowed to register such domains.

According to auDA, the protected strings are: olympic, olympics, olympicgames, olympiad and olympiads.

It’s a more comprehensive approach to protecting Olympic “trademarks” (for want of a better word) than that employed by ICANN in its gTLD registry contracts, where the various Olympic and Red Cross/Crescent organizations are among a privileged few to enjoy unique protections.

ICANN only requires registries to block the exact-match string from registration, while auDA will block substrings also.

auDA says the domain “BrissiOlympics.com.au” would be blocked. It would not in any ICANN gTLD.

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GoDaddy rides another 21 gTLDs into its stable

Kevin Murphy, July 28, 2021, Domain Services

GoDaddy may have disavowed the domain registry business for much of the last decade, but it’s fast becoming one of the largest registry operators out there.

The company’s GoDaddy Registry unit this week took over the ICANN contracts for 21 more gTLDs, bringing the number of TLDs it either contracts for or technically manages close to the 200 milestone.

As well as taking on new gTLD success story .club, it’s also signed the Registry Agreements for 19 more strings formerly belonging to MMX, aka Minds + Machines, which plans to bow out of the industry after 10 years in business.

The MMX TLDs being moved are: .law, .abogado (“lawyer” in Spanish), .beer, .casa (“home” in Spanish), .cooking, .dds (“dentists” in American), .fashion, .fishing, .fit, .garden, .horse, .luxe, .rodeo, .surf, .vip, .vodka, .wedding, .work, and .yoga.

GoDaddy took over the back-end for .xxx, .porn, .adult and .sex, belonging to former MMX subsidiary .ICM Registry, last week.

The remaining string to enter the portfolio is .design, which GoDaddy acquired from Top Level Design, which is still a going concern with its small portfolio of gTLDs.

There are still a few MMX TLDs that have not moved over, all of which appear to be the geographic strings it operates in partnership with local government backers. These will need additional clearances before transfer.

While GoDaddy has taken over the registry contracts for the 19 MMX TLDs listed above, their back-ends are still Nominet, according to IANA records. Clearly, that will change in future.

The MMX deal was worth $120 million. The values of the .design and .club deals were not disclosed.

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CentralNic expects H1 revenue of $174 million

Kevin Murphy, July 28, 2021, Domain Services

A decade ago, CentralNic was scraping by selling domain names at the third level, and now it’s now on track to clear $300 million top line this year.

The domain industry consolidator said yesterday that it expects revenue for the first half of 2021 to be in the region of $174 million, which earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization of $20 million.

Third-quarter revenue is expected to be about $90 million, which works out to 63% growth or roughly 25% organic growth, excluding the impact of recent acquisitions.

Organic growth was 16% for the first quarter 2021 and 9% for the full year 2020.

The company also said cash is up and debt is down.

It’s pretty good going for a company that, when it listed on London’s AIM market in 2013 had H1 revenue of about $2 million, based on not much more than its dubious business of selling 3LDs under the likes of .gb.com and .uk.com and a couple of low-volume ccTLD back-end contracts.

Since then, its acquisition streak has seen it branch out into registrars (where it owns a bunch, wholesale and retail, of various sizes, all over the world) new gTLD back-end services (where it runs at least 90 TLDs) and, more recently, domain monetization.

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Domainers at risk as EnCirca takes over deadbeat registrar’s customer base

Customers of defunct registrar Pheenix risk losing their domains because the company was not properly escrowing its registrant data, according to the registrar taking over their domains.

EnCirca, which is taking over up to 6,000 domains previously registered with Pheenix, says the registrar’s shoddy escrow practices mean some of these domains may not be reunited with their rightful owners.

Pheenix “failed to properly escrow domain ownership information for many of the domains utilizing WHOIS proxy services”, EnCirca recently wrote, adding:

We anticipate that many domains will remain unclaimed due to bounced emails or inoperable proxy services. Locating rightful owners will be problematic since the data escrow is often devoid of any identifying ownership information.

To try to mitigate the problem, EnCirca is offering affected registrants the chance to prove ownership by filling out a form and uploading other evidence, such as Pheenix receipts or bank statements.

EnCirca added that because Pheenix disappeared still owing money to registries, the registries may be forcing renewal or restore fees that will then be passed on registrants.

If your domains were at or near expiration, restoring them could be complex and pricey or impossible.

If you’re affected, you can find information here.

Most or all Pheenix customers are likely to be domain investors. It was a drop-catcher, which once had over 500 dummy registrars in its expansive dropnet, most of which it subsequently de-accredited.

But it went AWOL last May, not responding to ICANN or paying its dues, apparently disappearing from the face of the Earth.

ICANN terminated its accreditation in May this year, and initiated a bulk transfer to EnCirca a couple weeks ago (which it only disclosed this week).

EnCirca has experience handling this kind of problem, which is presumably why ICANN gifted it the bulk transfer. In 2018 it took on the domains 49 of Pheenix’s shell registrars, which it says were suffering from the same escrow problems.

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