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.uk suspension problems worse than I thought

Kevin Murphy, December 31, 2014, Domain Registrars

Problems validating the addresses of .uk domain registrants, which caused one registrar to dump the TLD entirely, are broader than I reported yesterday.

Cronon, which does business as Strato, announced last week that it has stopped selling .uk domain names because in more than a third of cases Nominet, the registry, is unable to validate the Whois data.

In many cases the domain is subsequently suspended, causing customer support headaches.

It now transpires that the problems are not limited to .uk second-level names, are not limited to UK registrants, and are not caused primarily by mailing address validation failures.

Michael Shohat, head of registrar services at Cronon, got in touch last night to clarify that most of its affected customers are in fact from its native Germany or from the Netherlands.

All of the affected names are .co.uk names, not .uk SLDs, he added.

And the validation is failing in the large majority of cases not due to Nominet’s inability to validate a mailing address, but rather its inability to validate the identity of the registrant.

“This is where the verification is failing. The database they are using can’t find many of our registrants’ company names,” Shohat said.

“So 30% of our registrations were being put on hold, almost all of them from [Germany] and [the Netherlands], and 90% of them because of the company name. We checked lots of them and in every single case the name of the company was correct, and the address as well,” he said.

Michele Neylon of the ICANN Registrar Stakeholders Group said that Cronon is not the only registrar to have been affected by these issues. Blacknight Solutions, the registrar Neylon runs, has been complaining about the problem since May.

According to Neylon, the Nominet policy causing the issue is its data quality policy, which covers all .uk and .co.uk (etc) names.

The policy itself is pretty vague — Nominet basically says it will work with each individual registrar to determine a baseline of what can be considered a “minimum proportion of valid data”, given the geographic makeup of the registrar’s customer base.

Domains that fail to meet these criteria have a “Data Quality Lock” imposed — essentially a suspension of the domain’s ability to resolve.

Earlier this year, Nominet did backtrack on plans to implement an automatic cancellation of the names after 30 days of non-compliance, following feedback from its registrars.

“It’s disappointing that Cronon have taken this step; we hope they will consider working with us to find a way to move forward,” a Nominet spokesperson added.

She said that the registry has over recent years moved to “more proactive enforcement” of Whois accuracy. She pointed out that Nominet takes on the “lion’s share of the work”, reducing the burden on registrars.

“However, our solution does not include non-UK data sets to cross-reference with, so it is possible that some false positives occur,” she said. “Registrars with a large non-UK registrant bases, who are not accredited channel partners, would be affected more than others.”

An Accredited Channel Partner is the top tier of the three Nominet offers to registrars. It has additional data validation requirements but additional benefits.

While .co.uk domains are not limited to UK-based registrants, all .uk SLD registrants do need to have a UK mailing address in their Whois for legal service.

The company’s inability to validate many non-UK business identities seems to mean .co.uk could also slowly become a UK-only space by the back door.

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Big registrar dumps .uk — a glimpse of Christmas future?

Kevin Murphy, December 30, 2014, Domain Registrars

German registrar Cronon, which retails domains under the Strato brand, has stopped carrying .uk domains due to what it says are onerous Whois validation rules.

In a blog post, company spokesperson Christina Witt said that over one third of all .uk sales the registrar has been making are failing Nominet’s registry-end validation checks, which she said are “buggy”.

With the introduction of direct second-level registration under .uk, Nominet introduced a new requirement that all new domains must have a UK address in the Whois for legal service, even if the registrant is based overseas.

According to its web site, Nominet checks registrant addresses against the Royal Mail Postcode Address file, which contains over 29 million UK addresses, and does a confidence-based match.

If attempts to match the supplied address with a UK address in this file prove fruitless, and after outreach to the registrant, Nominet suspends the domain 30 days after registration and eventually deletes it.

It’s this policy of terminating domains that has caused Strato to despair and stop accepting new .uk registrations.

“Databases of street directories or company registers are often inaccurate and out of date,” Witt wrote (translated from the original German). “The result: addresses that are not wrong, in fact, are be found to be invalid.”

Nominet is throwing back over a third of all .uk names registered via Strato, according to the blog post, creating a customer support nightmare.

Its affected registrants are also confused about the verification emails they receive from Nominet, a foreign company of which they have often never heard, Witt wrote.

I don’t know how many .uk names the registrar has under management, but it’s reasonably large in the gTLD space, with roughly 650,000 domains under management at the last count.

If Strato’s claim that Nominet is rejecting a third of valid addresses (and how Strato could know they’re valid is open to question), that’s quite a scary statistic.

Nominet seems to be using an address database, from the Royal Mail, which is about as close to definitive as it gets. And it’s only verifying addresses from a single country.

I shudder to imagine what the false negative rate would be like for a gTLD registrar compelled to validate addresses across 200-odd countries and territories.

The latest version of the ICANN Registrar Accreditation Agreement requires registrars to partially validate addresses, such as checking whether the street and postal code exist in the given city, but there’s no requirement for domains to be suspended if these checks fail.

[UPDATE: Thanks to Michele Neylon of the Registrars Stakeholder Group for the reminder that this RAA requirement hasn’t actually come into force yet, and won’t until the RrSG and ICANN come to terms on its technical and commercial feasibility.]

Where the 2013 RAA does require suspension is when the registrant fails to verify their email address (or, less commonly, phone number), which as we’ve seen over the last year leads to hundreds of thousands of names being yanked for no good reason.

If Strato’s story about .uk is correct and its experience shared by other registrars, I expect that will become and important data point the next time law enforcement or other interests push for even stricter Whois rules in the ICANN world.

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One company now owns almost a third of all registrars

Kevin Murphy, December 30, 2014, Domain Registrars

TurnCommerce acquired another 299 registrar accreditations from ICANN over Christmas week.

The company, which is behind domain properties including DropCatch.com, now has at least 452 registrars in its stable. That’s over 31% of the 1,456 total currently reported by Internic.

Each of the new accreditations is named “DropCatch”, followed by a number from 446 to 751. Each has a matching .com domain as its nominal base of operations and an associated LLC shell company.

At $4,000 a year for the base accreditation fee, TurnCommerce must be spending close to $2 million a year in ICANN fees alone.

Companies in the drop-catching business acquire large numbers of registrars in order to control more batches of connections with which to spam gTLD registries with “add” requests when potentially valuable domains expire and are deleted.

With almost a third of all accredited registrars now operating under the same control, one imagines TurnCommerce’s chances of securing the names it wants have been significantly improved.

As well as DropCatch, TurnCommerce runs retail registrar NameBright and premium sales site HugeDomains. It has plans to launch additional services at Expire.com and PremiumDomains.com shortly.

Its latest crop of registrars means ICANN has accredited over 2,200 companies since the gTLD registrar market was opened for competition 15 year ago, though many have allowed their contracts to lapse or, less frequently, have been terminated by ICANN compliance efforts.

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.baby and .mls fetch over $3 million each

Kevin Murphy, December 18, 2014, Domain Sales

ICANN and Power Auctions have completed December’s mini-batch of “last resort” new gTLD auctions, adding a total of $6.4 million to its mysterious auction cash pile.

Johnson & Johnson won .baby, fighting off five portfolio applicants and paying a winning bid of $3,088,888.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Real Estate Association beat Afilias to .mls, paying $3,359,000.

I called it for CREA earlier this week, noting that the organization wanted .mls enough that it filed two applications, a failed Community Priority Evaluation, and an unsuccessful Legal Rights Objection against Afilias.

ICANN has now raised over $34 million selling off 10 strings at last resort auctions, with prices ranging from $600,000 (.信息) to $6.7 million (.tech).

The money has been set aside for purposes currently undecided. At least one applicant wants ICANN to redistribute the cash to losing bidders, which I don’t think is particularly likely.

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Most new gTLDs use NameSentry after Famous Four signs with Architelos

Kevin Murphy, December 18, 2014, Domain Services

Architelos yesterday announced that Famous Four Media has signed up to use its NameSentry security service across its portfolio of new gTLDs.

The company said that it now has 60% of launched new gTLDs on the platform, which gives registries a way to view potentially abusive domain names and automate remediation. That’s over 250 TLDs.

Famous Four only has five delegated gTLDs currently, but it has another 30 active applications. The bulk of NameSentry’s TLD base comes from early adopter Donuts, which has 157. Rightside, with its 33 new gTLDs, is also a customer.

Architelos said that .build, .ceo, .lat, .luxury, and .ooo have also recently signed up to the service.

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