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ICANN urged to crack down on new gTLD abuse

Kevin Murphy, November 29, 2017, Domain Registries

Registries selling dirt-cheap new gTLD domains should be rewarded with lower ICANN fees when they get proactive about abuse, while registrars that turn a blind eye to spammers should be suspended, an ICANN working group will recommend.

In its second batch of findings, the Competition, Consumer Trust, and Consumer Choice Review Team (CCT) said that financial incentives and a new complaints procedure should be used to persuade registries and registrars to fight DNS abuse.

The CCT said it “proposes the development of incentives to reward best practices preventing technical DNS abuse and strengthening the consequences for culpable or complacent conduits of technical DNS abuse” in a paper published today.

The review, which drew on multiple sources of market and abuse data, original research, and analysis of third-party research, is probably the most comprehensive study into the impact of the new gTLD program to date.

It concluded that overall rates of DNS abuse did not increase as a result of the program, but that bad actors are increasingly migrating away from legacy gTLDs such as .com to 2012-round TLDs such as .top, .gdn and Famous Four Media’s stable.

Indeed, much of the paper appears to be a veiled critique of FFM’s practices.

The registrar AlpNames, known to be affiliated with FFM and responsible for most of its retail sales, is singled out as the currently accredited registrar particularly favored by abusers.

The CCT report notes that AlpNames regularly sells domains for under $1, or gives them away for free, and offered a tool allowing registrants to randomly generate up to 2,000 available domains in 27 different gTLDs, pretty much inviting abuse.

“Certain registries and registrars appear to either positively encourage or at the very least willfully ignore DNS abuse. Such behavior needs to be identified rapidly and action
must be taken by ICANN compliance as deemed necessary,” the paper says.

The review found that gTLDs with no registration restrictions and the lowest prices had the most abuse. Duh.

“Generally, the DNS Abuse Study indicates that the introduction of new gTLDs did not increase the total amount of abuse for all gTLDs,” its report says. “[F]actors such as registration restrictions, price, and registrar-specific practices seem more likely to affect abuse rates.”

Drawing on data provided by 11 domain block-lists (SURBL, SpamHaus, etc), the paper states that at least one TLD (FFM’s .science) had an abuse rate excess of 50%.

Using SpamHaus data, the paper identities FFM’s .science, .stream, .trade, .review, .download and .accountant as having over 10% abuse during the period of its study. Also on that list: Uniregistry’s low-price .click and the China-based .top and .gdn.

One thing they all have in common is that AlpNames is a leading registrar, usually accounting for at least a quarter of domains under management.

There’s no way AlpNames/FFM is not aware of the amount of bad actors in its customer base, the question is what can ICANN do about it?

The CCT team recommends that registries and registrars with over 10% of their names used for abusive purposes should be tasked by ICANN with proactively cleaning up their zones. Those that fail to do so should be subject to a new Domain Abuse Dispute Resolution Process, it said.

These companies should have their contracts suspended when they’re “associated with unabated, abnormal and extremely high rates of technical abuse”, the report recommends.

There’s a big boilerplate specifying, tellingly, that registry operators that control registrars are affected by this recommendation too.

It should be noted that there was not a full consensus of support for the idea of a DADRP. Half a dozen working group members filed minority statements opposing it.

It’s not all stick in the report, however. There’s some carrot, too.

The CCT report recommends financial incentives such as fee reductions for registries that have “proactive anti-abuse measures” in place.

It noted that there is precedent for ICANN doing this kind of thing when it implemented an anti-tasting policy that seriously restricted registrars’ ability to get registry refunds.

The CCT Review Team was formed to figure out what impacts the 2012 new gTLD round had on the domain name market.

The completion of its work is one of several gating factors to the next new gTLD application round under ICANN’s new bylaws and the old Affirmation of Commitments with the US government.

It published initial recommendations earlier this year. This new set of recommendations is now open for public comment until January 8.

China and cheapo TLDs drag down industry growth — CENTR

Kevin Murphy, November 27, 2017, Domain Registries

The growth of the worldwide domain industry continued to slow in the third quarter, according to data out today from CENTR.

There were 311.1 million registered domains across over 1,500 TLDs at the end of September, according to the report, 0.7% year-over-year growth.

CENTRThe new gTLD segment, which experienced a 7.2% decline to 20.6 million names, was the biggest drag.

But that decline is largely due to just two high-volume, low-price gTLDs — .xyz and .top — which lost millions of names that had been registered for pennies apiece.

Excluding these TLDs, year-over-year growth for the whole industry would have been 2.5%, CENTR said. The report states:

Over the past 2 years, quarterly growth rates have been decreasing since peaks in early 2016. The slowdown is the result of deletes after a period of increased investment from Chinese registrants. Other explanations to the slowdown are specific TLDs, such as .xyz and .top, which have contracted significantly.

The legacy gTLDs inched up by 0.2%, largely driven by almost two million net new names in .com. In fact, only five of the 17 legacy gTLDs experienced any growth at all, CENTR said.

In the world of European ccTLDs, the average (median) growth rate has been flat, but CENTR says it sees signs of a turnaround.

CENTR is the Council of European National Top-Level Domain Registries. Its Q3 report can be downloaded here (pdf).

CentralNic and .CLUB reveal premium sales

Kevin Murphy, November 8, 2017, Domain Services

CentralNic and .CLUB Domains have both revealed sales of premium domain names over the last several days.

CentralNic said yesterday that it has sold “a number” of premiums for $3.4 million.

The names are believed to be from its own portfolio, rather than registry-reserved names in any of the TLDs it manages. The company did not disclose which names, in which TLDs, it had sold.

The sale smooths out potential lumpiness in CentralNic’s revenue, and the company noted that the sales means that recurring revenue from its registrar and registry business will become an increasing proportion of its revenue as its premium portfolio diminishes.

Last week, .CLUB announced that it sold $380,793 of premium .club domains in the third quarter. That was spread over 452 domains.

The big-ticket domains were porn.club and basketball.club, sold by the registry for $85,000 together.

The Q3 headline number was a sharp decline from the Q2 spike of $2.7 million, which was boosted by auctions in China.

The company published a lot more data on its sales on its blog, here.

Eight more gTLDs get Chinese licenses

Kevin Murphy, October 12, 2017, Domain Registries

Radix and MMX have had four new gTLDs each approved for use in China.

MMX has had .work, .law, .beer and .购物 (Chinese for “shopping”) approved by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

Radix gained approval for .fun, .online, .store and .tech.

The approvals mean that Chinese customers of Chinese registrars will be able to actually use domains in these TLDs rather than just registering them and leaving them barren.

It also means the respective registries have to apply more stringent controls on Chinese registrants.

They’re the first new gTLDs to get the nod from MIIT since April.

Only a couple dozen Latin-script new gTLDs have been given regulatory approval to operate fully in China.

MMX’s biggest success story to date, .vip, is almost entirely beholden to the Chinese market. Before today, it was also the only gTLD in its portfolio to pass the MIIT test.

The company said in a statement it has another four strings going through the approval process.

Radix already had .site on sale in China with government approval.

MMX revenue slips despite domain growth

Kevin Murphy, September 26, 2017, Domain Registries

MMX today posted a smaller loss for the first half of the year, despite managing to grow domains under management and hit some important financial milestones.

The new gTLD registry formerly known as Mind + Machines, which announced a few months ago that it’s looking to be acquired, reported an H1 loss of $526,000 compared to a loss of $1.9 million a year earlier.

Revenue and billings were both down due to the lack of any big launches in the period; H1 2016 had benefited from the strong launch of .vip in China.

Revenue, which is recognized over the duration of the domain registrations, was $5.3 million compared to $7.4 million in 2016. Billings, a measure of cash sales, were $5.6 million compared to $8.1 million.

Despite these dips, MMX is happy enough that the “quality” of its revenue is getting better.

The company said that revenue from domain renewals more than doubled to $2.4 million and represented 45% of revenue. A year ago, it was 15%.

As another measure of the health of its business, it also said that its renewal billings was greater than its operating expenditure for the first time, after cost-cutting.

Domains under management went into seven figures for the first time, to 1.1 million. That was up from 821,000 at the start of the year.

It processed 318,000 new registrations in the six months, compared to 452,000 a year earlier (when .vip’s launch provided a boost).

.xyz back on sale in China

Kevin Murphy, September 25, 2017, Domain Registries

Chinese registrars have started to carry .xyz domains again, about five months after a Chinese government ban.

West.cn and Net.cn are two of the China-based companies that appear to be selling .xyz names at the yuan equivalent of a US dollar, based on a spot check this morning.

West.cn flagged the “restoration” of service on its blog today, saying it was “overjoyed” to resume sales.

XYZ.com revealed back in May that its new gTLD domains were “temporarily” no longer available via Chinese registrars, after the government there suspended its license.

The reason for the suspension has always been a little vague, but the registry told DNW back in May that it related to Real Names Verification.

RNV is the government-mandated identity check that must take place before anyone in China can register and use a domain name.

XYZ had been outsourcing the function to ZDNS, but that relationship fell apart for some reason (rumor has it there was a money dispute) and XYZ decided to switch to Tele-info.

In the interim, Chinese registrars, apparently under order of their government, dutifully stopped carrying .xyz domains.

XYZ also went through ICANN’s Registry Services Evaluation Process to get its move to Tele-info approved at the Registry Agreement level.

The downtime prevented XYZ from masking the precipitous decline in its number of domains under management, which has fallen by over three million since May.

XYZ and the Chinese government have yet to issue statements about the newly reinstated license.

UPDATE 10/10/2017 — XYZ.com got in touch last week to say that .xyz was never “banned” in China.

A spokesperson said in an email: “We had RNV in place with ZDNS and opted to switch. To be compliant with ICANN, we suspended registrations in China.”

He declined to clarify whether the suspension was voluntary or ICANN-mandated.

He also declined to confirm or deny that Chinese registrars been told to suspend .xyz registrations by the government, as local sources have previously told DI and Domain Name Wire.

Other gTLDs owned by other registries have previously obtained Chinese licenses without ICANN first approving their RNV providers.

MMX sells 7,000 domains for $3.4 million

Kevin Murphy, September 12, 2017, Domain Registries

New gTLD registry MMX said it has sold $3.4 million in “premium” .vip domains names to Chinese domainers in the last few months.

In what is believed to be a small number of deals to a limited number of investors, “over 7,000” domains changed hands since they became available in late June.

MMX said that $2.8 million of the deals closed in the last 10 days.

While we don’t have the exact number of domains, it looks to work out in the ball-park of $485 per domain.

As $3.4 million is a materially significant number — the company’s entire revenue for 2016 was $15.6 million — it was disclosed to the financial markets this morning.

.vip has been MMX’s cash cow, so far amassing a zone file with more than 600,000 domains names in it.

For some reason it has been hugely popular in China — the vast majority of its registrations have been through Chinese registrars and 59% of its overall revenue was from China in 2016.

In April, the company sold 200,000 .vip names to a single Chinese investor for $1.3 million.

MMX has also said that renewal rates for .vip, which only launched last year, have been over 75%.

After slow launch, .africa looks to add hundreds of resellers

Kevin Murphy, September 1, 2017, Domain Registrars

ZA Central Registry is opening up .africa and its South African city gTLDs to potentially hundreds of new registrars via a new proxy program.

The company today announced that its new registrar AF Proxy Services has received ICANN accreditation, which should open up .africa, .joburg, .capetown and .durban to its existing .za channel.

ZACR is the ccTLD registry for South Africa and as such it already has almost 500 partners accredited to sell .za names. But most of these resellers are not also ICANN accredited, so they cannot sell gTLD domains.

The AF Proxy service is intended to give these existing resellers the ability to sell ZACR’s four gTLDs without having to seek out an ICANN accreditation themselves.

“Effectively, all users of the AF Proxy service become resellers of the Proxy Registrar which is an elegant technical solution aimed at boosting new gTLD domain name registrations,” ZACR CEO Lucky Masilela said in a press release.

While reseller networks are of course a staple of the industry and registries acting as retail registrars is fairly common nowadays, this new ZACR business model is unusual.

According to ZACR’s web site, it has 489 accredited .za registrars active today, with 52 more in testing and a whopping 792 more in the application process.

Depending on uptake of the proxy service, that could bring the number of potential .africa resellers to over 1,300.

And they’re probably needed.

The .africa gTLD went into general availability in July — after five years of expensive legal and quasi-legal challenges from rival applicant DotConnectAfrica — but has so far managed to put just 8,600 names in its zone file.

That’s no doubt disappointing for TLD serving a population of 1.2 billion and which had been expected to see substantial domain investor activity from overseas, particularly China.

MMX: three gTLDs approved for sale in Beijing

Kevin Murphy, August 31, 2017, Domain Registries

Three foreign new gTLDs have been approved for sale and resolution in Chinese capital Beijing, according to MMX.

The portfolio registry said today that its .vip is among the first to receive approval from the Beijing Communications Administration, one of China’s many regional authorities.

According to MMX, while many gTLDs have managed to pass through the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology’s stringent vetting process, the Beijing local authority has so far been slow to follow the national regulator’s lead.

But BCA approved .vip, along with GMO’s .shop and Donuts’ .ltd on August 16, the registry said in a market update.

This gives .vip national coverage in China, adding Beijing’s 22 million inhabitants.

MMX added that 188,764 different .vip sites, of the over 600,000 in its zone file, are currently indexed by Chinese search engine Baidu.

It also said that it plans to start selling Chinese-script internationalized domain names in .vip (in IDN.ascii format) in November.

MMX says .vip renewals running at 75%

MMX has revealed that its renewal rate for first-month .vip registrations in China were over 75%.

The portfolio gTLD registry, also known as Minds + Machines, said that 317,000 domains that were registered during .vip’s first month of availability have now been renewed.

The news follows a June announcement that the renewal rate would be over 70%.

The large majority of .vip names registered are registered via Chinese registrars, where prices can be around the $3 to $4 mark.

MMX CEO Toby Hall said in a statement that the company now plans to release some of its reserved “premium” .vip names.

He added that the company is confident that its recurring revenue from renewals will soon be high enough to cover its fixed overhead costs, one of its key performance benchmarks.