Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

Architelos files bankruptcy after Afilias lawsuit

Kevin Murphy, March 21, 2016, Domain Services

Afilias has managed to bury domain security software provider Architelos, which filed for bankrupcty today.

Architelos filed Chapter 7, which basically means the company will close and its assets will be liquidated to pay off creditors.

Its only major creditor is Afilias, which won a patent lawsuit against it last August.

The jury in the case set damages at $10 million, finding that Architelos had misappropriated Afilias trade secrets, but the trial judge recently indicated her intention of reducing the award to $2 million.

Even that was a bit too rich for the company, which floated the idea of operating NameSentry on a revenue share with Afilias until its debt was paid.

Clearly, that’s no longer going to happen.

Architelos was founded by Alexa Raad in 2011, to exploit the new gTLD opportunity as a consulting and software tools provider.

It made seven figures in its first year, mainly through gTLD application consulting fees, but saw modest adoption of its subsequent security offering, NameSentry.

The flagship service only made $300,000 in revenue, according to court documents. After the August verdict, Architelos’ sales pipeline dried up.

The software and the US patents covering them are the company’s key assets, though Afilias is expected to be awarded at least partial ownership rights of the patents.

The company had about 10 employees at its peak, but has been operating on a skeleton crew of two or three for the last few months.

Architelos said in a blog post that NameSentry customers will be able to continue to use the service in the short term, but what happens to it in future depends on how the bankruptcy court appointed trustee does with it.

Afilias also has an outstanding lawsuit against Architelos and Raad in Canada.

6 Comments Tagged: , ,

Famous Four confirms link to AlpNames, mass new gTLD development project

Kevin Murphy, March 21, 2016, Domain Services

New gTLD registry Famous Four Media has confirmed its connections to registrar AlpNames and two other Gibraltar-based companies involved in the mass development of new gTLD domains.

FFM chief legal officer Oliver Smith said that the company shares owners with AlpNames, A Domains Ltd and a company I’d never heard of before called Socium Networks.

“It is fair to say that some of the shareholders in FFM do hold shares in and part fund these companies,” he said in an email.

“FFM is leading Gibraltar’s evolution as a technology hub by engaging with new businesses, offering up our experience, and in some circumstances such as A Domains and Socium Networks, incubating their operations,” he said.

“We engage at this level predominantly because it’s in our interest, and the domain name industries’, to support businesses who share a common purpose in growing the new gTLD market space,” he said.

“FFM has a great working relationship with all three companies, much in the same manner as we have with our other client partners, except that our geographic proximity allows for greater face time and collaboration,” he said.

The link between AlpNames and FFM will not surprise many members of the industry.

AlpNames is FFM’s biggest registrar partner by a long shot, accounting for 75%+ of the registrations in many of of the gTLDs in FFM’s stable.

It consistently prominently advertises FFM’s domains on its storefront with sub-$1 pricing.

What’s perhaps less well known are A Domains and Socium, both of which seem to be involved in bulk-developing hundreds of thousands of domains from FFM’s gTLD portfolio.

As I noted Friday, A Domains owns huge chunks of the .party, .trade and .review zones (to name three), largely long-tail geographic domains.

A UDRP complaint A Domains won last year revealed that the strategy is to algorithmically register domains matching towns and cities of over 30,000 inhabitants then populate the sites with scraped content. For example.

Socium appears to be run by the same person, Chris Cousins, and has the same strategy.

Socium’s web site states: “We have over 100,000 sites currently under management and plans to launch over 1,000,000 more by the third quarter of 2016.”

This triple-play (registry, registrar, registrant) combo seems to be at least partly responsible for the large numbers of domains in FFM’s zone files.

At least a third of .review seems to be owned by A Domains, for example.

All the A Domains names I came across were registered via AlpNames during the early days of general availability when AlpNames was selling names at cost.

It’s not a completely new way for a registry to try to (indirectly) monetize its portfolio.

When .pro was owned by Hostway, a registry subsidiary owned and developed around 43,000 .pro domains matching US zip codes, under a service known as Zip.pro.

That seems to have been a failure, however. When Afilias took over .pro in early 2012 it did not acquire Zip.pro and the domains all expired in August that year.

Employ Media has tried something similar with a partner, the DirectEmployers Association.

The Universe.jobs project, controversial when it launched, saw DirectEmployers register and mass-develop thousands of geographic and industry-focused jobs portals. Universe.jobs appears to still live.

2 Comments

Schilling, Famous Four rubbish Spamhaus “worst TLD” league

Kevin Murphy, March 17, 2016, Domain Registries

Uniregistry and Famous Four Media have trashed claims by Spamhaus that their gTLDs are are much as 75% spam.

FFM says it is “appalled” by the “wholly inaccurate” claims, while Uniregistry boss Frank Schilling said Spamhaus has “totally jumped the shark here.”

In a statement to DI today, FFM chief legal officer Oliver Smith said the spam-fighting organization’s recently launched World’s Worst TLDs list is “reckless”, adding that the numbers are:

not only wholly inaccurate, but are misleading and, potentially, injurious to the reputation of Famous Four Media and those TLDs it manages. It is particularly worrisome that Spamhaus’s “findings” seem to have been taken as gospel within certain corners of the industry, despite not being proffered with any analytical methodology in support of the same.

The Spamhaus report, which is updated daily, presents the 10 TLDs that are more spam than not.

The rank is based on a percentage of domains seen by Spamhaus that Spamhaus considers to be “bad” — that is, are advertised in spam or carry malware.

Today, Uniregistry’s .diet tops the chart with “74.4% bad domains”, but the scores and ranks can and do shift significantly day by day.

Spamhaus describes its methodology like this:

This list shows the ratio of domains seen by the systems at Spamhaus versus the domains our systems profile as spamming or being used for botnet or malware abuse. This is also not a list that retains a long history, it is a one-month “snapshot” of our current view.

The words “seen by the systems at Spamhaus” are important. If a domain name never crosses Spamhaus’s systems, it isn’t counted as good or bad. The organization is not running the whole zone file against its block-list to check what the empirical numbers are.

In important ways, the Spamhaus report is similar to the discredited Blue Coat report into “shady” TLDs last September, which was challenged by myself and others.

However, in a blog post, Spamhaus said it believes its numbers are reflective of the TLDs as a whole:

In the last 18-years, Spamhaus has built its data gathering systems to have a view of most of the world’s domain traffic. We feel the numbers shown on this list are representative of the actual full totals.

I disagree.

In the case of .diet, for example, if 74% of the full 19,000-domain zone was being used in spam, that would equate to 14,000 “bad” domains.

But the .diet zone is dominated by domains owned by North Sound Names, the Frank Schilling vehicle through which Uniregistry markets its premium names.

NSN snapped up well over 13,000 .diet names at launch, and Schilling said today that NSN owns north of 70% of the .diet zone.

That would mean either Uniregistry is a spammer, or Spamhaus has no visibility into the NSN portfolio and its numbers are way the hell off.

“Spamhaus’ assertion that 74% of the registrations in the .diet space are spam is a numerical impossibility,” Schilling said. “They totally jumped the shark here.”

NSN’s domains don’t send mail, he said.

He added that diet-related products are quite likely to appear in spam, which may help account for Spamhaus’s systems identifying .diet emails as spam. He said:

Spamhaus is a high-minded organization and we applaud their efforts but this report is so factually inaccurate it casts into doubt the validity of everything they release. Spamhaus should be smarter than this and at a minimum consult with registries (our door is open) to gain a better understanding of the subject matter they wrongly profess to be expert in.

Similarly, FFM’s .review gTLD was briefly ranked last week as the “worst” gTLD at 75.1% badness. With 66,000 domains, that would mean almost 50,000 names are spammy.

Yet it appears that roughly 25,000 .review domains are long-tail geo names related to the hotels industry, registered by a Gibraltar company called A Domains Limited, which appears to be run by AlpNames, the registry with close ties to FFM itself.

Again, if Spamhaus’s numbers are accurate, that implies the registrar and/or registry are spamming links to content-free placeholder web sites.

FFM’s Smith says the registry has been using Spamhaus data as part of its internal Registry Abuse Monitoring tool, and that its own findings show significantly less spam. Referring to .review’s 75% score, he said:

This simply does not accord with FFM’s own research, which relies heavily on data made available by Spamhaus. The reality is that, in reviewing registration data for the period 8 February to 8 March 2016, only 4.8% of registered domains have been blacklisted by Spamhaus – further, it is questionable as whether every single such listing is wholly merited. When reviewing equivalent data for the period of 1 January to 8 March 2016 across ALL FFM managed TLDs this rate averages out to a mere 3.2%.

I actually conducted my own research into the claims.

Between March 8 and March 15, I ran the whole .review zone file through the Spamhaus DBL and found 6.9% of the names were flagged as spam.

My methodology did not take account of the fact that Spamhaus retires domains from its DBL after they stop appearing in spam, so it doesn’t present a perfect apples-to-apples comparison with Spamhaus, which bases its scoring on 30 days of data.

All told, it seems Spamhaus is painting a much bleaker picture of the amount of abuse in new gTLDs than is perhaps warranted.

During ICANN meetings last week and in recent blog comments, current and former executives of rival registries seemed happy to characterize new gTLD spam as a Famous Four problem rather than an industry problem.

That, despite the fact that Uniregistry, Minds + Machines and GMO also feature prominently on Spamhaus’s list.

I would say it’s more of a low prices problem.

It’s certainly true that FFM and AlpNames are attracting spammers by selling domains for $0.25 wholesale or free at retail, and that their reputations will suffer as a result.

We saw it with Afilias and .info in the early part of the last decade, we’ve see it with .tk this decade, and we’re seeing it again now.

16 Comments Tagged: , , , , , , ,

Tucows pays $6.5 million for Melbourne IT’s channel

Kevin Murphy, March 17, 2016, Domain Registrars

Canadian registrar Tucows has acquired the reseller network of Australian rival Melbourne IT for up to $6.5 million.

The company said the deal will “add hundreds of resellers and approximately 1.6 million domains under management to Tucows’ OpenSRS wholesale domain business.”

Melbourne IT said that the low-margin business was a “drag” on the performance of its core business as a retail registrar focused on small and medium sized businesses.

The price, the Aussie company said, will be between AUD 8.1 million and AUD 8.5 million, depending on exchange rates. That’s as much as $6.5 million.

Tucows did not disclose the price, saying it was “immaterial”.

Comment Tagged: , , , ,

Anger as ICANN splashes out $160,000 on travel

Kevin Murphy, March 15, 2016, Domain Policy

Should representatives of Facebook, Orange, Thomson Reuters, BT and the movie industry have thousands of ICANN dollars spent on their travel to policy meetings?

Angry registrars are saying “no”, after it emerged that ICANN last month spent $80,000 flying 38 community members to LA for a three-day intersessional meeting of the Non-Contracted Parties House.

It spent roughly the same on the 2015 meeting, newly released data shows.

ICANN paid for fewer than 10 registries and registrars — possibly as few as two — to attend the equivalent Global Domains Division Summit last year, a few registrars told DI.

The numbers were released after a Documentary Information Disclosure Policy request by the Registrars Stakeholder Group a month ago, and published on Friday (pdf).

It appears from the DIDP release that every one of the 38 people who showed up in person was reimbursed for their expenses to the tune of, on average, $2,051 each.

The price tag covers flights, hotels, visa costs and a cash per diem allowance that worked out to an average of $265 per person.

ICANN also recorded travel expenses for another two people who ultimately couldn’t make it to the event.

The NCPH is made up of both commercial and non-commercial participants. Many are academics or work for non-profits.

However, representatives of huge corporations such as Facebook and BT also work in the NCPH and let ICANN pick up their expenses for the February meeting.

Lawyers from influential IP-focused trade groups such as the Motion Picture Association of America and International Trademark Association were also happy for ICANN to pay.

One oddity on the list is the CEO of .sucks registry Vox Populi, who is still inexplicably a member of the Business Constituency.

MarkMonitor, a corporate registrar and Thomson Reuters subsidiary that attends the Intellectual Property Constituency, also appears.

Despite $80,000 being a relatively piddling amount in terms of ICANN’s overall budget, members of the Contracted Parties House — registries and registrars — are not happy about this state of affairs as a matter of principle.

ICANN’s budget is, after all, primarily funded by the ICANN fees registries and registrars — ultimately registrants — must pay.

“CPH pays the bills and the non-CPH travels on our dime,” one registrar told DI today.

One RrSG member said only two registrars were reimbursed for their GDD Summit travel last year. Another put the number at five. Another said it was fewer than 10.

In any event, it seems to be far fewer than those in the NCPH letting ICANN pick up the tab.

It’s not entirely clear why the discrepancy exists — it might be just because fewer contracted parties apply for a free ride, rather than evidence of a defect in ICANN expenses policy.

The NCPH intersessional series was designed to give stakeholders “the opportunity, outside of the pressures and schedule strains of an ICANN Public Meeting to discuss longer-range substantial community issues and to collaborate with Senior ICANN Staff on strategic and operational issues that impact the community”, according to ICANN.

7 Comments Tagged: , , , , , , ,