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ICANN punts o.com auction to US watchdogs

Kevin Murphy, December 11, 2017, Domain Registries

Verisign’s proposed auction of the domain o.com might have a negative effect on competition and has been referred to US regulators.

That’s according to ICANN’s response to the .com registry’s request to release the domain, which is among the 23 single-letter domains currently reserved under the terms of its contract.

ICANN has determined that the release “might raise significant competition issues” and has therefore been referred to “to the appropriate governmental competition authority”.

It’s forwarded Verisign’s request to the US Department of Justice.

Verisign late last month asked ICANN if it could release o.com to auction as a test that could presumably lead to other single-character .com names being released in future.

The plan is for a charity auction, in which almost all the proceeds are donated to internet-related good causes.

Only the company running the auction would make any significant money; Verisign would just take its standard $7.85 annual fee.

ICANN told the company that it could find no technical reason that the release could not go ahead.

The only barrier is the fact that Verisign arguably has government-approved, cash-printing, market dominance and is therefore in a sensitive political position.

Whether its profitless plan will be enough to see the auction given the nod remains to be seen.

A certain bidder in the proposed auction would be Overstock.com, the online retailer, which has been pressuring ICANN and Verisign for the release of O.com for well over a decade and even owns trademarks covering the domain.

Disclosure: several years ago I briefly provided some consulting/writing services to a third party in support of the Verisign and Overstock positions on the release of single-character domain names, but I have no current financial interest in the matter.

DotKids doesn’t want .kids auction to go ahead

Kevin Murphy, December 7, 2017, Domain Registries

One of the applicants for the .kids gTLD has asked ICANN to stop the planned last-resort auction.

DotKids Foundation is competing with Amazon for .kids and, because the two strings were ruled confusingly similar, with Google’s application for the singular .kid.

ICANN last month set a January 25 date for the three contenders to go to auction, having unfrozen DotKids’ application back in October.

DotKids’ bid had been put on hold due to it losing a Community Priority Evaluation — which found overwhelmingly that the organization did not represent a proper community — and its subsequent appeals of that ruling.

But the foundation now says that its application should be treated the same as .music, .gay, and a few others, which are currently on hold while ICANN waits for the results of a third-party review of the CPE process.

DotKids filed a Request for Reconsideration (pdf) with ICANN yesterday, immediately after being told that there were no plans to put the contention set back on hold.

Tomorrow is the deadline for the three applicants to submit their information to ICANN to participate in next month’s auction.

An ICANN last-resort auction sees the winning bid being placed in a fund for a yet-to-be-determined purpose, as opposed to private auctions where the losing bidders share the loot.

Verisign wants to auction off O.com for charity

Kevin Murphy, December 1, 2017, Domain Registries

The internet could soon gets just its fourth active single-character .com domain name, after Verisign revealed plans to auction off o.com for charity.

The company has asked ICANN to allow it to release just one of the 23 remaining one-letter .com domains, which are currently reserved under the terms of the .com registry agreement.

It’s basically a proof of concept that would lead to this contractual restriction being lifted entirely.

O.com has been picked as the guinea pig, because of “long-standing interest” in the domain, according to Verisign.

Overstock.com, the $1.8 billion-a-year US retailer, is known to have huge interest in the name.

The company acquired o.co from .CO Internet for $350,000 during the ccTLD’s 2010 relaunch, then embarked upon a disastrous rebranding campaign that ended when the company estimated it was losing 61% of its type-in traffic to o.com.

Overstock has obsessed over its unobtainable prize for over a decade and would almost certainly be involved in any auction for the domain.

In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that Overstock pressured Verisign into requesting the release of o.com.

Despite the seven or eight figures that a single-letter .com domain could fetch, Verisign’s cut of the auction proceeds would be just $7.85, its base registry fee.

Regardless, it has a payment schedule in mind that would see the winning bidder continue to pay premium renewal fees for 25 years, eventually doubling the sale price.

The winner would pay their winning bid immediately and get a five-year registration, but then would have to pay 5% of that bid to renew the domain for years six through 25.

In other words, if the winning bid was $1 million, the annual renewal fee after the first five years would be $50,000 and the total amount paid would eventually be $2 million.

All of this money, apart from the auction provider’s cut, would go to a trust that would distribute the funds to internet-focused non-profit organizations, such as those promoting security or open protocols.

There’s also a clause that would seem to discourage domain investors from bidding. The only way to transfer the domain would be if the buyer was acquired entirely, though this could be presumably circumvented with the use of a shell company.

It’s an elaborate auction plan, befitting of the fact that one-character .com domains are super rare.

Only x.com, q.com and z.com are currently registered and it’s Verisign policy to reserve them in the unlikely event they should ever expire.

Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk this July reacquired x.com, the domain he used to launch PayPal in the 1990s, back from PayPal for an undisclosed sum.

Z.com was acquired by GMO Internet for $6.8 million in 2014.

Single-character domains are typically not reserved in the ICANN contracts of other gTLDs, whether pre- or post-2012, though it’s standard practice for the registry to reserve them for auction anyway.

Verisign’s reservations in .com and .net are a legacy of IANA policy, pre-ICANN and have been generally considered technically unnecessary for some years.

Still, there’s been a reluctance to simply hand Verisign, already a money-printing machine through accident of history, another windfall of potentially hundreds of millions of dollars by allowing it to sell off the names for profit. Hence the elaborate plan with the O.com trust fund.

The proposal to release O.com requires a contractual amendment, so Verisign has filed a Registry Services Evaluation Process request (pdf) with ICANN that is now open for public comment.

As a matter of disclosure: several years ago I briefly provided some consulting/writing services to a third party in support of the Verisign and Overstock positions on the release of single-character domain names, but I have no current financial interest in the matter.

Amazon and Google to fight over .kids at auction

Kevin Murphy, November 14, 2017, Domain Registries

Amazon, Google and a third applicant are scheduled to fight for control of the new gTLDs .kid or .kids at auction.

It’s the first ICANN gTLD auction to be scheduled since a Verisign puppet paid $135 million for .web in July 2016.

According to ICANN documentation, .kid and .kids will go to auction January 25, 2018.

The winning bid will be added to ICANN’s quarter-billion-dollar stash of auction proceeds, rather than shared out between the applicants.

Even though two different strings are at stake, it will be a so-called “direct contention” auction, meaning only .kids or .kid will ultimately go live.

Google, the sole applicant for .kid, had filed String Confusion Objections against .kids applications from Amazon and DotKids Foundation and won both, meaning the three applications were lumped into the same contention set.

Unless DotKids has a secret sugar daddy, it seems probable that the internet will next year either get a .kid gTLD operated by Google or a .kids gTLD operated by Amazon.

DotKids had applied as a “community” application and attempted to shut out both rivals and avoid an auction by requesting a Community Priority Evaluation.

However, it comprehensively lost the CPE.

Child-friendly domain spaces have a poor track record, partly due to the extra restrictions registrants must agree to, and are unlikely to be high-volume gTLDS no matter who wins.

Neustar operated .kids.us for 10 years, following US legislation, but turned it off in 2012 after fewer than 100 web sites used the domain. It made the decision not to reintroduce it in 2015.

The Russian-language equivalent, .дети, has been live for over three years but has only around 1,000 domains in its zone file.

The .kids/.kid auction may not go ahead if the three applicants privately negotiate a deal soon, but they’ve had over a year to do so already and have apparently failed to come to an agreement.

Nigger.com returned to NAACP after expiration prompts $10,000 auction

Kevin Murphy, February 14, 2017, Gossip

US civil rights group the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has reclaimed the domain name nigger.com after it expired and went to auction.

The names nigger.org and nigger.net were also affected, but according to Whois records the NAACP restored all three yesterday.

The names had been in pending renewal/delete status for three weeks, during which time the registrant was listed as Perfect Privacy, Web.com’s proxy/privacy provider.

While expired, the .com had been placed (presumably automatically) in a NameJet auction, as first reported by Raymond Hackney at The Domains.

At time of writing, the auction had attracted 72 bids and a high offer of $10,000.

It was a “Wish List Auction”, indicating that the domain’s prior registrant had not yet exhausted all options to have the name restored.

As Hackney noted, if these domains fell into the wrong hands it could have a negative impact on race relations in the US.

But the NAACP, which first got hold of the domains almost 20 years ago, seems to have had a remarkably lackadaisical attitude to them over the last few years.

Not only did it accidentally allow the names to expire, but DomainTools and Archive.org captures show that the associated web sites had been compromised repeatedly since late 2014.

Every capture since late 2014 shows taunting, racist messages from the hackers, at least one of which associated himself with troll group the “Gay Nigger Association of America”.