Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

ICANN terminates another registrar

Kevin Murphy, February 14, 2011, Domain Registrars

Another tiny domain name registrar has been given its marching orders by ICANN.

Best Bulk Register, which looks to have only a few hundred domains under management, will be shut down March 4, according to a letter (pdf) from ICANN’s compliance department.

The company had failed to pay over $10,000 in fees, and was not providing Whois services as required by the Registrar Accreditation Agreement, according to ICANN.

The registrar’s web site does not currently appear to resolve.

Best Bulk has until tomorrow to pick a registrar to take over its domains, or ICANN will pick one for it.

Three registrars face the ICANN chop

Kevin Murphy, November 24, 2010, Domain Registrars

ICANN has told three registrars they are in breach of their registrar contracts and will lose their accreditation next month unless they rectify the problems.

These registrars, all of which appear to have negligible numbers of gTLD domains under management, are affected:

Mister Name will be shut down if it does not pay its ICANN fees and escrow its Whois data.

Open System Ltd is accused of not having a functioning Whois service.

Best Bulk Domains Inc also doesn’t have a functioning Whois, ICANN said. It also has not been paying its dues and hasn’t maintained accurate contact information for itself.

All three have dates in mid-December to clean up their acts or lose their right to sell gTLD domains.

You can find ICANN’s compliance letters here.

New TLD guidebook bans domain front-running

Kevin Murphy, November 15, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN’s newly published Applicant Guidebook for new top-level domain operators contains a draft Code of Conduct for registries that, among other things, bans “front-running”.

The code, which I think is probably going to be one of the most talked-about parts of the AGB in the run-up to ICANN’s Cartagena meeting next month, is designed to address problems that could arise when registrars are allowed to run registries and vice versa.

Front-running is the name given to a scenario in which registrars use insider information – their customers’ domain availability lookups – to determine which high-value domains to register to themselves.

While there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that such practices have occurred in the past, a study carried out last year by researcher Ben Edelman found no evidence that it still goes on.

Front-running was however held up as one reason why registrars and registries should not be allowed to vertically integrate, so the AGB’s code of conduct explicitly bans it.

It also bans registries accessing data generated by affiliated registrars, or from buying any domains for its own use, unless they’re needed for the management of the TLD.

Integrated registries will have to keep separate accounts for their registrar arms, and there will have to be a technological Chinese wall stopping registry and registrar data from cross-pollinating.

Registries will also have to submit a self-audit to ICANN, certifying their compliance with the code of conduct, before January 20 every year.

The code is currently a six-point plan, which, given the past “ingenuity” of domain name companies, may prove a little on the light side.

There’s lots more discussion to be had on this count, no doubt.

Vertical integration – bad news for domainers?

Kevin Murphy, November 10, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN’s decision to allow domain name registrars to operate registries is a game changer on many fronts, but what impact could it have on domain investors?

For the first time, registrars will be able apply for and run new top-level domains, giving them unprecedented insight into registry-level data.

If they also act as registries, registrars will, for example, be able to see what non-existent domains in their TLD get the most type-in traffic.

They will also be able to see how much traffic expiring domains get, even if the registrant does not use the registrar’s own name servers.

As claimed by some participants in ICANN’s vertical integration working group, this data could be used to “harm” registrants; harms that could be especially noticeable to domainers.

There was a concern from some in the WG that combined registry-registrar entities (we’re going to need a name for these) could use registry data to, for example, identify and withhold high-value names, increasing prices to potential registrants.

The possibility of an increase in “domain tasting” and “front-running” – practices generally frowned upon nowadays – was also raised.

However, some registrars are already owned by companies that register large numbers of traffic domains for themselves, even without access to registry data.

Demand Media subsidiary eNom, the second-largest gTLD registrar, is a good example.

As DomainNameWire reported in August, the company already uses domain name lookups to decide what names to register for itself (though it told DNW it does not “front-run”), saying in SEC filings:

These queries and look-ups provide insight into what consumers may be seeking online and represent a proprietary and valuable source of relevant information for our platform’s title generation algorithms and the algorithms we use to acquire undeveloped websites for our portfolio.

Demand also said that it acquires eNom customers’ expiring domains if they are attractive enough:

Domain names not renewed by their prior registrants that meet certain of our criteria are acquired by us to augment our portfolio of undeveloped owned and operated websites.

Access to registry data could prove invaluable in refining this model, and eNom has, unsurprisingly. long indicated its desire to apply for and operate new TLDs.

But will registries be allowed to exploit this data to line their own pockets?

ICANN indicated today that it plans to introduce a code of conduct for registries, to prevent “misuse of data”, and will likely step up its compliance activities as a result.

What this code of conduct will look like remains to be seen, but I expect we’re looking at “Chinese wall” provisions similar to those self-imposed by VeriSign when it still owned Network Solutions.

It should be pointed out, of course, that standalone registries already have the ability to register domains to themselves, based on their own registry data, and I’m not aware of a great many incidents where this has been abused to the harm of registrants.

ICANN cans broke registrar

Kevin Murphy, October 1, 2010, Domain Registrars

4Domains.com has lost its registrar accreditation after ICANN decided it had gone insolvent.

ICANN has alleged numerous other violations of the Registrar Accreditation Agreement, but told the registrar that its insolvency allows it terminate the accreditation with immediate effect.

ICANN’s letter to 4Domains (pdf) describes a company unable not only to pay its roughly $6,110 in due ICANN fees, but also to fund its registry accounts, service its customers and pay its staff.

From this, ICANN has concluded that the registrar is insolvent, and has terminated its accreditation.

4Domains is acting in manner that endangers the stability and operational integrity of the Internet, which is a separate grounds to support ICANN’s termination of the 4Domains RAA.

ICANN said 4Domains was also failing to escrow its registrant data, “due to an inability of the 4Domains programmer to resolve the escrow deposit issues”.

But it has this week supplied ICANN with an electronic copy of its customer database, so it appears that most registrants will be protected should their domains be transferred to another registrar.

The company has been told it may now nominate another registrar to take over its accounts in bulk.

4Domains was accredited in 2000, making it one of the first registrars to go live. According to DotAndCo.net, it has about 25,000 active registrations in five gTLDs.