Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

Architect of Nominet boardroom bloodbath and Tucows backer win director seats

Kevin Murphy, November 16, 2021, Domain Registries

UK registry Nominet has announced the winners of its non-executive director election, with Simon Blackler securing a runaway victory. Ashley La Bolle of Tucows was also elected, with a strong share of the votes.

Blackler is the architect of the PublicBenefit.uk campaign, which was behind a boardroom bloodbath earlier this year, and La Bolle is director of domains at Tucows, the biggest registrar name to support that campaign.

According to Nominet, Blackler secured 1,285,370 of the 2,558,650 votes in the first-preference round of voting, a smidge over 50%. La Bolle got 750,447 votes, 29.3%, at the same stage, picking up the extra she needed after votes were transferred.

The other four candidates all received 7% or less of the votes in the first-preference ballot.

Voting was based on how many domain names members control, capped at 3% to avoid too much capture by the larger registrars.

Nominet said that turnout was 24.3% — 553 of the 2,276 eligible voters actually cast a ballot.

Blackler and La Bolle will join Nominet’s board at its next Annual General Meeting, which happens this Thursday.

They replace domain investor David Thornton, who had stood for reelection but received less than 6% of the first-round votes, and GoDaddy policy veep James Bladel, who did not stand.

Blackler, who runs the registrar Krystal Hosting, started the PublicBenefit.uk campaign earlier this year in protest at what was seen as Nominet’s unresponsiveness and lack of transparency towards its members.

He rallied a crowd of members upset with what they saw as the company’s diversification into non-core businesses, excessive director and executive compensation, and diminishing devotion to supporting public-benefit causes.

The campaign resulted in the forced resignation of the CEO, the ouster of the chair and almost half the directors, and a renewed focus on the .uk registry and charitable causes under a new chair.

Tucows was the biggest-name registrar to back the campaign, with La Bolle repeatedly blogging about how Nominet needed to be more transparent and engage better with its members.

“Humbled by the amount of support and looking forward to improving Nominet for ALL,” Blackler tweeted following the results announcement.

“I’m truly honoured to be appointed to Nominet’s Board as an NED and am grateful for the support and trust from my peers,” La Bolle said via email. “As well-stated throughout my campaign, I am committed to helping Nominet refocus on its core mandate and re-engage its members to better serve our entire community.”

Nominet rebels dominate directorship slate

Kevin Murphy, October 12, 2021, Domain Registries

Nominet has named the six people nominated for its two open non-executive director positions, and the slate is very much slanted towards the new postbellum reality of UK domain politics.

The PublicBenefit.uk campaign, which saw the CEO forced out and half the board fired at an EGM earlier this year, leading to a broad suite of proposed reforms, has a strong presence on the candidate list.

Simon Blackler of Krystal Hosting, who created and spearheaded the campaign, is standing for one of the so-called “NED” seats. He is also named as a proposer/seconder of two of his rival candidates.

This PublicBenefit slate includes Ashley La Bolle, recently promoted head of domains at Tucows, and consultant and former lawyer Jim Davies, both of whom have Blackler’s endorsement.

La Bolle’s candidacy statement focuses on the need for increased transparency and member engagement, while Davies stands on a platform of constitutional and financial reform.

In his endorsements, Blackler cites Tucows’ endorsement of the PublicBenefit campaign as a crucial turning point in its ultimate success, and Davies’ resignation from the Nominet board in 2009, in which he cited high executive pay and low transparency as reasons for his departure.

One incumbent NED is standing for re-election, David Thornton. Nominated by Michele Neylon and Jothan Frakes, Thornton has a platform based on governance and structural rebalancing.

Internet policy all-rounder Liz Williams is also standing, talking up her extensive experience in areas such as ICANN, privacy and security.

Then there’s Bulgaria-based Brit Stephen Yarrow, whose main policy concerns appear to be raising Nominet’s profile and distancing .uk from the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

Nominet members should already have been sent the election materials. Everyone else can read them here (pdf).

Votes will be cast November 18 at Nominet’s Annual General Meeting. There are two seats available.

Neustar exec fingered in Trump’s Russian “collusion” probe

Kevin Murphy, October 1, 2021, Domain Registries

A senior former Neustar executive has been outed as a participant in 2016 research that sought to establish nefarious links between then US presidential candidate Donald Trump and the Russian government.

According to a US federal indictment last month, former Neustar senior VP and head of security Rodney Joffe and others used DNS query data collected by the company to help create a “narrative” that Trump’s people had been covertly communicating with Kremlin-connected Alfa Bank.

The indictment claims that they did so despite privately expressing skepticism that the data was conclusive in establishing such ties.

Joffe did this work while under the impression he would be offered a top cybersecurity job in Hilary Clinton’s administration, had she won the 2016 general election, the indictment claims.

Joffe has not been accused of any illegality or wrongdoing — he’s not even named in the indictment — and his lawyer has told the New York Times that the indictment gives an “incomplete and misleading” version of events.

The indictment was returned by a federal grand jury on September 16 against Washington DC lawyer Michael Sussmann, as a result of Special Counsel John Durham’s investigation into the origins of the Trump-Russia “collusion” probe, which ultimately found insufficient evidence of illegality by the former president.

Sussman is charged with lying to the FBI when, in September 2016, he showed up with a bunch of evidence suggesting a connection between Trump and Alfa Bank and claimed to not be working on behalf of any particular client.

In fact, the indictment alleges, he was working on behalf of the Clinton campaign and Joffe, both of whom had retained his services. Lying to the FBI is a crime in the US.

The indictment refers to Joffe as “Technology Executive 1”, but his identity has been confirmed by the NYT and others.

Sussman’s evidence in part comprised DNS data supplied by Joffe and analyzed by himself and other researchers, showing traffic between the domain mail1.trump-email.com and the Russian bank.

At the time, Neustar was a leading provider of domain registry services, but also a significant player in DNS resolution services, giving it access to huge amounts of data about domain queries.

“Tech Executive-1 [Joffe] used his access at multiple organizations to gather and mine public and non-public Internet data regarding Trump and his associates, with the goal of creating a ‘narrative’ regarding the candidate’s ties to Russia,” the indictment claims.

According to the indictment, Joffe had been offered a job in the Clinton administration. He allegedly wrote, shortly after the November 2016 election: “I was tentatively offered the top [cybersecurity] job by the Democrats when it looked like they’d win. I definitely would not take the job under Trump.”

The researchers — which also included employees of the Georgia Institute of Technology, ​Fusion GPS, and Zetalytics, according to the NYT — sought to create a case for a connection between Trump and the Russian government while privately expressing doubts that their conclusions would stand up to third-party scrutiny, the indictment claims.

The suspicions were briefed to the media by Sussman and the Clinton campaign, the indictment says, and widely reported prior to the election.

When the FBI investigated the alleged links, it concluded the suspicious traffic was benign and caused by the activities of a third-party marketing firm, according to reports.

As I said, it is not alleged that Joffe broke the law, and his people say the indictment is, as you might expect from an indictment, one-sided.

Still, it’s a very interesting, and possibly worrying, insight into how companies like Neustar and their employees are able to leverage DNS resolution data for their own private purposes.

The full indictment, which uses pseudonyms for most of the people said to be involved in the research, can be read here (pdf). The New York Times story, which reveals many of these identities, can be read here (paywall).

While Neustar’s registry business was acquired last year by GoDaddy, it appears that Joffe did not make the move and instead stayed with Neustar. His LinkedIn profile showed he “retired” at some point in the last few weeks, after 15 years with the company.

Will you shut up, man? Trump takedown domain on sale for ridiculous fee

Kevin Murphy, September 30, 2020, Domain Sales

Proving once again that there’s no neologism or emergent catchphrase that won’t be registered as a .com, a domainer has put willyoushutupman.com on sale in the wake of last night’s ludicrous US Presidential debate.

The line “Will you shut up, man?” was uttered in exasperation by Democrat candidate Joe Biden midway through the debate, after being ceaselessly harangued and interrupted by President Trump.

It’s currently listed on Dan.com with a “make an offer” tag, but Newsweek reported earlier today that the seller had priced the domain at $175,000.

The domain currently redirects to an affiliate link to the bespoke printing company Zazzle, so even if it doesn’t sell, the domainer may make a bit of cash.

Newsweek also reports that Biden’s campaign are already selling “Will you shut up, man?” merch, but I was unable to find such an item on the official Biden site.

Roberts elected to ICANN board

Kevin Murphy, December 4, 2017, Domain Policy

Channel Islands ccTLD operator Nigel Roberts has been elected to ICANN’s board of directors.
He gathered an impressive 67% of the votes in an anonymous poll of ccNSO members conducted last week.
He received 60 votes versus the 29 cast for his only opponent, Pierre Ouedraogo, an internet pioneer from Burkina Faso.
Roberts, a Brit, runs ChannelIsles.net, registry manager for .gg (for the islands Guernsey, Alderney and Sark) and .je (for Jersey). These are the independent UK dependencies found floating between England and France.
He’s been in the ICANN community since pretty much day one.
His election still has to be formally confirmed by the ccNSO Council and then the ICANN Empowered Community.
Roberts will not take his seat on the ICANN board until October next year, at the end of public meeting in Barcelona.
He will replace Mike Silber, the South African who’s currently serving his ninth and therefore final year as a director.
The other ccNSO seat is held by Australian ICANN vice chair Chris Disspain, who is also term-limited and will leave at the end of 2019.

Election season at ICANN

Kevin Murphy, October 4, 2017, Domain Policy

Two significant votes are coming up soon in the ICANN community, with the GNSO Council looking for a new chair and the ccNSO ready to select a new appointee for the ICANN board of directors.
The ccNSO election will see an actual contest for what is believed to be the first time, with at least two candidates fighting it out.
The GNSO vote is rather less exciting, with only one candidate running unopposed.
It seems Heather Forrest, an intellectual property lawyer, occasional new gTLD consultant, and professor at the University of Tasmania, will replace GoDaddy VP of policy James Bladel as Council chair a month from now.
Forrest, currently a vice-chair, was nominated by the Non-Contracted Parties House.
The Contracted Parties House (registries and registrars), evidently fine with Forrest taking over, decided not to field a candidate, so the November 1 vote will be a formality.
In the ccNSO world, the country-codes are electing somebody to take over from Mike Silber on the ICANN board, a rather more powerful position, when his term ends a year from now.
Nominations don’t close until a week from now, but so far there are two candidates: Nigel Roberts and Pierre Ouedraogo.
Roberts, nominated for the job by Puerto Rico, runs a collection of ccTLDs for the British Channel Islands.
Ouedraogo is from Burkina Faso but does not work for its ccTLD. He is a director of the Francophone Institute for Information and New Technologies. He was nominated by Kenya.
Both men are long-time participants in ICANN and the ccNSO.
Roberts, who currently sits on the ccNSO Council, tells me he believes it’s the first time there’s been a contested election for a ccNSO-appointed ICANN board seat since the current system of elections started in 2003.
Silber has been in the job for eight years and is term-limited so cannot stand again. The other ccNSO appointee, Chris Disspain, will occupy the other seat for another two years.

Greimann wins Nominet board seat

Kevin Murphy, April 27, 2016, Domain Registries

Key-Systems general counsel Volker Greimann has been elected to Nominet’s board as a non-executive director, beating two rival candidates.
Nominated by Blacknight and EuroDNS, he got 1,169,785 of the 2,144,612 votes cast, beating Dot Advice CEO Phil Buckingham and Namesco domain development manager Kelly Salter.
Nominet uses a somewhat complex single transferable vote system in its elections, in which members votes are weighted according to how many .uk domains they have under management.
Voting power is capped at 3% of the total pool for each member, so no one registrar or small group of registrars can capture the election.
Salter, who had been nominated by top-ten registrars Go Daddy and LCN.com, was defeated in the first round of voting, with Greimann picking up the majority of the votes as a second preference, enabling him to win.
Buckingham was essentially the “domainer candidate”, backed by Netistrar and Namedropper, who’d promised to address the controversial issue of Nominet’s 50% price increase.
The price increases are arguably less important to registrars which can pass the increase on to their customers, than they are to domainers, which have to swallow the added costs themselves.
Buckingham secured about 34% of the votes in the second round.
Only 15% of the members eligible to vote did so, though that’s up from 12% last year.
The full results can be found here.
Nominet will hold its Annual General Meeting in London tomorrow.

Bladel romps home in ICANN election re-run

Kevin Murphy, November 24, 2015, Domain Policy

Go Daddy VP of policy James Bladel has been elected chair of ICANN’s Generic Names Supporting Organization Council.
The result came a month after the GNSO Council embarrassingly failed to elect a chair to replace outgoing Jonathan Robinson.
This time Bladel ran unopposed, securing the unanimous support of both his own Contracted Parties House and the Non-Contracted Parties House, which did not field a candidate.
In the October vote, the NCPH had nominated academic Heather Forrest.
Due to personal friction between commercial and non-commercial NCPH Council members, Bladel lost that election to “none of the above” by a single vote.
Forrest has been elected vice-chair, along with Neustar’s Donna Austin.
Volker Greimann and David Cake, who had been running the Council on an interim basis for the last month, have stepped aside.

Why did the GNSO fail to pick a new leader?

Kevin Murphy, October 22, 2015, Domain Policy

Political infighting between sections of the Generic Names Supporting Organization seems to be responsible for the GNSO Council’s failure to elect a new chair yesterday.
Rumor has it that Contracted Parties House pick James Bladel, a VP at Go Daddy, only lost because of ructions in the Non-Contracted Parties House.
I stress these are just rumors — nobody with any first-hand knowledge of the situation was prepared to go on-record with me today — but they come from multiple sources.
As I reported earlier today, Bladel failed to secure the support of over 60% of the NCPH — the threshold to be elected chair — despite having the unanimous support of the CPH.
Roughly 47% of the NCPH chose to vote for “none of the above” instead, resulting in the GNSO Council now lacking a chair.
But I gather that this was not a diss against Bladel, his employer, or the CPH per se.
Rather, the story I’m hearing is that some councilors gave an empty chair their votes as a result of disagreements between the commercial and non-commercial sides of the NCPH.
Some say a deal had been made under which NCPH candidate Heather Forrest would receive at least 60% of the vote in round one, but some voters reneged on the deal, meaning she was knocked out of the running.
I don’t know if that’s true or not, but what it implies is that some votes that would have otherwise gone to Bladel in round two of voting were withheld, essentially out of spite.
Bladel only needed one additional NCPH vote to hit his 60%.
If this sounds like childish bickering, you may be right, but it wouldn’t be the first time a GNSO constituency has disrupted the council in order to make a point.
The last time that happened to a significant degree was over three years ago, when non-commercial users exploited a timing issue to protest new rights protection mechanisms for the Olympics, risking the new gTLD program timeline.
That led some at the time to predict the “death” of the GNSO.
That’s not happening this time. If anything, the wagons are circling.
Hastily reappointed council vice chair Volker Greimann, who became de facto chair at least for today, described the current situation as “business as usual” today, pointing out that ICANN bylaws envisaged and accounted for this kind of power vacuum.
The next vote on the chair’s position will take place at least a month from now.

Go Daddy veep loses ICANN election to “none of the above”

Kevin Murphy, October 22, 2015, Domain Policy

ICANN’s multistakeholder GNSO Council has been left embarrassingly rudderless after its members failed to elect a new chair.
The unprecedented result saw Go Daddy VP of policy James Bladel lose an election to “none of the above” yesterday.
Under GNSO rules, there are two candidates for chair. One is nominated by the Contracted Parties House (registries and registrars), the other by the Non-Contracted Parties House (intellectual property interests, ISPs, non-commercial users etc).
Bladel was the CPH candidate. He stood against Australian academic Heather Forrest, on the council representing the Intellectual Property Constituency.
To get elected, a candidate must get 60% of the vote from both houses.
In the first round of voting, conducted via secret ballot, Bladel won 100% of the CPH vote and 47% of the NCPH vote.
Forrest was then eliminated for the second round, which meant Bladel proceeded to a second round of voting: him against “none of the above”.
Council members took 15 minutes out to discuss among themselves what to do.
When they returned, Bladel’s CPH support remained unchanged, but he had only managed to get 53.85% of the NCPH vote.
If my calculations are correct, Bladel essentially missed the 60% threshold by a single vote.
That means the GNSO Council no longer has a chair.
The interregnum will last at least a month.
Each house now has until November 5 to make new nominations. The election will then be re-run “no sooner than 30 days” from yesterday.
In the meantime, the two vice chairs are running the show. The CPH said its current vice chair Volker Greiman will remain in the role while a new chair is being elected. The NCPH has not yet appointed a vice chair.
This morning, the CPH issued a statement that read in part:

Like many in the GNSO Community, the Contracted Party House is disappointed in the unprecedented outcome of the Council election. It is particularly unfortunate that this scenario occurred at a time when ICANN is in the global spotlight.
Throughout the election process, the common theme has been an agreement amongst all Councilors that either candidate would have made a competent and effective GNSO Chair. However, the qualifications of both candidates were ultimately disregarded.

In recent history, GNSO chairs have been drawn from the registries and registrars.
Since 2009, the chairs have been Jonathan Robinson (Afilias), Stephane Van Gelder (then Group NBT, a registrar), Chuck Gomes (Verisign).
This trend did not escape the notice of GNSO members, who quizzed Bladel and Forrest on Sunday on whether they would be able to give fair treatment to both houses on the Council.
Both candidates gave gracious responses. Bladel said:”The chair does not get extra votes when it comes to decisions. The chair does not have his votes taken away; his or her votes taken away. So really this is a question of optics.”