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GoDaddy denies weird front-running claim

Kevin Murphy, September 21, 2020, Domain Registrars

GoDaddy has been forced to deny (again) that it engages in front-running after a social media post attracted hundreds of comments.

Front-running is the practice of a registrar monitoring customers’ availability searches then registering the name itself in order to mark it up to a premium price.

No reputable registrar does this any more, if only because it would be reputation suicide.

But a poster on HackerNews claimed to have been exploited in precisely this way,

searched a few days ago for felons.io, looked for unique names for simple game didn’t know if I wanted it or not

guess godaddy decided for me: 1 days old Created on 2020-09-16 by GoDaddy.com, LLC

just a warning if you have a special name do not use godaddy to check if its available

Domains can appear to be front-run due to the law of large numbers. Registrants may think they’re the only one with a unique domain idea, but they’re likely not.

After the HackerNews post attracted hundreds of comments (largely promoting Namecheap as a superior competitor) and a post from Eliot Silver, GoDaddy decided to issue a response.

“These accusations are 100% false. This type of behavior is predatory, unethical, and goes against everything we stand for as a company,” registrar head Paul Bindel posted over the weekend.

Bindel went on to post the results of search queries for “felons” and related terms over a couple of weeks. There weren’t a huge amount.

Complicating the story, he also says that the felons.io domain was suspended not long after registration, and will soon be deleted, after it was flagged as a fraudulent registration by a compromised account.

Interestingly, the HackerNews account used to post the original allegation appears to have been created on the same day as the post, which is literally the only thing he or she ever posted on the site.

GoDaddy could lose control of .co this week

Kevin Murphy, September 8, 2020, Domain Registries

It looks like GoDaddy’s recently acquired .co registry could lose formal control of the ccTLD this week.

ICANN’s board of directors has “Transfer of the .CO (Colombia) top-level domain to the Ministry of Information and Communications Technologies” on its agenda for its meeting this Thursday.

Since 2009, IANA record for .co shows the Colombian company .CO Internet as the sponsor, admin contact and tech contact.

.CO Internet was acquired by Neustar for $109 million in 2014. Neustar’s registry business, including the .co contract, was acquired by GoDaddy earlier this year. Most of .CO Internet’s original staff are still with the company.

GoDaddy now has the contract to run .co for the next five years, but as a service provider rather than having full administrative control of the TLD.

A redelegation to the Colombian ministry will not affect that contract, and in fact seems to have been envisaged by it.

Back in April when the renewal was announced, MinTIC said it would in future “be in charge of its [.co’s] administration through a group dedicated to Internet governance with technical personnel with knowledge and ability to manage and administer the domain”.

The new deal also sees Colombia receive 81% of the profits from .co, compared to the 6-7% it received under the old deal.

Assuming the ICANN board gives the redelegation the nod this week, it usually only takes IANA a day or two to make the appropriate updates to its registry.

The two biggest registrars knock it out of the park in Q2

Kevin Murphy, August 11, 2020, Domain Registrars

GoDaddy and Tucows, the industry’s two largest registrars, both last week posted very strong second-quarter results due to the beneficial impact of the coronavirus lockdown.

Market-leader GoDaddy in particular seems to have knocked it out of the park, adding a ridiculous 400,000 net new customers during the April-June period, the strongest quarterly performance in the company’s 20-year history.

The company reported domains revenue of $369.6 million, up 10.5% on the year-ago quarter, its strongest-performing segment.

Tucows, meanwhile, reported domains revenue essentially flat at $60 million, but pointed to registration growth as an indicator of its showing.

Tucows CEO Eliot Noss said in prerecorded remarks that new registrations from its reseller channel were up 41% in the quarter, with overall wholesale registrations up 7% to 4.3 million.

In the retail channel, domains under management was up 9% year-over-year to 400,000, with new registrations up more than 20%.

The CEOs of both companies were unambiguous that the coronavirus pandemic could take credit for their results. Noss said:

As expected, in Q2 we saw the full effects of the pandemic that we began to experience toward the end of Q1, with businesses globally moving quickly online, and displaced workers turning to entrepreneurship as the next stage in their career paths. A large proportion of that new registration activity was those resellers who focus on helping small and micro-sized businesses and start-ups establish a web presence for the first time.

GoDaddy CEO Aman Bhutani characterized the virus as a catalyst for businesses stubbornly remaining offline to finally get a web presence, telling analysts:

COVID-19 has pushed a number of people past the point of inertia where they were not adopting digital… because people have no choice but to go digital to support their businesses, we’re seeing people experimenting with ideas. We’re seeing people come online, even though they had hesitated to do it in the past.

Overall, GoDaddy reported revenue up 9.4% at $806.4 million. Its net loss was $673.2 million, due mostly to a one-time tax-related payment.

Tucows overall revenue was $82.1 million, down from $84.1 million, largely due to the drag factor of its recently restructured Ting Mobile business. Net income was $157,000, down from $2.6 million.

GoDaddy domains doing just fine during pandemic, lays off hundreds anyway

GoDaddy has announced hundreds of lay-offs as part of a restructuring made necessary by the coronavirus pandemic, but it says its domain name business is still doing pretty well.

The market-leading registrar late last week announced changes that will affect 814 of its US-based employees.

Hundreds will be laid off. Others will be offered jobs in states a thousand miles away from home.

But at the same time, GoDaddy increased its estimates for second-quarter revenue, saying its domain business is doing okay.

The main victims of the restructuring are those in outbound sales, employees who cold-call customers to up-sell them on high-margin products such as GoDaddy Social, a social media management service.

Because GoDaddy Social isn’t selling well any more, apparently due to the pandemic, 331 staff are losing their jobs.

There are another 213 employees, currently based in GoDaddy’s native Arizona, that will be moved into customer support roles — which for GoDaddy is also a up-sell role — instead.

Another 135 sales staff based in Iowa will be told to move to Arizona — well over 1,000 miles away — or lose their jobs.

GoDaddy will be closing both of its two offices in Austin, Texas.

Despite the carnage, the company seems to be treating its affected employees quite well by American standards.

They’ll all get paid until at least September 1, and get healthcare benefits (because this is America, where healthcare is a privilege that has to be earned by phone-jockeying) up to the end of the year.

GoDaddy had previously promised it staff that there would be no layoffs in Q2.

The company also said last week that it will make 1% more revenue that it had previously expected.

It now expects $790 million in Q2, up 1% on its previous guidance.

That increase is, according to GoDaddy, due to sales of domains and web sites.

This coincides with other industry evidence that domain sales are doing okay right now.

GoDaddy, PorkBun and Endurance win domain “blocking” court fight

Kevin Murphy, June 17, 2020, Domain Policy

Three large registrar groups last week emerged mostly victorious from a court battle in which a $5.4 billion-a-year consumer goods giant sought to get domains being used in huge scam operations permanently blocked.

Hindustan Unilever, known as HUL, named Endurance, GoDaddy and PorkBun in a lawsuit against unknown scammers who were using cybersquatted domains to rip off Indians who thought they were signing up to become official distributors.

The .in ccTLD registry, NIXI, was also named in the suit. All of the domains in question were .in names.

Among other things, HUL wanted the registrars to “suspend and ensure the continued suspension of and block access to” the fraudulent domains in question, but the judge had a problem with this.

He’d had the domain name lifecycle explained to him and he decided in a June 12 order (pdf) that it was not technically possible for a registrar to permanently suspend a domain, taking into account that the registration will one day expire.

He also defined “block access to” rather narrowly to mean the way ISPs block access to sites at the network level, once again letting the registrar off the hook.

Judge GS Patel of the Bombay High Court wrote:

Any domain name Registrar can always suspend a domain that is registered. But the entire process of registration itself is entirely automated and machine-driven. No domain name registrar can put any domain names on a black list or a block list.

Where he seems to have messed up is by ignoring the role of the registry, where it’s perfectly possible for a domain name to be permanently blocked.

NIXI may not have its hands directly on the technology, but .in’s EPP registry is run by back-end Neustar (now owned by GoDaddy but not directly named in the suit), which like all gTLD registries already has many thousands of names permanently reserved under ICANN’s direction.

Patel also seems to assume that NIXI doesn’t get paid for the domain names its registrar sells. He wrote:

The relief against Defendants Nos. 14 and 15, the dot-IN registry and NIEI [NIXI] at least to the extent of asking that they be ordered to de-register or block access is misdirected. Neither of these is a registrar. Neither of these receives registration consideration. Neither of these registers any domain name. The reliefs against them cannot therefore be granted.

NIXI actually charges INR 350 ($4.60) per second-level .in name per year, of which a reported $0.70 goes to Neustar.

The judge also ruled that the registrars have to hand over contact information for each of the cybersquatters.

He also ordered several banks, apparently used by the scammers, to hand over information in the hope of bringing the culprits to justice.

Three big registries will take down opioid domains for US govt

Verisign, Public Interest Registry and Neustar (now part of GoDaddy) will suspend domain names being used to illegally sell opioids under a pilot scheme with the US government.

The Food and Drug Administration announced this week that this new “trusted notifier” program will go into effect for 120 days.

When the FDA finds a site suspected of selling opioids illegally, it will notify the registry as well as the web site’s owner and hosting provider.

The registries will then be able to decide whether to suspend the domain or not. It’s voluntary.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration will also take part in the project.

Verisign runs .com and .net, PIR runs .org and Neustar runs .us, .co and .biz.

Opioids are legal, pharmaceutical pain-killers derived from opium. They’re ridiculously addictive and account for as many drug overdose deaths in the US as heroin, but are over-prescribed by US doctors.

It’s not the first time registries have agreed to trusted notifier programs. Some new gTLD registries have deals with the movie and music industries to suspend domains involved in copyright infringement.

The announcement comes just a few weeks after ICANN rejected a deal that would have seen PIR create a community oversight body with responsibilities to monitor domain-suspension policies in .org.

Should Epik be banned from NamesCon as racism debate spills over into domain industry?

Should GoDaddy-owned domain conference NamesCon ban the controversial registrar Epik from its conferences, after a day in which the domaining fraternity descended into a race row?

The fight kicked off last night when Epik director and noted domain investor Braden Pollock announced he was quitting the board over ideological differences with CEO Rob Monster.

Pollock did not explain his exact reasons for quitting, but the assumption among domainers on Twitter and elsewhere, perhaps due to heightened race awareness during the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests, was that it was race-related.

Pollock’s wife is the civil rights attorney Lisa Bloom, who is currently representing victims of police violence during the BLM protests.

Monster is a conspiracy theorist and Bible-bashing Christian who has been accused over the years of racism, antisemitism, and worse.

Even if Monster is not a racist (and plenty of his associates, even his critics, believe he is not), Epik is certainly friendly to racist registrants.

It caused controversy in March last year by publicly offering to host gab.com, the Twitter clone most often used by right-wing refugees escaping Twitter’s ban hammer.

It also took the domain business of 8chan, a forum site frequented by racists, though it refused to actually host the site.

The registrar is also very popular with domainers, due to its low price and domainer-friendly services.

Before long, Pollock’s tweet had spawned a thread of domainers expressing support for either Pollock or Monster, as well as casually throwing accusations of racism at each other.

Pretty much the same thing was going on over on NamePros and Facebook.

Epik all but confirmed that race was at the center of the disagreement by tweeting out the names of a couple dozen employees, whom I can only assume are not white, with the hashtag #diversity.

Monster himself posted a short video in which he appeared to denounce racism.

Later today, Epik posted a screenshot of a Facebook comment by NamesCon CEO Soeren von Varchmin, in which he suggested Epik had been banned from the conference, which the company has previously sponsored.

The tweet tagged both GoDaddy and the US Federal Trade Commission.

While the von Varchmin comment is genuine, I’m told that he was speaking in a personal capacity and it’s not current GoDaddy policy to ban Epik.

But should it?

GoDaddy starts protecting American customers’ privacy

GoDaddy has today started redacting the Whois records of its US-based customers, bringing them into line with the European counterparts.

The company was one of the few registrars to differentiate its European customers from those elsewhere when it implemented the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation two years ago, primarily because it was also one of the dwindling number of registrars charging for Whois privacy services.

American privacy customers are reportedly to be offered a partial refund or the chance to upgrade to a service that also includes two-factor authentication and malware scans.

From today, Whois records for American registrants only show a registrant organization, state and country. Email addresses and phone numbers are gone.

While this is no doubt a boon to most GoDaddy customers in terms of privacy protection, it’s likely to cause frowns in those parts of the community that rely upon Whois to make the job of tracking down ne’er-do-wells easier.

As the largest registrar by a considerable margin, the likes of law enforcement, intellectual property owners and security researchers have just lost access to millions of records.

There is a contact form at the bottom of each record that can be used to get in touch with the registrant, via GoDaddy, so it should still be possible to communicate with those who want to be communicated with.

ICANN may scrap its $0.18 reg tax in coronavirus “solidarity”

Kevin Murphy, April 28, 2020, Domain Registrars

ICANN is thinking about whether to temporarily waive the $0.18 it charges registrars (and therefore registrants) whenever a gTLD domain name is registered.

Execs said the idea was being considered during a conference call explaining ICANN’s new budget this afternoon.

The idea was floated by GoDaddy policy head James Bladel during the call, and supported by others, but it appears it had already also occurred to ICANN.

Bladel suggested that it might not make a big impact on registrants’ wallets, but that it would be a show of “solidarity” with registrars and registries that have waived domain recovery fees to help registrants that have been hit by coronavirus.

ICANN said it was looking at the idea but did not commit one way or the other.

Should such a waiver come into effect, it’s not clear whether it would be uniformly passed on to registrants.

GoDaddy signs up 30 partners to lockdown-era marketing scheme

Kevin Murphy, April 15, 2020, Domain Registrars

GoDaddy has signed up 30 companies to a new marketing program that it says is designed to help small business keep afloat during the coronavirus lockdown.

It’s called #OpenWeStand, and the company is doing its level best to cast it as a community “movement” rather than a way to shift product as the world stands on the precipice of pandemic-induced recession.

The companies signed up so far are: Acronis, American Express, Association for Enterprise Opportunity, Avetta, BrandCrowd, Brex, ChowNow, Digital Air Strike, Evite, Gift Up!, GoFundMe, Hello Alice, Inc. Media, Kabbage, Keap, Keysight Technologies, Moneypenny, Next Insurance, Next Street, Nextdoor, PayPal, Rocket Lawyer, Ruby, Salesforce, Seed Spot, ServiceTitan, Shaw Academy, Slack, SurveyMonkey, and Zenefits.

What are all these companies offering worried business owners? It’s not entirely clear yet, but the answer so far appears to be primarily: discounts.

Evite, for example, is offering customers a free year of its premium service, which usually goes for $249, according to the OpenWeStand web site.

Customers of GoDaddy that are also customers of collaboration tool Slack will get a 25% discount on any Slack upgrade they buy.

Food delivery aggregator ChowNow says it’s designed a loyalty scheme product designed to put uo-front fees in restaurants’ pockets at a time when delivery is basically their only option.

Inc magazine’s contribution appears to be limited to a pledge to continue publishing.

GoDaddy itself is offering free social media makeovers and marketing services.

There’s not a whole lot more in the way of offers right now, but the site has placeholders for the likes of PayPal, American Express and Salesforce to promote their offerings soon.

In terms of offering advice to small business owners, we’re looking at a collection of GoDaddy blog posts and a LinkedIn group with about 200 members.

It’s obviously far too early to say whether any of this will ultimately be useful or attractive enough to help small businesses survive the lockdown, but I also think it would be churlish to dismiss it as a cynical marketing ploy at this stage.

A slick GoDaddy video promoting #OpenWeStand, which appears to have been voiced by the soothing, avuncular gravel of Donald Sutherland, has received over 12 million views since it was published March 25, so their may be an appetite for this kind of “movement”.