Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

Namecheap and others banning coronavirus domains

Kevin Murphy, March 26, 2020, Domain Registrars

Anyone wanting to buy a coronavirus-related domain for scamming purposes won’t be able to do it via Namecheap, which has preemptively banned keyword domains on its storefront.

For the last several days, the registrar has rejiggered its web site to prevent customers adding domains containing certain keywords — such as “coronavirus” or “covid” or “vaccine” — to their shopping carts.

The company said today that customers wishing to register such domains for legitimate purposes can continue to do so by calling up Namecheap customer service and having the name registered manually.

CEO Richard Kirkendall said in an email to customers that Namecheap is also “actively working with authorities to both proactively prevent, and take down, any fraudulent or abusive domains or websites related to COVID19”.

A GoDaddy spokesperson told DI this week that it has also taken down domains when alerted to their usage as coronavirus scams.

Meanwhile, .uk registry Nominet said that it has added keywords such as “coronavirus” and “covid” to its Domain Watch initiative, the same semi-automated system it uses to flag and suspend phishing and “rape” domains preemptively at point of registration. Nominet said:

Those that look suspicious — based on our algorithm and then a manual check — are suspended until we see evidence of good intentions from the registrants.

So far, we have suspended over 180 domains while we conduct this extra due diligence. A small proportion responded to our satisfaction and had their domain names reactivated. It’s highly likely that those who did not respond were intending to use their domains to manipulate a public in need of information.

Another domain company taking action is aftermarket site Dan.com, which today said on Twitter that it will remove all coronavirus related domains from its marketplace.

Namecheap is also offering some customers payment flexibility when it comes to some products — largely non-domain products such as hosting — if they can convince customer service reps of their coronavirus-related financial hardship.

“I urge you not to abuse this offer, please allow it to be used by those who need it most, who are otherwise unable to pay,” Kirkendall wrote.

Verisign, the .com registry, yesterday hinted that it will be offering its registrars some similar flexibility, which one assumes could be passed on to registrants.

US officials gunning for coronavirus domains

Kevin Murphy, March 24, 2020, Domain Registrars

US state and federal law enforcement are pursuing domain names being used to push bogus products and misinformation related to coronavirus Covid-19.

In separate actions, the US Department of Justice forced Namecheap to take down a scam site that was allegedly using fear of coronivirus to hoodwink visitors out of their cash, while the New York Attorney General has written to registrars to demand they take action against similar domains.

The DoJ filed suit (pdf) against the anonymous “John Doe” registrant of coronavirusmedicalkit.com on Saturday and on Sunday obtained a temporary restraining order obliging Namecheap to remove the DNS from the domain and lock it down, which Namecheap seems to have done.

Namecheap is not named as a defendant, but the complaint notes that the DoJ had requested the domain be taken down on March 19 and no action had been taken by the evening of March 21.

The web site in question allegedly informed visitors that the World Health Organization was giving away free coronavirus vaccines to anyone prepared to pay a $4.95 shipping fee by handing over their credit card details.

This is an identity theft scam and wire fraud, the complaint says.

Meanwhile, NYAG Letitia James has sent letters, signed by IT chief Kim Berger, to several large US registrar groups — including GoDaddy, Dynadot, Name.com, Namecheap, Register.com, and Endurance — to ask them to “stop the registration and use of internet domain names by individuals trying to unlawfully and fraudulently profit off consumers’ fears around the coronavirus disease”.

In the letter to GoDaddy (pdf), Berger asks for a “dialogue” on the following preventative measures:

  • The use of automated and human review of domain name registration and traffic patterns to identify fraud;
  • Human review of complaints from the public and law enforcement about fraudulent or illegal use of coronavirus domains, including creating special channels for such complaints;
  • Revising your terms of service to reserve aggressive enforcement for the illegal use of coronavirus domains; and
  • De-registration of the domains cited in the articles identified above that were registered at GoDaddy, and any holds in place on registering new domains related to coronavirus, or similar blockers that prevent rapid registration of coronavirus-related domains.

In other words: try to stop these domains being registered, and take them down if they are.

No specific malicious sites are listed in the letter. Rather, Berger cites a study by Check Point Software that estimates that something like 3% of the more than 4,000 coronavirus-related domains registered between January and March 5 are “malicious” in nature.

GoDaddy cancels in-person investor day over coronavirus fears

Kevin Murphy, March 13, 2020, Domain Registrars

GoDaddy has followed in the footsteps of many other companies and organizations, cancelling a large in-person meeting to avoid exacerbating the coronavirus pandemic.

The market-leading registrar, listed on the New York Stock Exchange, announced this week that will host its investor day, scheduled for April 2, as a webcast only, out of “concern for the health and well-being of participants and attendees”.

There had been planned a face-to-face component in New York, but that will no longer go ahead.

New York’s mayor this week slapped a ban on public gatherings of over 500 people, but GoDaddy’s announcement predates that edict.

The news came as ICANN conducted its first-ever online-only public policy meeting.

Guy gets 14 years for trying to steal a domain with a gun

Kevin Murphy, December 12, 2019, Domain Sales

An American man has received a sentence of 14 years in prison after being found guilty of a plot to steal a domain name at gunpoint.

Rossi Lorathio Adams II received the sentence on Monday, according to the US Attorney’s Office in Iowa, having been found guilty of “one count of conspiracy to interfere with commerce by force, threats, and violence”.

Adams, who went by the screen name Polo, attempted to obtain the domain doitforstate.com from its registrant to support a popular social media channel he managed.

When the registrant refused multiple times, Adams drove his cousin — armed with a gun and written instructions how to push the domain into Adams’ GoDaddy account — to the registrant’s house.

A fight broke out, described vividly by the US Attorney, during which both the registrant and the gunman got shot.

Both survived, and the gunman got 20 years behind bars for his role in the attack.

If there’s a moral about domaining here, I invite the reader to discover it on their own.

GoDaddy girls often make more money than the men

Kevin Murphy, December 12, 2019, Domain Registrars

Women in some roles at GoDaddy are making more money than their male counterparts, according to data released by the registrar today.

In technical positions in the US, female employees are making on average $1.03 for every $1 men make, GoDaddy said. Women in leadership positions make two cents more than men.

But women in non-techie, non-leadership jobs make a penny less than males, the company said.

“The 2019 global salary data shows that GoDaddy is paying men and women at parity across the company, when comparing men and women in like roles,” GoDaddy said.

The new data also shows that 29% of GoDaddy employees globally are female, which is the same as last year.

But the proportion of women in technical jobs decreased by two points to 17%.

Meanwhile, 36% of non-technical roles are staffed by women, up one point from 2018.

In the US, the female contingent was a little higher — 30% overall, 19% of techies and 37% of non-techies.

The male-female mix at GoDaddy appears to be in the same ballpark as what we generally see with attendance statistics coming out of ICANN meetings — roughly 70/30.

GoDaddy started publishing this data five years ago as part of a plan to foster diversity, reduce unconscious bias, and generally get away from its roguish foundational image as a company that flogged millions of domains with “GoDaddy Girls” — usually busty spokesmodels in skimpy clothing.

US official Heineman joins GoDaddy

Kevin Murphy, November 5, 2019, Domain Policy

Former US government official Ashley Heineman has joined the staff of GoDaddy.

Heineman was until quite recently a policy specialist at the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the US representative on ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee.

But GoDaddy confirmed to DI today that she’s now left NTIA and joined the market-leading registrar.

I don’t know what her job title is yet. One assumes it’s related to policy or legal issues.

Heineman spent 15 years at NTIA and has been the ICANN GAC rep for the US for the last few years.

She’s had a respectably hands-on role, for a GACer, including being a member of the ongoing “EPDP” cross-community working group conducting a post-GDPR review of Whois policy.

Judging by my embarrassing error at the weekend, the US is currently being represented on the GAC by the NTIA’s Vernita Harris.

I’ve also heard rumors from ICANN 66 that another former NTIA official has also recently moved into the domain name industry. I’ll blog it up just as soon as I get confirmation.

Berkens says new gTLDs mostly suck but geos suck hardest

Kevin Murphy, August 12, 2019, Domain Sales

Ever since he cashed out his massive portfolio of domain names in a bulk sale to GoDaddy three and a half years ago, domain investor Mike Berkens has been dabbling in new gTLDs, and so far he’s not impressed.

In a recent conference speech and blog post, he revealed some of his experiences parking and trying to sell his new g names, and he has come down particularly harshly on geographic TLDs.

City TLDs such as .london, .nyc and .miami are “death” to a domain investor, he said at a domainer meetup in Asheville, North Carolina last week.

His portfolio of 29 .miami names has had just 532 type-in visits in the last year, and have not received a single offer, he wrote on TheDomains.com.

On the flip-side, Berkens told his audience that domain combinations that naturally fit together, such as online.dating, atlantic.city, moving.company and bank.loans are profitable from type-in traffic and can get thousands of visitors a year.

They can be profitable even when the registry charges a premium renewal fee, he said. The domain obama.care makes him $500 a year parked and has a $150 annual renewal, he said.

But when asked directly whether he would recommend new gTLDs to domain investors, Berkens said he would not, citing among other things the added risk of unregulated price increases in the new gTLD space.

Berkens made eight figures selling his portfolio of 70,000 names to GoDaddy in 2015, but the deal apparently did not include the new gTLD names he’d picked up along the way.

You can watch his 24-minute talk here.

Record-breaking $30 million domain sale was financed by cryptocurrency

Kevin Murphy, June 19, 2019, Domain Sales

Records were broken yesterday when voice.com became the most-expensive domain name ever sold.

Handed over for a cool $30 million cash, it more than doubled the previous record for a domain-only transaction, 2010’s $13 million sale of sex.com.

The seller was MicroStrategy, an analytics software provider that just happens to have a stash of high-end, one-word .com domains among its assets.

The new owner is Block.one, a blockchain software developer that has raised a staggering amount of money despite not yet having any products.

The voice.com domain will be used for Voice, its first service, a social media platform based on the EOSIO blockchain platform that Block.one develops.

How Voice specifically differs from existing social media offerings is currently a little vague. It’s currently just a press release and a beta-signup form.

But the company says it will be more transparent than competitors such as Facebook or Instagram, with revenue generated feeding its content-creating users rather than the platform owner.

Not even the blogs covering crypto on a daily basis seem to understand the Voice business model yet.

A crucial step in the early stages appears to be enticing so-called “influencers” — social media personalities with large followings — over from the current dominant platforms with the promise of huge financial rewards (presumably paid in cryptocurrency) if they bring their fans with them.

Key differences include the fact that users will need a government-issued ID to sign up (mitigating the problem of anonymous trolling and bots), and that every post will be recorded for eternity in the blockchain.

Is this what social media users are crying out for? More friction and less privacy? I don’t get it, personally. But then I didn’t get Twitter at first either.

The product was announced at a flashy news event in Washington, DV a few weeks ago. An executive discusses the value proposition briefly at around the 20-minute mark in this video recording.

Block.one itself is an equally odd fish.

It has amassed oodles of cash despite having no obvious business model. It may be the only company with a billion-dollar-plus valuation that doesn’t even have its own Wikipedia page.

It reportedly raised over $4 billion through an initial coin offering — where speculators buy a basically unused cryptocurrency in the hope that it will be adopted and its value will rise — over the space of a year.

The ICO’s success appears to be partly based on the personal branding of its founders, backers and executives, who have made names for themselves in the burgeoning crypto space.

Since the ICO ended about a year ago, the company has been pumping tens of millions of dollars into third-party projects that use its EOS blockchain, in an attempt to spur adoption.

It also reportedly expects to spend $150 million developing Voice.

So, $30 million is pretty much pocket change to these guys, who’ve rewarded MicroStrategy’s speculation in domain names with the fruits of their own investors’ speculation in another type of essentially worthless digital record.

In many ways, I guess cryptocurrency really is turning out to be to this decade what domain investment was to the last.

Ten years from now, perhaps voice.com will be sold for a trillion dollars, paid for in telepathic tulips or something.

Oh, the irony! Banned anti-Islam activist shows up on “Turkish” new gTLD domain

Kevin Murphy, April 23, 2019, Domain Policy

Tommy Robinson, who has been banned from most major social media platforms due to his anti-Islam “hate speech”, is now conducting business via a domain name that some believe rightfully belongs to the Muslim-majority nation of Turkey.

The registration could add fuel to the fight between ICANN and its governmental advisers over whether certain domains should be blocked or restricted.

Robinson, the nom de guerre of the man born Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, is the founder and former leader of the far-right English Defence League and known primarily for stirring up anti-Muslim sentiment in the UK for the last decade.

He’s currently, controversially, an adviser to the UK Independence Party. Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, also a thoroughly unpleasant bloke, considers Robinson so far to the right he quit the party in response to the appointment.

Over the last year, Robinson has been banned from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and had his YouTube account placed under serious restrictions. This month, he was also banned from SnapChat, and the EDL he used to lead was among a handful of far-right groups banned from Facebook.

Since his personal Facebook page went dark in February, he’s been promoting his new web site as the primary destination for his supporters.

It features news about his activities — mainly his ongoing fights against social media platforms and an overturned contempt of court conviction in the UK — as well as summaries of basically any sufficiently divisive anti-Islam, anti-immigration, or pro-Brexit stories his writers come across.

The domain he’s using is tr.news, a new gTLD domain in a Donuts-owned registry. It was registered in December via GoDaddy.

Given it’s a two-character domain, it will have been registry-reserved and would have commanded a premium price. Other two-character .news domains are currently available on GoDaddy for between $200 and $10,000 for the first year.

It will come as no surprise at all for you to learn that the domain was transferred out of GoDaddy, which occasionally kicks out customers with distasteful views, to Epik, now de facto home of those with far-right views, a couple of weeks after the web site launched.

The irony of the choice of domain is that many governments would claim that tr.news — indeed any two-character domain, in any gTLD, which matches any country-code — rightfully belongs to Turkey, a nation of about 80 million nominal Muslims.

TR is the ISO 3166-1 two-character code for Turkey, and until a couple of years ago new gTLD registries were banned from selling any of these ccTLD-match two-letter domains, due to complaints from ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee.

Many governments, including the UK and US, couldn’t care less who registers their matching domain. Others, such as France, Italy and Israel, want bans on specific domains such as it.pizza and il.army. Other countries have asked for blanket bans on their ccTLD-match being used at all, in any gTLD.

When new gTLDs initially launched in 2012, all ccTLD matches were banned by ICANN contract. In 2014, ICANN introduced a cumbersome government-approval system under which governments had to be consulted before their matches were released for registration.

Since December 2016, the policy (pdf) has been that registries can release any two-letter domains, subject to a provision that they not be used by registrants to falsely imply an affiliation with the country or registry with the matching ccTLD.

Robinson is certainly not making such an implication. I imagine he’d be as surprised as his readers to learn that his new domain has a Turkish connection. It’s likely the only people who noticed are ICANN nerds and the Turkish themselves.

Would the Turkish people look at tr.news and assume, from the domain alone, that it had some connection to Turkey? I think many would, though I have no idea whether they would assume it was endorsed by the government or the ccTLD registry.

Would Turkey — a government whose censorship regime makes Robinson’s social media plight look like unbounded liberalism — be happy to learn the domain matching its country code is being used primarily to deliver divisive content about the coreligionists of the vast majority of its citizens? Probably not.

But under current ICANN policy it does not appear there’s much that can be done about it. If Robinson is not attempting to pass himself of as an affiliate of the Turkish government or ccTLD registry, there’s no avenue for complaint.

However, after taking the cuffs off registries with its December 2016 pronouncement, allowing them to sell two-letter domains with barely any restrictions, ICANN has faced continued complaints from the GAC — complaints that have yet to be resolved.

The GAC has been telling ICANN for the last two years that some of its members believe the decision to release two-character names went against previous GAC advice, and ICANN has been patiently explaining the process it went through to arrive at the current policy, which included taking GAC advice and government comments into account.

In what appears to be a kind of peace offering, ICANN recently told the GAC (pdf) that it is developing an online tool that “will provide awareness of the registration of two-character domains and allow for governments to report concerns”.

The GAC, in its most-recent communique, told ICANN its members would test the tool and report back at the public meeting in Montreal this November.

The tool was not available in December, when tr.news was registered, so it’s not clear whether Turkey will have received a formal notification that its ccTLD-match domain is now registered, live, and being used to whip up mistrust of Muslims.

Update April 30: ICANN informs me that the tool has been available since February, but that it does not push notifications to governments. Rather, governments can search to see if their two-letter codes have been registered in which gTLDs.

Uniregistry calls for domain Bill of Rights as Schilling says Gab.com was not booted

Kevin Murphy, November 9, 2018, Domain Services

Uniregistry has called for a “Domain Bill of Rights” to protect free speech in a world were domain takedowns can be used to de-platform controversial speakers.

Meanwhile, CEO Frank Schilling has told DI that the company did not expel the right-wing social network Gab.com from Uniregistry’s platform, and would have allowed it to stay.

In a press release this week, Uniregistry COO Kanchan Mhatre said that while the company rejects “hatred and bigotry”, free speech is an “inalienable” human right.

The company called for the new agreement “to guarantee every domain name owner a formal ‘due process’ when being faced with accusations and demands for censorship”.

Schilling said that Uniregistry’s idea for a Domain Bill of Rights is still in the early stages. It has sketched out 10 draft bullet points but is not ready to publish them yet.

The press release was issued to coincide with Tim Berners-Lee’s proposal for a “Contract for the Web”, a set of broad principles governing rights and responsibilities online.

But it also coincided with the ongoing controversy over Gab.com, the microblogging platform favored by right-wing voices, including many white supremacists, that have been kicked off Twitter.

The guy who murdered 11 people at a Synagogue in Pittsburgh last month used Gab, a back-breaking straw which prompted GoDaddy to inform the network it intended to suspend its domain unless it was immediately moved to another registrar.

It’s not the first time GoDaddy has shut down the far right for breaching its terms of service. Last year, it took the same action against a neo-Nazi site.

The Gab.com domain briefly wound up at Uniregistry, before Epik CEO Rob Monster stated publicly that he would offer Gab a home. Gab took him up on his offer, and transferred away from Uniregistry.

Uniregistry’s Schilling confirmed that “We did not ask gab.com to leave our platform… they were welcome to stay subject to law”.

Monster said in a blog post largely praising Gab and founder Andrew Torba that “De-Platforming is Digital Censorship”. He noted that for Gab, “there is a duty to monitor and lightly curate, keeping content within the bounds of the law”.