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Emoji domains get a 😟 after broad study

Kevin Murphy, October 28, 2019, Domain Tech

Domain names containing emojis are a security risk and not recommended, according to a pretty comprehensive review by an ICANN study group.

The Country-Code Names Supporting Organization has delivered the results of its 12-person, 18-month Emoji Study Group, which was tasked with looking into the problems emoji domains can cause, review current policy, and talk to ccTLD registries that currently permit emoji domains.

The ESG didn’t have a lot of power, and its recommendations are basically an exercise in can-kicking, but it’s easily the most comprehensive overview of the issues surrounding emoji domains that I’ve ever come across.

It’s 30 pages long, and you can read it here (pdf).

Emojis are currently banned in gTLDs, where ICANN has to approve new Unicode tables before they can be used by registries at the second level, under its internationalized domain name policy, IDNA 2008.

But ccTLDs, which are not contracted with ICANN, have a lot more flexibility. There are 15 ccTLDs — almost all representing small islands or low-penetration African nations — that currently permit emoji domains, the ESG found.

That’s about 6% of Latin-script ccTLDs out there today. These TLDs are .az, .cf, .fm, .je, .ga, .ge, .gg, .gq, .ml, .st, .to, .tk, .uz, .vu, and .ws.

Five of them, including .tk, are run by notorious freebie registry Freenom, but perhaps the best-known is .ws, where major brands such as Budweiser and Coca-Cola have run marketing campaigns in the past.

The main problem with emojis is the potential for confusing similarity, and the ESG report does a pretty good job of enumerating the ways confusability can arise. Take its comparison of multiple applications’ version of the exact same “grinning face” emoji, for example:

Emoji comparison

If you saw a domain containing one of those in marketing on one platform, would you be able to confidently navigate to the site on another? I doubt I would.

There’s also variations in how registrars handle emojis on their storefronts, the report found. On some you can search with an emoji, on others you’ll need to type out the xn-- prefixed Punycode translation longhand.

In terms of recommendations, the ESG basically just asked ICANN to keep an eye on the situation, to come to a better definition of what an emoji actually is, and to reach out for information to the ccTLDs accepting emojis, which apparently haven’t been keen on opening up so far.

Despite the lack of closure, it’s a pretty good read if you’re interested in this kind of thing.

Freenom adds .gq to free African ccTLD roster

Kevin Murphy, October 2, 2014, Domain Registries

Freenom has struck a deal with registry for the once-dormant ccTLD for Equatorial Guinea to offer .gq domain names for free worldwide.

The ccTLD is the latest from Africa to buy into the company’s free domains model, after .cf (Central African Republic), .ml (Mali) and .ga (Gabon).

The local registry for Equatorial Guinea is telecom provider GETESA

Netherlands-based Freenom is best-known for .tk, which with over 26 million names is the second-largest TLD after .com, despite ostensibly representing the 1,500 inhabitants of tiny Pacific island Tokelau.

Funded to the tune of $3 million last December, the company makes its money by monetizing the residual traffic from expired and deleted domains in the zones it manages, as well as add-on services.

.gq is currently in sunrise and expects to go live with general availability December 1.

A recent Anti-Phishing Working Group report found that Freenom’s ccTLDs are much more likely to host phishing attacks, relative to their size.

Equatorial Guinea is a small country, with just over 650,000 citizens. While ostensibly oil-rich, most of its inhabitants suffer from truly shocking poverty, human rights and infant mortality rates.