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Donuts makes six-figure .news sale to dangerous conspiracy theorist

Donuts has sold a package of “platinum” .news domains to a network of dubious news sites peddling what many describe as dangerous pseudo-scientific nonsense.

A company called WebSeed acquired science.news, food.news, health.news, medicine.news, pollution.news, cancer.news and climate.news from the registry for an undisclosed sum in the six-figure range last December, Donuts said.

It appears that the same buyer has acquired several other presumably non-platinum .news domains, including vaccines.news, nutrients.news, menshealth.news and emergencymedicine.news

The sites have already been developed, incorporating a back catalog of “news” content from other sites under the same ownership, and Donuts reckons searches for “climate news” and “science news” already return the matching domains prominently (they don’t for me, but Google can be fickle).

Unfortunately, the domains seem to have been sold to a leading purveyor of misinformation and conspiracy theories.

That’s right, climate.news now belongs to a climate change denier, vaccines.news belongs to an anti-vaxxer, and medicine.news belongs to somebody who values alternative remedies over science-based medicine.

As far as I can tell, pretty much all of the content on the network of .news domains comes from Natural News, the controversial site owned by “Health Ranger” Mike Adams.

Natural News has been fingered as an “empire of misinformation” and a leading contributor to the “fake news” crisis that has been blighting society for the last few years.

Check out climate.news today to be treated to Adams’ theory that climate change is nothing but a conspiracy peddled by the UN and the mainstream media.

Over on vaccines.news, you’ll find a scaremongering story about how the measles vaccine has killed more people than measles over the last decade.

(Gee, I wonder why measles isn’t killing anyone any more? Could it be that we have a fucking vaccine?).

On medicine.news, Adams himself writes of “PROOF that vaccines target blacks for depopulation”.

And at pollution.news, you’ll find any number of articles discussing the “chemtrails” conspiracy theory.

To be perfectly honest, I’m not scientifically literate enough to debunk most of the content on these sites, but I know quackery when I see it.

Donuts’ press release goes to suspicious pains to point out that the sites’ content is “thoroughly researched” and advertising is “limited and relevant to the sites’ content”.

In fact, the advertising seems in most if not all cases to lead back to Adams’ own stores, where he sells stuff like water purifiers, dietary supplements and alternative medicines.

The Donuts press release also quotes the founder and CEO of WebSeed, one “Mike Texas”.

Now, I have absolutely no evidence whatsoever that Mr Texas is not a real person.

But.

Whois records (remember those?) show that the original registrant of science.news was one Mike Adams of WebSeed LLC, and WebSeed.com, while under privacy for some years, was originally registered to Adams’ Taiwan-based company.

It goes without saying that Donuts, as a neutral registry, is under no obligation whatsoever to police content on the domains it sells. That would be a Bad Thing.

But I can’t help but feel that .news has the potential to take a big credibility hit due to the content of these sites.

Imagine a fox, buying up all the good .henhouse domains. It’s a bit like that.

.health backer has cop-like takedown powers for all gTLDs in Japan

Kevin Murphy, December 8, 2014, Domain Registrars

LegitScript, a US company focused on eradicating illegal online pharmacies, which backs the .pharmacy and .health gTLDs, has been given police-like powers to have domain names taken down in Japan.

It has also emerged that when IP Mirror, a brand protection registrar, was hit with an embarrassing ICANN contract-breach notice in November, it was as a result of a LegitScript complaint.

Under section 3.18.2 of ICANN’s 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement, registrars must have a 24/7 abuse hotline that can be used by “law enforcement, consumer protection, quasi-governmental or other similar authorities” to report illegal activity.

Registrars must act on complaints made to the hotline within 24 hours, but only authorities designated by national governments get to use it.

Now, it transpires that LegitScript has been formally designated a 3.18.2 authority by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

That means the US company’s complaints about domains hosting potentially illegal pharmacy sites have the same weight as complaints from the Japanese police, when made to registrars that have an office in Japan, even if they’re headquartered elsewhere.

IP Mirror, which was recently acquired by CSC Digital Brand Services, is based in Singapore but has an office in Tokyo.

As far as I can tell, most of the top 10 registrars do not have offices in Japan. KeyDrive (Moniker, Key-Systems etc) may be the exception. GMO is the largest registrar based in Japan.

LegitScript announced its relationship with the Japanese ministry in September (I missed it at the time) and company president John Horton provided some context to the IP Mirror breach notice on CircleID today.

I only report the deal today because it strikes me as noteworthy that a private enterprise has been given the same powers under the 2013 RAA as law enforcement and government consumer protection agencies — and it’s not even in its home territory.

Horton told DI today that while LegitScript is legally based in the US and has offices in the EU, only Japan has so far formally granted it 3.18.2 powers. He said in an email:

We only have formal Section 3.18.2 designation in Japan at present. We have some other endorsements or recommendations by or on behalf of government authorities, although they do not specifically reference Section 3.18.2. We work closely with the Italian Medicines Agency and the Irish Medicines Board, for example, and report rogue Internet pharmacies in consultation with them.

Horton pointed out that anybody is able to to file abuse complaints under the 2013 RAA — and registrars are obliged to “take reasonable and prompt steps to investigate and respond appropriately”.

His CircleID piece cites two instances in which such complaints from LegitScript resulted in ICANN breach notices.

The chief difference is that under 3.18.2 registrars do not have much flexibility in their response times. They have to “take necessary and appropriate actions” within a black-and-white 24-hour deadline.

Straat-backed bidder beats Donuts and Afilias to .health

Kevin Murphy, August 21, 2014, Domain Registries

DotHealth has won the four-way contention set for the controversial new gTLD .health.

Afilias and Donuts both withdrew their competing applications this week. Famous Four withdrew its application over a month ago.

DotHealth is backed by Straat Investments, the investment vehicle chaired by .CO Internet’s Juan Calle.

The new gTLD will run on a Neustar (which now owns .CO) back-end.

.health is likely to be restricted, or at least policed, to ensure fake pharmacies are scrubbed from the zone.

DotHealth is supported by, among other health groups, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) which often targets registries and registrars in its campaigns against bogus online pharmacies in the US.

The company plans to use LegitScript to monitor its namespace.

.health will compete against the unrestricted .healthcare, which has been delegated to Donuts.

All four applicants for .health faced adverse Governmental Advisory Committee advice and unsuccessful public interest objections from the Independent Objector.

Applicants spank IO in .health objections

Kevin Murphy, December 19, 2013, Domain Policy

Donuts and Dot Health LLC have beaten back objections filed by ICANN’s Independent Objector over the .health gTLD.

In simultaneous separate rulings by the same three-person International Chamber of Commerce panel, it was decided that the string “health” is not intrinsically offensive.

The IO, in his Limited Public Interest Objections, had argued that health is a human right protected by international law, and that .health should be managed with certain safeguards to protect the public.

But the ICC panels sided with the applicants, finding that in order for an objector to prevail in a LPI objection he must show that the string itself contravenes international law.

The panels used a strict reading of the Applicant Guidebook and supporting documentation to come to their conclusions. In the Donuts case, the panel ruled:

The Panel has no hesitation in finding that the string “health” is not objectionable in and of itself. It is obvious to the Panel that the word “health” does not conflict with any generally accepted legal norms relating to morality and public order of the same nature as the first three grounds ICANN listed in AGB Section 3.5.3.

The LPI objection was created in order to prevent gTLDs from being delegated where the string itself endorses ideas such as racism, slavery or child abuse.

ICANN has said that applications for such strings “may well be rare or non-existent”.

The panels sharply dismissed claims that IO, Alain Pellet, and a staff member were conflicted due to their previous work for the World Health Organization.

The Donuts ruling is here and the Dot Health ruling is here.

100th new gTLD application withdrawn

Former London mayor Ken Livingstone, rejoice!

L’Oreal has withdrawn its gTLD application for .redken, a dot-brand for one of its hair care products that I am reliably informed is not named after the balding socialist politician.

It’s the seventh of the company’s 14 new gTLD bids to be withdrawn.

Also today, it emerged that portfolio applicant Famous Four Media has withdrawn its application for .health, the only one of the four bids for that string yet to pass Initial Evaluation.

The string is one of the most controversial, being the subject of multiple very expensive to defend objections as well as strong Governmental Advisory Committee advice.

As of today, 100 new gTLD applications have been withdrawn, 53 of which were for uncontested strings.

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