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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.

ICANN got hacked by crypto bots

Kevin Murphy, April 16, 2019, Domain Tech

ICANN had to take down its community wiki for several hours last week after it got hacked by crypto-currency miners.

The bad guys got in via one of two “critical” vulnerabilities in Confluence, the wiki software that ICANN licences from Atlassian Systems, which ICANN had not yet patched.

ICANN’s techies noticed the wiki, which is used by many of its policy-making bodies to coordinate their work, was running slowly April 11.

They quickly discovered that Atlassian had issued a vulnerability warning on March 20, but ICANN was not on its mailing list (doh!) so hadn’t been directly notified.

They also determined that a malicious “Crypto-Miner” — software that uses spare CPU cycles to attempt to create new cryptocurrency coins — had been installed and was responsible for the poor performance.

ICANN said it took the wiki down, restored it to a recent backup, patched Confluence, and brought the system back online. It seems to have taken a matter of hours from discovery to resolution.

The organization said it has now subscribed to Atlassian’s mailing list, so it will be notified of future vulnerabilities directly.

David and Goliath? DotMusic confirms .music win

Kevin Murphy, April 12, 2019, Domain Registries

Cyprus-based registry upstart DotMusic Ltd has confirmed that it has secured the rights to the .music gTLD.

Founder and CEO Constantinos Roussos tweeted the news overnight.

It is not known how much DotMusic paid for the string, which I believe was auctioned in late March.

DotMusic fought off competition from seven other applicants, including some heavy-hitters: Google, Amazon, Donuts, Radix, Far Further, Domain Venture Partners and MMX.

MMX’s application was the last to be withdrawn, last night.

It’s not impossible that .music could launch before the end of the year, after DotMusic has completed the remaining pre-delegation steps such as signing its ICANN registry contract.

There will also be a couple of launch phases that give priority to members of the music industry.

Even when it goes to general availability, it won’t be a free-for-all, however.

DotMusic, in its efforts to secure support from the piracy-fearful music industry, proposed relatively strict “enhanced safeguards” for .music.

Registrants will have to verify their identity by phone as well as email in order to register a domain. They’ll also be restricted to strings matching their “their own name, acronym or Doing Business As”.

I don’t think the policies as outlined will be enough to prevent speculation, but they will add friction, possibly throttling sales volume.

In other news, it turns out Dewey did in fact defeat Truman.

ICANN takes the reins again as .amazon talks fail

Kevin Murphy, April 10, 2019, Domain Policy

ICANN has re-involved itself in the fight over the .amazon gTLD, after Amazon and eight South American governments failed to reach agreement over the name.

ICANN chair Cherine Chalaby wrote this week to the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization to inform the group that it is now ICANN that will decide whether the proposed dot-brand domain is approved or not.

ICANN’s board had given Amazon and ACTO until April 7 to come to a mutual agreement that addressed ACTO’s sovereignty concerns, but they missed that deadline.

According to the BBC World Service, citing unnamed diplomats, ACTO wanted Amazon to create a kind of policy committee, with seats at the table for governments to veto second-level domains Amazon decides it wants to register in .amazon in future.

Amazon declined this demand, instead offering each of the eight ACTO countries its two-letter country-code under .amazon — br.amazon for Brazil, for example — the Beeb reported at the weekend.

Now that ICANN’s deadline has passed, ACTO appears to have lost its chance to negotiate with Amazon.

ICANN has now asked the company to submit a plan to address ACTO’s concerns directly to ICANN by April 21.

From that point, it could go either way. ICANN might approve the .amazon application, reject it, or push it back to Amazon for further work.

But .amazon may not necessarily be on the home straight yet. A straightforward approval or rejection will very likely provoke howls of anguish, and further appeals action, from the losing side.

.music update: I’m calling it for Costa

Kevin Murphy, April 10, 2019, Domain Registries

Amazon has pulled out of the fight for the .music gTLD, and I’m ready to call the race.

In full knowledge that this could be my “Dewey Defeats Truman” moment, it seems to me the balance of evidence right now is strongly pointing to a win for DotMusic over sole remaining rival bidder MMX.

The contention set originally had eight applicants, but six — Google, Donuts, Radix, Far Further, Domain Venture Partners and last night Amazon — have withdrawn over the last week or so.

This is a sure sign that the battle is over, and that the rights to .music have been auctioned off.

The two remaining applicants yet to withdraw are DotMusic Ltd, the Cyprus-based company founded and managed by music enthusiast and entrepreneur Constantinos Roussos, and Entertainment Names Inc, a joint venture managed by MMX (aka Minds + Machines).

One of them will withdraw its application soon, and my money’s on MMX.

Neither company will talk to me about the result.

But, as I observed Monday, DotMusic has recently substantially revamped its web site, and appears to be accepting “pre-registrations” for .music domains. These are not the actions of a loser.

MMX, on the other hand, has never shared Roussos’ public enthusiasm for .music and has never been particularly enthusiastic about winning private gTLD auctions, usually preferring instead to enjoy the proceeds of losing.

There are only two wildcard factors at play here that may soon make me look foolish.

First, the joint venture partner for Entertainment Names is an unknown quantity. Its two directors, listed in its .music application, are a pair of Hollywood entertainment lawyers with no previous strong connection to the ICANN ecosystem. I’ve no idea what their agenda is.

Second, MMX did not mention .music once in the “Post Period Highlights” of its recently filed 2018 financial results statement. It did mention the resolution of the .gay and .cpa contention sets, but not .music.

That filing came out April 3, at least a few days after the contention set had been won, but I’m assuming that the tight timing and/or non-disclosure agreements are probably to blame for the lack of a mention for .music.

So, on balance, I’m calling it for Roussos.

With a bit of luck we’ll have confirmation and maybe a bit of detail about potential launch dates before the week is out.