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Transferring domains gets more complex this week

Kevin Murphy, November 28, 2016, Domain Registrars

A new anti-hijacking domain name transfer policy comes into effect this week at all ICANN-accredited registrars, potentially complicating the process of not only selling domains but also updating your own Whois records.

But many registrars have already rewritten their terms of service to make the new rules as hassle-free as possible (and essentially pointless).

From December 1, the old ICANN Inter-Registrar Transfer Policy starts governing inter-registrant transfers too, becoming simply the Transfer Policy.

Now, when you make updates to your Whois records that appear to suggest new ownership, you’ll have to respond to one or two confirmation emails, text messages or phone calls.

The policy change is the latest output of the interminable IRTP work within ICANN’s GNSO, and is designed to help prevent domain hijacking.

But because the changes are likely to be poorly understood by registrants at the outset, it’s possible some friction could be added to domain transfers.

Under the new Transfer Policy, you will have to respond to confirmation emails if you make any of the following:

  • A change to the Registered Name Holder’s name or organization that does not appear to be merely a typographical correction;
  • Any change to the Registered Name Holder’s name or organization that is accompanied by a change of address or phone number;
  • Any change to the Registered Name Holder’s email address.

While registrars have some leeway to define “typographical correction” in their implementation, the notes to the policy seem to envisage single-character transposition and omission errors.

Registrants changing their last names due to marriage or divorce would apparently trigger the confirmation emails, as would transfers between parent and subsidiary companies.

The policy requires both the gaining and losing registrant to verify the “transfer”, so if the registrant hasn’t actually changed they’ll have to respond to two emails to confirm the desired changes.

Making any of the three changes listed above will also cause the unpopular 60-day transfer lock mechanism — which stops people changing registrars — to trigger, unless the registrant has previously opted out.

Registrars are obliged to advise customers that if the change of registrant is a prelude to an inter-registrar transfer, they’d be better off transferring to the new registrar first.

The new policy is not universally popular even among registrars, where complexity can lead to mistakes and therefore support costs.

Fortunately for them, the Transfer Policy introduces the concept of “Designated Agents” — basically middlemen that can approve registrant changes on your behalf.

Some registrars are taking advantage of this exception to basically make the confirmation aspects of the new policy moot.

Calling the confirmation emails an “unnecessary burden”, EuroDNS said last week that it has unilaterally made itself every customer’s Designated Agent by modifying its terms of service.

Many other registrars, including Tucows/OpenSRS, NameCheap and Name.com appear to be doing exactly the same thing.

In other words, many registrants will not see any changes as a result of the new Transfer Policy.

The truism that there’s no domain name policy that cannot be circumvented with a middleman appears to be holding.

Cops can’t block domain transfers without court order, NAF rules

Kevin Murphy, January 12, 2014, Domain Registrars

Law enforcement and IP owners were dealt a setback last week when the National Arbitration Forum ruled that they cannot block domain transfers unless they have a court order.

The ruling could make it more difficult for registrars to acquiesce to requests from police trying to shut down piracy sites, as they might technically be in breach of their ICANN contracts.

NAF panelist Bruce Meyerson made the call in a Transfer Dispute Resolution Policy ruling after a complaint filed by EasyDNS against Directi (PublicDomainRegistry.com).

You’re probably asking right about now: “The what policy?”

I had to look it up, too.

TDRP, it turns out, has been part of the ICANN rulebook since the Inter-Registrar Transfer Policy was adopted in 2004.

It’s designed for disputes where one registrar refuses to transfer a domain to another. As part of the IRTP, it’s a binding part of the Registrar Accreditation Agreement.

It seems to have been rarely used in full over the last decade, possibly because the first point of complaint is the registry for the TLD in question, with only appeals going to a professional arbitrator.

Only NAF and the Asian Domain Name Dispute Resolution Centre are approved to handle such cases, and their respective records show that only one TDRP appeal has previously filed, and that was in 2013.

In the latest case, Directi had refused to allow the transfer of three domains to EasyDNS after receiving a suspension request from the Intellectual Property Crime Unit of the City of London Police.

The IPCU had sent suspension requests, targeting music download sites “suspected” of criminal activity, to several registrars.

The three sites — maxalbums.com, emp3world.com, and full-albums.net — are all primarily concerned with hosting links to pirated music while trying to install as much adware as possible on visitors’ PCs.

The registrants of the names had tried to move from India-based Directi to Canada-based EasyDNS, but found the transfers denied by Directi.

EasyDNS, which I think it’s fair to say is becoming something of an activist when it come to this kind of thing, filed the TDRP first with Verisign then appealed its “No Decision” ruling to NAF.

NAF’s Meyerson delivered a blunt, if reluctant-sounding, win to EasyDNS:

Although there are compelling reasons why the request from a recognized law enforcement agency such as the City of London Police should be honored, the Transfer Policy is unambiguous in requiring a court order before a Registrar of Record may deny a request to transfer a domain name… The term “court order” is unambiguous and cannot be interpreted to be the equivalent of suspicion of wrong doing by a policy agency.

To permit a registrar of record to withhold the transfer of a domain based on the suspicion of a law enforcement agency, without the intervention of a judicial body, opens the possibility for abuse by agencies far less reputable than the City of London Police.

That’s a pretty unambiguous statement, as far as ICANN policy is concerned: no court order, no transfer block.

It’s probably not going to stop British cops trying to have domains suspended based on suspicion alone — the Metropolitan Police has a track record of getting Nominet to suspend thousands of .uk domains in this way — but it will give registrars an excuse to decline such requests when they receive them, if they want the hassle.

Delinquent top 20 registrar not delinquent after all

Kevin Murphy, August 27, 2012, Domain Registrars

China’s largest domain name registrar isn’t shirking its ICANN fees, despite previous allegations to the contrary.

Xin Net, which has over 1.6 million gTLD domains under management, received a breach notice from ICANN last month which stated that the company was $2,000 in arrears with its payments.

The company was given until August 22 to correct the problem or risk losing its accreditation.

But in a subsequent compliance notice ICANN admitted that “due to an error the registrar’s account reflected a delinquent balance”.

The admission was buried deep in the notice and not immediately obvious to anyone browsing ICANN’s compliance pages.

The original notice also alleged a breach of the Inter-Registrar Transfer Policy with respect to the domain names rongzhu.net, qsns.net and zuixincn.com, which was not an error.

ICANN posts breach notices to its web site fairly regularly — 84 of them since mid-2008 — and more often than not they allege failure to pay fees in addition to other problems.

Go Daddy’s 60-day transfer lock can now be removed

One of Go Daddy’s most unpopular practices – the infamous 60-day domain name transfer lock – has essentially come to an end.

From today, customers will be able to unlock their domains before the period is up, by contacting a special support team, according to director of policy planning James Bladel.

For many years Go Daddy has blocked domains from being transferred to other registrars if changes have been made to the registrant contact information within the last 60 days.

The company alerts users to the lock before they make changes to their Whois data, but that hasn’t stopped the policy bugging the hell out of domainers and regular registrants.

It’s designed to prevent domain hijackings – something Go Daddy says it does very well – but when false positives occur it often looks like a nefarious customer retention strategy.

“It’s a very effective tool for preventing harm, but it does catch out a lot of folks who want to legitimately change registrant data,” Bladel said.

Under the new policy, if Go Daddy blocks a transfer because of the 60-day lock, registrants will be given an email address to contact in order to appeal the block.

According to Bladel, after a human review the locks will be lifted and the Whois data will revert to its original state, unless the Go Daddy support team suspects a hijacking is in progress.

“The bad guys are not going to call and ask us to take a second look at this,” he said. “The bad guys want it to happen under the radar.”

The changes come thanks largely to a new revision of ICANN’s Inter-Registrar Transfer Policy, which came into effect today and specifies that transferring registrants need to be given a way to remove the locks on their domains within five days.

But Bladel said the way the policy is written gave Go Daddy a lot of leeway in how to interpret it – it could have kept the locks in place as before – but it decided to revise its policy to improve the customer experience.

End in sight for Go Daddy’s 60-day transfer lock

Kevin Murphy, January 21, 2012, Domain Registrars

Go Daddy’s unpopular 60-day domain name lockdown period, which prevents customers moving to other registrars, could be reduced to as little as five days under new ICANN policy.

ICANN’s GNSO Council this week voted to amend the Inter-Registrar Transfer Policy, which is binding on all registrars, to clarify when and how a registrar is allowed to block a transfer.

Today, Go Daddy has a policy of preventing transfers for 60 days whenever the registrant’s name is changed in the Whois record.

It’s designed to help prevent domain name hijacking, but to many customers it’s frustrating and looks shady; as a result it’s one of the most frequently cited criticisms of the company.

Other registrars may have similar policies, but Go Daddy is the only one you ever really hear complaints about.

Some have even posited that the practice violates the IRTP, which explicitly prevents registrars spuriously locking domains when customers update their Whois.

But ICANN’s compliance department has disagreed with that interpretation, drawing a distinction between “Whois changes” (cannot block a transfer) and “registrant changes” (can block a transfer).

Essentially, if you change your name in a Whois record the domain can be locked by your registrar, but if you change other fields such as mailing address or phone number it cannot.

Go Daddy and other registrars would still be able prevent transfers under the revised policy, but they would have to remove the block within five days of a customer request.

This is how ICANN explains the changes:

Registrar may only impose a lock that would prohibit transfer of the domain name if it includes in its registration agreement the terms and conditions for imposing such lock and obtains express consent from the Registered Name Holder: and

Registrar must remove the “Registrar Lock” status within five (5) calendar days of the Registered Name Holder’s initial request, if the Registrar does not provide facilities for the Registered Name Holder to remove the “Registrar Lock” status

Registrars may have some freedom in how they implement the new policy. Unblocking could be as simple as checking a box in the user interface, or it could mean a phone call.

Go Daddy, which was an active participant in the IRTP review and says it supports the changes, supplied a statement from director of policy planning James Bladel:

In the coming months, Go Daddy is making a few changes to our policy for domains in which the registrant information has changed.

We believe this new procedure will continue to prevent hijacked domain names from being transferred away, while making the transfer experience more user-friendly for our customers.

The changes were approved unanimously by the GNSO Council at its meeting on Thursday.

Before they become binding on registrars, they will have to be approved by the ICANN board of directors too, and the soonest that could happen is at its February 16 meeting.

The changes are part of a package of IRTP revisions – more to come in the near future – that have been under discussion in the ICANN community since 2007. Seriously.

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