Freenom, the company behind .tk and other freebie ccTLDs, has had its ICANN registrar accreditation suspended for cybersquatting competing registrars including Go Daddy and Key-Systems.
OpenTLD, its registrar business, has been told it cannot accept new registrations or inbound transfers from July 8 to October 6 or until it provides ICANN with a full list of the names it squatted.
I believe it’s the first time ICANN has suspended a registrar for this reason.
The suspension notice states:
ICANN has found that OpenTLD has engaged in a pattern and practice of trafficking in or use of domain names identical or confusingly similar to a trademark or service mark of a third party in which the Registered Name Holder has no rights or legitimate interest
That’s a long-winded way of saying “massive cybersquatting”.
ICANN is basing its claims on two UDRP cases that Freenom and its CEO, Joost Zuurbier, lost.
According to WIPO panelists in Key-Systems GmbH v. Joost Zuurbier, OpenTLD B.V. and NetEarth Group, Inc. v. Stichting OpenTLD WHOIS Proxy, the company squatted at least seven of its rivals’ trademarks.
The domains were netearthone.biz, rrpproxy.me, key-systems.cc, resellerclub.tk, resellbiz.biz, godaddy.cf and resello.ws.
According to the UDRP decisions, Freenom used the domains to try to entice resellers of the other registrars over to OpenTLD.
It bought the competing registrars’ trademarks as search keywords on Google’s advertising platform, a WIPO panelist found. If you searched Google for Key-Systems trademark “RRPproxy”, for example, you’d get an ad linking to rrpproxy.me.
In some cases the names were registered behind Freenom’s in-house privacy service. In others, Zuurbier and OpenTLD were listed plainly as the registrants.
The WIPO panelists also found that Freenon shirked its duties under the UDRP as registrar, deleting the squatted domains rather than locking them, which essentially amounted to “cyberflight”.
It all looks pretty bad for Freenom, which only gained its accreditation two years ago.
To avoid termination, it has to provide ICANN with a list of all of its trademark infringing names, agree to transfer them to the mark owners or delete them, and bunch of other stuff.
ICANN has approved Moniker’s request for a partial waiver of the Registrar Accreditation Agreement based on European privacy law, despite the fact that the registrar is based in the US.
The data retention waiver for Moniker was one of a few granted to members of the KeyDrive group of registrars that were approved by ICANN yesterday.
KeyDrive is based in Luxembourg, but the waiver request was granted because complying with the 2013 RAA could violate German privacy law and Moniker’s data is stored in Germany.
Registrar’s technical backend services provider as well as data storage and collection occur on servers hosted and operated in Germany, and is subject to German law. Accordingly, ICANN has determined that it is appropriate to grant Registrar a data retention waiver
Group members Key-Systems AG (a German company) Key-Systems LLC (an American company) also received waivers yesterday.
InternetX, part of Germany-based United Internet, and http.net Internet also had their requests approved.
The waiver process was introduced because the 2013 RAA requires registrars to store customer data long after their domains expire, which registrars’ lawyers say forces them to break local laws.
An EU directive implemented in many European countries says that companies cannot store personal data for longer than it is needed for the purpose for which is was collected.
KeyDrive has appointed Bonnie Wittenburg, Key-System USA executive vice president, as the new CEO of sister registrar Moniker.
She replaces Craig Snyder, who was CEO of Moniker and SnapNames and remains CEO of SnapNames. Wittenburg keeps her EVP roles at Key-Systems.
“Through her expanded role she will drive cooperation and develop a synergistic relationship between the KeyDrive members,” the company said in a statement.
The KeyDrive stable also includes Key-Systems, NameDrive and KS Registry.
Wittenberg is a 15-year veteran of the domain name industry, with previous stints at Network Solutions and Iron Mountain.
Key-Systems said yesterday that it plans to make .hiv domain names available at “below net cost price”, in solidarity with would-be new gTLD registry dotHIV.
The registrar said it will also offer free .hiv names at launch to organizations involving in fighting the virus via its Moniker and domaindiscount24.com retail registrars.
dotHIV, also a German company, plans to donate all of its profits to HIV/AIDs charities.
Its application is uncontested and has already passed Initial Evaluation, but is the target of Governmental Advisory Committee advice, which has put its bid on hold.
Despite this uncertainty, Key-Systems said it expects the Sunrise phase for .hiv to start in December.
KSRegistry has been appointed the new registry operator for Grenada’s ccTLD after bad management at the previous operator led to the whole TLD being hijacked.
But the fate of two other hijacked ccTLDs — .tc and .vg — appears to be less certain, with significant confusion over who’s in charge at both.
One of them, at least, may still be “hijacked”.
But KSRegistry, part of the KeyDrive group, said today that it took over the technical management of .gd from AdamsNames (Amaryllis Investments Ltd) on May 1.
While a press release describes the change as a “redelegation” by ICANN’s IANA function, in fact it’s just a change of technical contact in the IANA database.
Grenada’s National Telecommunications Regulatory Commission remains the official, delegated manager of the TLD.
The hasty switch-over follows the alleged wholesale hijacking of the ccTLD by a disgruntled former employee of AdamsNames, who temporarily relocated it from the UK to Turkey.
The TLD, along with .tc and .vg, went AWOL in March after one Ertan Ulutas apparently took over the domain AdamsNames.net, the web site which was used by registrants to manage their names.
For a couple of weeks the site remained in the hands of the alleged hijacker, and all the while the AdamsNames.net site presented itself as the official registry manager.
KSRegistry was at the time the appointed back-end provider, appointed last year, for AdamsNames.
Due to the period of confusion, KSRegistry said today that the integrity of registration data in .gd may have been compromised, and that the zone will be “frozen” until May 21.
KSRegistry said in a statement:
While the .GD zone is frozen, no registrations, modifications, transfers, deletions or renewals can be made until the zone file has been fully reviewed and confirmed as valid and complete. Expired domains which are still in the zone can explicit be set to be either deleted or renewed prior to the reactivation of automated domain deletion function on May 21. Contact and nameserver updates can be done by each registrar for the domain names in its portfolio once the ServerUpdateProhibited status is removed. The NTRC and the KSregistry GmbH intend to resolve the discrepancies in the registration data with the .GD accredited registrars until May 21, 2013.
Getting rid of AdamsNames seems like a smart move by Grenada.
While AdamsNames has not been accused of any wrongdoing, allowing its TLDs to get hijacked, putting many thousands of domains at risk, certainly smacks of incompetence.
And the current status of .tc and .vg is unclear enough that I’d advise extreme caution when doing business with either TLD until further notice.
According to IANA records, .vg (British Virgin Islands) still has AdamsNames listed as the technical manager, but there have been significant, dodgy-looking changes at .tc recently.
Notably, references to AdamsNames as technical contact and official registration site for the ccTLD have been removed and replaced with those for a couple of new companies.
TLD AS (based in Turkey) and Meridian TLD (based in the British Virgin Islands) have been named as technical contact and registration site for .tc respectively.
Also, a name server for .tc that was operated by RIPE (a respectable organization), was also removed and replaced with one from zone.tc, a domain controlled by Meridian TLD, in early April.
All the name servers for .tc, and all but one of the name servers for .vg, are now on domains controlled by Meridian.
On the face of it, it looks almost legit. Meridian’s web site even states that its representatives were at the ICANN meeting in Beijing a month ago.
But according to AdamsNames, Meridian is actually run by Ulutas (the alleged hijacker) and at least two other people, and the two other people showed up in Beijing pretending to represent AdamsNames.
AdamsNames said on its web site:
We have to state frank and clear that neither Ayse Ergen nor her companion are authorised to represent or to act on behalf of AdamsNames Limited. By posing as employees of AdamsNames, the group of criminals around Ertan Ulutas, newly also known as “Meridian TLD Corp.”, continues its efforts to hijack the business of AdamsNames (run since 1999) by underhand means.
ICANN/IANA, according to AdamsNames, was aware of its complaints about Meridian from late March, which was before it made the changes that gave Meridian effective control over .tc.
Right now, it looks disturbingly like the alleged “hijacker” has actually managed to not only take over operations for at least one entire ccTLD but also to make it official.