Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

Famous Four is DEAD! New registry promises spam crackdown

Kevin Murphy, August 7, 2018, Domain Registries

Famous Four Media’s portfolio of gTLD registries is now under the control of a new company, Global Registry Services Ltd, which has promised to abandon its failed penny-domain strategy and crack down on spam.

(August 9 update: This article contains some incorrect assumptions and speculation. Please read this follow-up piece for clarifications.)

The company, which goes by the name GRS Domains, told registrars yesterday that FFM’s 16 gTLDs are now “controlled by the same parties that control Domain Venture Partners PCC Limited, and are no longer under the management of FFM.”

DVP also owned FFM, so it’s not clear how big of a deal this restructuring is from a management point of view.

My sense is that there’s not really been a substantial change, but it’s certainly more than a simple rebranding exercise.

I’ve learned that DVP was placed into administration under the Insolvency Act back in April, with management of the TLDs handed to a PricewaterhouseCoopers administrator, more or less as I speculated in June.

The TLDs affected are: .loan, .win, .men, .bid, .stream, .review, .trade, .date, .party, .download, .science, .racing, .accountant, .faith, .webcam and .cricket.

GRS told registrars:

Moving forward there are several changes being made with regard to the overall strategy of the portfolio of gTLDs, the main one being a change to a “quality over quantity” ethos and focusing on working with our Registrar Partners to sharply reduce abuse and spam registrations.

As such, all of its current pricing promotions will end August 20 and a “much more transparent and sensible pricing strategy” will come into play.

That means a wholesale reg fee of $9.98 across the board, at least until February 2019.

GRS also plans to take a lot of its lower-priced reserved “premium” names out of the premium program altogether, and to reprice “a considerable portion” of the more expensive ones.

Finally, the company, not known to attend ICANN meetings in the past, said it plans to show up at the Barcelona meeting in October to formally relaunch itself.

Famous Four has become notorious over the last few years for its deep-discounted TLDs, which have become a haven for spammers who want to register large numbers of super-cheap, throwaway domains.

As such, its gTLDs’ volumes have been huge — many racking up hundreds of thousands of names — but their renewals poor and their reputation worse.

If GRS’ new strategy is effective, we’re almost certainly going to see the industry-wide overall number of active new gTLD domains tank over the next year or so, giving more ammunition to those who think the new gTLD program was a huge waste of effort.

It could also have an impact on ICANN’s budget — no matter how cheap FFM sold its names, it still had to pay its ICANN fees on a per-domain basis. Fewer domains equals less money in ICANN’s coffers. FFM’s registries paid over $1.6 million in ICANN fees in the organization’s fiscal 2017.

While GRS is now apparently “controlled by the same parties that control Domain Venture Partners PCC Limited”, it’s not abundantly clear to me whether that’s the same people who’ve been running FFM for the last eight years.

DVP has not immediately responded to a request for comment today.

The DVP web site has not resolved in months. The new grs.domains site doesn’t name anyone, and the NIC sites for the gTLDs in the portfolio only identify a PwC bankruptcy accountant as the primary contact.

All the companies in question are based in tax haven Gibraltar, which isn’t particularly forthcoming about identifying company directors, partners or owners.

DVP’s directors were originally Adrian Hogg, Charles Melvin, Iain Roache, Douglas Smith, Peter Young, Joseph Garcia and a company called Domain Management II (itself chaired by Roache), according to an investor presentation (pdf) DI obtained back in 2013.

I believe Melvin at least, after a legal dispute with the others, is no longer involved.

And it appears that DVP is or was in fact in administration.

I noted back in June that the 16 gTLDs were now all being administered by PwC accountant Edgar Lavarello, and wondered aloud whether this meant FFM was bankrupt.

Today I obtained (read: paid an extortionate sum for) a Gibraltar court order dated April 23 putting DVP into administration under the Insolvency Act and appointing PwC as the administrator.

The application had been made by an investor called Christina Mattin and fellow investor Braganza, a private vehicle owned by a wealthy Scandinavian family, which was (at least last year) a 10% owner.

Other named investors the court heard from were the mysterious Liechtenstein-based Rennes Foundation, something called Northern Assets Investments Limited and Dutch multimillionaire Francis Claessens.

Overall, it smells a bit to me like DVP’s principals, having seen their previous venture put out of business by disgruntled investors, have snapped up its assets and are going to try to make a second go of running the business.

As for FFM? Well, it looks rather like we won’t be hearing that name again.

UPDATE: This article was updated several hours after it was originally posted to clarify that DVP was/is “in administration”.

My brain explodes trying to understand MMX’s new blockchain deal for .luxe

Kevin Murphy, August 3, 2018, Domain Registries

Minds + Machines has abandoned plans to launch .luxe as a gTLD for luxury goods and instead made a deal to sell it as an address for cryptocurrency wallets.

If you thought it was a silly move marketing .ws as meaning “web site” or .pw as “professional web”, you’re probably not going to like the backronym MMX has in mind for .luxe:

“Lets U Xchange Easily”.

Really.

Tenuous though that marketing angle may be, the concept behind the newly repurposed TLD is actually quite interesting and probably rises to the level of “innovation”.

MMX has inked a deal with Ethereum Name Service, an offshoot of Ethereum, an open-source blockchain project.

Ethereum is largely used as a cryptocurrency, like BitCoin, enabling people to transfer monetary value to each other using “wallet” applications, though it has other uses.

I’m just going to come right out and say it: I don’t understand how any of this blockchain stuff works.

I’ve just spent an hour on the phone with MMX CEO Toby Hall and I’m still not 100% clear how it integrates with domains and whether the .luxe value proposition is really, really cool or really, really stupid.

I’ll just tell you what I do understand.

Currently, when two Ethereum users want to transfer currency between each other, the sender needs to know the recipient’s wallet address. This is a 40-character nonsense hash that makes an IPv6 address look memorable.

It obviously would be a lot better if each user had a human-readable, memorable address, a bit like a domain name.

Ethereum developers thought so, so they created the Ethereum Name Service. ENS allowed people to use “.eth” domains, like john.eth, as a shorthand address for their wallets. I don’t know how it works, but I know .eth isn’t an official TLD in the authoritative root.

About 300,000 people acquired .eth domains via some kind of cryptographic auction process that I also don’t understand. Let’s just call it magic.

Under the deal with MMX, some 26 million Ethereum wallet owners will be able use .luxe domains, dumping their .eth names if they have them.

The names will be sold through registrars as usual, at a price Hall said will be a little bit more than .com.

Registrants will then be able to associate their domains with their 40-character wallet addresses, so they can say “Send $50 to john.luxe” and other crypto-nerds will instantly know what to do. Ethereum wallets will apparently support this at launch.

Registrars will need to do a bit of implementation work, however. Hall said there’ll be an API that allows them to associate their customers’ domains with their wallets, and to disassociate the two should the domain be transferred to somebody else.

This is not available yet, but it will be before general availability this November, he said.

What this API does is beyond my comprehension.

What I do understand is that at no point is DNS used. I thought perhaps the 40-char hash was being stored in the TXT field of a DNS record, but no, that’s not it. It’s being stored cryptographically in the blockchain. Or something. Let’s just say it’s magic, again.

The value of having a memorable address for a wallet is very clear to me, but what’s not at all clear to me is why, if DNS is not being queried at any part of the Ethereum transaction, this memorable address has to be a domain name.

You don’t need a domain name to find somebody on Twitter, or Instagram, or Grindr. You just need a user name. Why that model couldn’t apply here is beyond me.

Hall offered that people are familiar with domain names, adding that merchants could use the same .luxe domain for their web site as they use for their Ethereum wallets, which makes sense from a branding perspective.

The drawback, of course, is that you’d have to have your web site on a .luxe domain.

The launch plan for .luxe sees sunrise begin August 9, running for 60 days. Then there’ll be two weeks for .eth name holders to claim their matching .luxe names. Then an early access period. GA starts November 6.

While it should be obvious by now I don’t fully “get” what’s going on here, it strikes me as a hell of a lot more interesting way to use .luxe than its originally intended purpose as a venue for luxury goods and services.

Let’s face it, depending on pricing it would have turned out either as a haven for spammers, a barely-breaking-even also-ran, or a profitable business propped up by a couple thousand trademark owners paying five grand a year on unused defensive regs.

Donuts confirms six-figure .news buyer used a fake name

Mike Texas is in fact noted conspiracy theorist Mike Adams.

New gTLD registry Donuts confirmed with DI over the weekend that the buyer of six figures worth of “platinum” .news domain names used a fake name.

The company last week said that a company called WebSeed bought registry-reserved names including science.news, climate.news, medicine.news, health.news and pollution.news.

After a small amount of digging, I discovered that these sites were affiliated with a controversial site called Natural News, which is regularly criticized for spreading bogus, anti-science content.

I suspected that “Mike Texas”, the WebSeed CEO quoted railing against “fake news” in Donuts’ press release, was very probably a pseudonym for Natural News owner Mike Adams, who calls himself the “Health Ranger” but peddles theories often characterized as dangerous.

Yesterday, Donuts told us that, following DI’s coverage, it has managed to confirm with Texas that he is in fact Adams. The company has changed its press release accordingly.

I will note that the most compelling piece of evidence connecting Texas to Adams was a pre-GDPR Whois record.

.pharmacy TLD faces action after losing complaint over Canadian drug peddler

ICANN has hit the .pharmacy gTLD registry with a breach notice after a complaint from a Canadian web site that was refused a .pharmacy domain.

The US National Association of Boards of Pharmacy failed to operate the TLD “in a transparent manner”, contrary to the Public Interest Commitments in its registry agreement, ICANN says.

It’s only the second time, to my knowledge, that a registry has been told it has broken its contract after losing a Public Interest Commitments Dispute Resolution Process decision.

NABP runs .pharmacy as a restricted TLD that can only be used by licensed pharmacies.

A year ago, a company called Canadawide Pharmacy Ltd, which currently uses a .org domain, applied for canadawidepharmacy.pharmacy but, last December, was rejected due to claims that it was “until recently” affiliated with unlicensed cross-border drug sellers.

The sale of medications into the US, where patients are gouged mercilessly by pharmaceuticals companies, from Canada, where common drugs are sold at a fraction of the price, is controversial, with NABP previously being accused of applying for .pharmacy for protectionist reasons.

(The price of generic Viagra on Canadawide’s web site goes as low as $2.15 per dose. In the US, you’re looking at about $66 per dose for the branded version, which doesn’t even include the price of dinner.)

Earlier this year, Canadawide filed a PICDRP, accusing .pharmacy of breaching its own contractual commitment to transparency.

And it won. The PICDRP standing panel ruled 3-0 this month (pdf) that NABP lacked transparency on three counts when it rejected Canadawide’s registration.

The registry failed to provide enough evidence linking Canadawide to unlicensed affiliates, the panel ruled. It also seemed to acknowledge that the alleged affiliates were historical.

As a result of the panel’s finding, ICANN has made a public breach notice that gives NABP until August 11 to:

Provide ICANN with corrective and preventative action(s), including implementation dates and milestones, to address the PIC Reporter’s complaint, the PIC Standing Panel’s findings and ensure that NABP will operate the TLD pharmacy in a transparent manner consistent with general principles of openness and non-discrimination by establishing, publishing and adhering to clear registration policies

None of this seems to suggest that Canadawide will definitely get its domain. If NABP has sufficient evidence to continue to deny the application, it looks like it could come into compliance by merely being transparent about this evidence.

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.