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How NetSol opts you in to cybersquatted .xyz names

Clear-cut cases of cybersquatting seem to be among those .xyz domain names that Network Solutions has registered to its customers without their explicit request.

Some of the domains I’ve found registered in .xyz, via NetSol to the registrants of the matching .com or .net names, include my-twitter.xyz, facebook-liker.xyz and googledia.xyz.

Domains including other brands, such as Rolex, Disney, iPhone, Amazon and Pepsi can also be found registered to third parties, via NetSol, in .xyz’s zone today.

They’re all registered via NetSol’s Whois privacy service, which lists the registrant’s “real” name in the Whois record, but substitutes mailing address, email and phone number with NetSol-operated proxies.

I think the chance of these names being paid for by the registrant is slim. It seems probable that many (if not all) of the squatty-looking names were registered via NetSol’s promotional program for .xyz.

As previously reported, NetSol has been giving away domain names in .xyz to owners of the matching .com names. Tens of thousands of .xyz names seem to have been registered this way in the last week.

The “registrants” did not have to explicitly accept the offer. Instead, NetSol gave them the option to “opt-out” of having the name registered on their behalf and placed into their accounts.

The effect of this has been to propel .xyz into the leading spot in the new gTLD league table. It had 82,236 names in today’s zone file. a clear 15,000 names ahead of second-place .club.

But it’s not clear how much, if any, support NetSol has received from the registry, XYZ.com. CEO Daniel Negari told Rick Schwartz, in a coy interview last week:

The Registry Operator is unable to “give away” free domain names. I never even saw the email that the registrar sent to its customers until I discovered it on the blogs.

The opt-out giveaway has also prompted speculation about NetSol’s right to register domains without the explicit consent of the registrant, both under the law and under ICANN contract.

Under the Registrar Accreditation Agreement, in order to register a domain name, registrars “shall require” the registrant “to enter into an electronic or paper registration agreement”.

That agreement requires the registrant to agree to, among many other things, the transfer or suspension of their domains if (for example) they lose a UDRP or URS case.

But that doesn’t seem to be happening with the opt-out names,

Barry Shein, president of The World, had shein.xyz registered on his behalf by NetSol on Saturday. He already owns shein.com, also registered with NetSol.

NetSol’s email informing him of the registration, which Shein forwarded to DI, reads as follows:

Dear Valued Network Solutions Customer,

Congratulations, your complimentary SHEIN.XYZ domain has arrived!

Your new .XYZ domain is now available in your Network Solutions account and ready to use. To go along with your new .XYZ domain, you have also received complimentary access to Professional Email and Private Registration for your .XYZ domain.

If you choose not to use this domain no action is needed and you will not be charged any fees in the future. Should you decide to keep the domain after your complementary first year, simply renew it like any other domain in your account.

We appreciate your business and look forward to serving you again.

Sincerely,

Network Solutions Customer Support
www.networksolutions.com

http://www.networksolutions.com/help/index.jsp

Importantly, a footnote goes on to describe how NetSol will take a refusal to opt out as “continued acceptance” of its registration agreement:

Please note that your use of this .XYZ domain name and/or your refusal to decline the domain shall indicate acceptance of the domain into your account, your continued acceptance of our Service Agreement located online at http://www.networksolutions.com/legal/static-service-agreement.jsp, and its application to the domain.

So, if you’re a NetSol customer who was picked to receive a free .xyz name but for whatever reason you don’t read every marketing email your registrar sends you (who does?) you’ve agreed to the registration agreement without your knowledge or explicit consent, at least according to NetSol.

I am not a lawyer, but I’ve studied enough law to know that this is a dubious way to make a contract. Lawyers I’ve shown this disclaimer to have laughed out loud.

Of course, because each registrant already owns a matching .com, they’ve already accepted NetSol’s registration agreement and terms of service at least once before.

This may allow NetSol to argue that the initial acceptance of the contract also applies to the new .xyz domains.

But there are differences between .com and .xyz.

Chiefly, as a new gTLD, .xyz registrants are subject to policies that do not apply to .com, such as the Uniform Rapid Suspension policy.

URS differs from UDRP in that there’s a “loser pays” model that applies to complaints involving over 15 domains.

So these .xyz registrants have been opted into a policy that could leave them out of pocket, without their explicit consent.

Of course, we’re talking about people who seem to be infringing famous trademarks in their existing .com names, so who gives a damn, right?

But it does raise some interesting questions.

Who’s the registrant here? Is it the person who owns the .com, or is it NetSol? NetSol is the proxy service, but the .com registrant’s name is listed in the Whois.

Who’s liable for cybersquatting here? Who would Twitter file a UDRP or URS against over my-twitter.xyz? Who would it sue, if it decided to opt for the courts instead?

.xyz is now the biggest new gTLD (kinda)

The controversial new gTLD .xyz is now officially the biggest, with 67,504 domains under management.

That’s according to today’s zone files, which see former number ones .club at 65,630 and .guru at 60,480.

Due to what appears to be an ICANN screw-up, there were no zone files available for any new gTLDs via the Centralized Zone Data Service yesterday, so I can’t tell you what the daily growth numbers are.

But .xyz had 36,335 names in its zone on Wednesday. It’s grown by 85% in two days.

That’s a shocking, unprecedented growth spurt.

The question is, of course, how many of these registrations are legit?

.xyz has come under a great deal of fire from domainers the last few days, after it emerged that the majority of its growth in the first days of general availability was questionable.

Network Solutions, it transpired, had seriously inflated .xyz’s numbers by registering .xyz names matching existing .coms on behalf of its customers without their permission and for no charge.

NetSol seems to have paid .xyz a few hundred thousand dollars for domain names its customers have not requested.

Data from today’s .xyz zone file is likely to reinforce the perception that most of .xyz’s apparent popularity is bogus.

I see that 56,019 domain names in .xyz today — 82% of the gTLD’s total — are using register.com name servers.

Those name servers belong to Web.com, NetSol’s parent company.

There were 27,000 such names on Wednesday. While .xyz as a whole has grown by about 31,000 names in two days, NetSol’s .xyz share has grown by about 29,000 names.

Nobody believes that NetSol, with its $40 retail price for .xyz (with a wholesale price I peg at around $6 to $7), could have obtained this market share with actual, paid-for sales.

I believe that the large majority of NetSol’s roughly 56,000 .xyz names are freebies, not reflective of buyer demand.

Many domainers are incandescent about this.

They look to registration numbers as a measurement of demand, which could be a predictor of the resale market for a TLD, so they’re upset at anything that looks like a manipulation of that number.

Daniel Negari, the charismatic CEO of .xyz, has borne the brunt of this criticism, despite the fact that there’s no evidence out there yet that .xyz supported or had prior knowledge NetSol’s mass giveaway.

Negari has so far refused to comment on the situation (he hasn’t responded to several inquiries from yours truly), which has only served to reinforce the suspicion that the registry was somehow complicit in NetSol’s promotion and used the registrar to artificially inflate its numbers.

I have no evidence one way or the other.

NetSol refused to even confirm the existence of the promotion when DI inquired earlier this week.

.xyz launch inflated by massive NetSol giveaway

Network Solutions gave away thousands of .xyz domain names for free to people who hadn’t requested them, artificially inflating the new gTLD’s launch day numbers.

As of last night, there were 36,335 domains in the .xyz zone, with something like 27,000 listed as having name servers belonging to NetSol and its parent, Web.com.

Before .xyz launched, only 1,287 new gTLD domains used NetSol name servers.

What this means is that for some reason thousands upon thousands of .xyz domain names were registered via one of the industry’s more expensive registrars.

That reason, as Mike Berkens at The Domains scooped, is that many names were given away for free to existing NetSol customers.

Not only that, but the giveaway was opt-out — if you were selected for the promotion you had to click a link in an email in order to prevent NetSol registering the .xyz that matches your .com.

So not only did the registrants of a significant portion of .xyz’s new registrations not pay for their names, they didn’t even request them.

A lot of garbage strings — some of which have matching .coms I suspect are being used for nefarious purposes — have therefore made it into .xyz’s zone alongside many decent-enough names.

When I asked NetSol, a spokesperson refused to confirm the giveaway, calling it a “market rumor”. This is apparently the kind of promotion you don’t want anyone hearing about.

It’s not clear how many of these 27,000 names were genuine registrations and which were part of the promotion, but I suspect, given NetSol’s prior performance in new gTLDs, that the vast majority were freebies.

This has happened before.

About 10 years ago, Afilias temporarily dropped its first-year price for .info to zero dollars, hoping to attract more registrations and paying renewals.

Instead, eNom decided to register a million .info names matching its customers’ .com names, put them in its customers’ accounts, and park the lot.

A year later, over 99% of those names were allowed to expire by registrants who hadn’t requested them in the first place.

The difference in this case seems to be that .xyz itself is still getting paid its registry fee for each of the names NetSol gave away.

But if history is any guide, .xyz’s numbers could be in for a big drop 15 months from now.

Ten more new gTLD contests settled in auction

Applicant Auction helped resolved 10 new gTLD contention sets last week, and the first results started trickling through today.

Of the six results we have so far, Uniregistry and Famous Four Media won two auctions, while Minds + Machines and Donuts both won one each.

According to our database, the following five contention sets have been closed:

  • .pizza — Donuts won after withdrawals from Asiamix Digital, Uniregistry and Minds + Machines.
  • .fashion — M+M won after withdrawals from Donuts, Uniregistry and Famous Four Media.
  • .diet — Uniregistry won after withdrawls from Donuts and Famous Four.
  • .cricket — Famous Four won after withdrawals from M+M and Donuts.
  • .help — Uniregistry won after withdrawals from Donuts and Dot Tech.
  • .racing — Famous Four won after withdrawals from Donuts and Uniregistry.

We’ve also seen a withdrawal from Momentous in the .rip competition, suggesting that that gTLD was also settled at auction last week. It’s not yet clear from the database who won.

Was I wrong? .xyz claims 31,000 regs on day one

.xyz’s first full day of general availability saw it total 31,119 registrations, suggesting that it’s not doing as badly as I suggested in a post earlier today.

Today’s .xyz zone file shows 14,924 names, up 14,829 on the day, but Gavin Brown, CTO of .xyz back-end CentralNic, just commented that the 24-hour number is actually 31,119.

The zone files for each new gTLD are made available by ICANN — assuming the Centralized Zone Data Service is working — at 0100 UTC every day. Brown said that .xyz’s file today was generated an hour later.

That means the 14,924 total represented the first 10 hours of GA, as indicated in my original piece today.

For a new gTLD to sell more domains in the second half of its first GA day than during the first is unusual, because gTLD launches to date have tended to rely quite heavily on pre-orders.

Pre-orders, a decent measure of demand, generally hit the registry within the first few minutes of general availability, as registrars try to secure the names their customers want.

That has the effect of stacking first-day registrations heavily towards the first few hours of GA.

Take .club, for example. It sold 25,776 names in its first 10 hours. But 24 hours later that number had crept up to just 30,680, an increase of just 4,904.

Similarly, TLD Registry’s .在线 moved just shy of 20,000 names in its first 12 hours of general availability, but had sold only 1,000 more names a full 24 hours later.

I didn’t think it unreasonable to assume that .xyz would follow the same pattern, but this front-loading doesn’t seem to have happened in .xyz’s case.

Did I make a faulty assumption?

If registrations are indeed coming in at a more measured pace than preceding launches, then .xyz may not be falling behind CEO Daniel Negari’s aggressive growth targets at all.

Was I wrong to say that .xyz hasn’t lived up to the hype? Maybe. We’ll need some more days of data to be sure.