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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.

KPMG dumps .com for dot-brand gTLD

Kevin Murphy, April 12, 2019, Domain Registries

KPMG has become the latest company to dump its .com domain in favor of its dot-brand gTLD.

The company recently announced that it is now using home.kpmg as its primary web site domain, replacing kpmg.com.

The migration appears to be complete already. URLs on the old .com address now bounce users to the equivalent page on .kpmg. Web searches for KPMG return the .kpmg domain as the top hit.

KPMG said in a press release:

The move enhances the KPMG brand through a strong, simplified name, and provides end users with a level of assurance that any site that ends with .kpmg is owned and operated by KPMG.

Since the top level domain can only be used by KPMG, visitors to sites that use the new top level domain can easily confirm its authenticity and be assured that the information they contain is reliable and secure.

The company said that it is the first of the “Big Four” professional services firms to make the switch.

This is technically correct. Rival Deloitte uses several .deloitte domains, but it has not bit the bullet and migrated from its .com.

Of the other two, Ernst & Young does not have a dot-brand, and PricewaterhouseCoopers does not use its .pwc extension beyond a single experimental domain that redirects to pwc.com.

KPMG had revenue just shy of $29 billion last year and is one of the most recognizable brands in the corporate world.

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.

Neustar loses most of its Amazon back-end biz to Nominet

Kevin Murphy, April 12, 2019, Domain Registries

Amazon has switched two thirds of its large portfolio of new gTLDs over to Nominet’s back-end registry services, replacing Neustar.

Judging by changes to IANA records this week, Amazon has moved 35 gTLDs to Nominet, leaving 17 at Neustar.

A Neustar spokesperson confirmed the changes, telling DI:

in an effort to diversify their back-end support, Amazon has chosen to move some, but not all, of their TLDs to another provider. Neustar will still manage multiple Amazon TLDs after the transition and we look forward to our continued partnership.

The switch more than doubles Nominet’s number of TLDs under management. Its biggest customer to date was MMX, which pushed 20 of its TLDs to the .uk registry in a restructuring a few years ago.

The Amazon loss, and a few others recently, also mean that Neustar is by my back-of-the-envelope calculation no longer the largest back-end when measured by the number of TLDs under management.

Those bragging rights would go to Donuts, which self-manages its own rather large portfolio of 241 TLDs. Neustar would remain the largest provider in terms of service provided to third-party clients.

The Neustar-to-Nominet technical migration appears to have kicked off a couple of weeks ago and emerged Wednesday when Nominet’s Technical Contact information replaced Neustar’s in most of Amazon’s IANA records.

Customers will not have noticed, because the TLDs in question barely have any customers.

The only one of the 35 affected TLDs with any registrations at all is .moi, which has just a couple hundred domains in its zone.

The other affected TLDs, none of which have launched, are: .moi, .yamaxun, .author, .book, .buy, .call, .circle, .fast, .got, .jot, .joy, .like, .pin, .read, .room, .safe, .smile, .tushu, .wanggou, .spot, .tunes, .you, .talk, .audible, .deal, .fire, .now, .kindle, .silk, .save, .hot, .pay, .secure, .wow and .free.

The TLDs remaining with Neustar are: .bot, .zero, .ポイント, .書籍, .クラウド, .ストア, .セール, .coupon, .zappos, .ファッション, .食品, .song, .家電, .aws, .imdb, .prime, and .通販.

Six of the TLDs staying with Neustar have launched, but only one, .bot, has more than 100 registrations.

.bot is a tightly restricted, experimental space currently in a long-term “limited registration period” which is not due to end until next January. It has around 1,500 names in its zone file.

Four of Amazon’s dot-brands are staying with Neustar, which is probably the most enthusiastic cheerleader for dot-brands out there, and four are going to Nominet.

Neustar appears to be keeping all of Amazon’s internationalized domain names. Nominet currently manages no IDNs.

How important the adjustment is from a dollar perspective would rather depend on what the per-domain component of the deals were, and whether Amazon ever plans to actually make its gTLDs commercially available.

In recent weeks, XYZ.com also moved its recently acquired .baby gTLD from Neustar, where it had been an unused dot-brand, to preferred provider CentralNic, while .kred and .ceo, both under the same ownership, also switched to CentralNic.

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.

Italian bank is the latest dot-brand to bow out

Kevin Murphy, April 10, 2019, Domain Registries

Banca Nazionale del Lavoro, Italy’s sixth-largest bank, has become the latest new gTLD owner to tell ICANN it no longer wishes to run its dot-brand.

It’s the 47th new gTLD to request termination of its registry contract. The affected TLD is .bnl.

ICANN has already decided not to transition the contract to a new owner, as usual.

Also as usual, the gTLD has never been used above and beyond the obligatory nic. site.

What makes this termination somewhat noteworthy is that BNL is a subsidiary of French bank BNP Paribas, which is one of the most enthusiastic dot-brand owners out there.

BNP Paribas dumped its .fr and .net domains in favor of its domains under .bnpparibas back in 2015 and currently has roughly 250 domains in its zone file and dozens of live sites.

The domain mabanque.bnpparibas, used for its French retail banking services, was for some time a top 10 most-visited new gTLD domain names, per Alexa rankings, but that has slipped as new gTLDs’ popularity have increased overall.

.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.

“Just give up!” ICANN tells its most stubborn new gTLD applicant

Kevin Murphy, April 8, 2019, Domain Policy

ICANN has urged the company that wants to run .internet as new gTLD to just give up and go away.

The India-based company, Nameshop, actually applied for .idn — to stand for “internationalized domain name” — back in the 2012 application round.

It failed the Geographic Names Review portion of the application process because IDN is the International Standards Organization’s 3166-1 three-letter code for Indonesia, and those were all banned.

While one might question the logic of applying for a Latin-script string to represent IDNs, overlooking the ISO banned list was not an incredibly stupid move.

Even a company with Google’s brainpower resources overlooked this paragraph of the Applicant Guidebook and applied for three 3166-1 restricted strings: .and, .are and .est.

But rather than withdraw its .idn bid, like Google did with its failed applications, Nameshop decided to ask ICANN to change its applied-for string to .internet.

There was a small amount of precedent for this. ICANN had permitted a few applicants to correct typos in their applied-for strings, enabling DotConnectAfrica for example to correct its nutty application for “.dotafrica” to its intended “.africa”.

But swapping out .idn for .internet was obviously not a simple correction but rather looked a complete upgrade of its addressable market. Nobody else had applied for .internet, and Nameshop was well aware of this, so Nameshop’s bid would have been a shoo-in.

To allow the change would have opened the floodgates for every applicant that found itself in a tricky contention set to completely change their desired strings to something cheaper or more achievable.

But Nameshop principal Sivasubramanian Muthusamy did not take no for an answer. He’s been nagging ICANN to change its mind ever since.

There’s a lengthy, rather slick timeline of his lobbying efforts published on the Nameshop web site.

He filed a Request for Reconsideration back in 2013, which was swiftly rejected by the ICANN board of directors.

In July 2017, he wrote to ICANN to complain that Nameshop’s string change request should be treated the same as any other:

It seems that if ICANN can allow string changes from a relatively undesirable name to a more desireable name based on misspelling, then ICANN should allow a change from a desireable name in three characters(IDN) to longer name in eight characters (Internet) based on confusion with geographical names

Meetings with ICANN staff, the Ombudsman, the Governmental Advisory Committee and others to discuss his predicament several times over the last several years have proved fruitless.

Finally, today ICANN has published a letter (pdf) it sent to Muthusamy on Friday, urging him to ditch his Quixotic quest and get his money back. Christine Willett, VP of gTLD operations, wrote:

Given we are unable to take further action on Nameshop’s application, we encourage you to withdraw the application for a full refund of Nameshop’s application fee.

I doubt this is the first time ICANN has urged Nameshop to take its money and run, but it seems ICANN is now finally sick of talking about the issue.

Willett added that ICANN staff and directors “politely decline” his request for further in-person meetings to discuss the application, and encouraged him to apply for his desired string in the next application round, whenever that may be.

Did Roussos pull off the impossible? Google, Donuts, Radix all drop out of .music race

Google won’t be the registry for the .music gTLD.

The company, along with pure-play registries Donuts and Radix, late last week withdrew their respective applications from the .music contention set, leaving just three possible winners in the running.

Those are Amazon, MMX, and DotMusic, the company run by long-time .music fanboy Constantinos Roussos.

As I blogged last week, applications from Domain Venture Partners and Far Further have also been withdrawn.

I suspect, but do not know for a fact, that the contention was settled with a private deal, likely an auction, recently.

The logical guess for a winner would be Amazon, if only because of the nexus of its business to the music industry and the amount of money it could throw at an auction.

But I’m beginning to suspect that DotMusic might have prevailed.

The company appears to have recently revamped its web site, almost as if it’s gearing up for a launch.

Comparing the current version of music.us to versions in Google’s cache, it appears that the site has been recently given a new look, new copy and even a new logo.

It’s even added a prominent header link inviting prospective resellers to sign up, using a form that also appears to have been added in the last few weeks.

These changes all seem to have been made after the crucial ICANN vote that threw out the last of DotMusic’s appeals, March 14.

Are those the actions of an applicant resigned to defeat, or has Roussos pulled off the apparently impossible, defeating two of the internet’s biggest companies to one of the industry’s most coveted and controversial strings?

Participants in gTLD auctions typically sign NDAs, so we’re going to have to wait a bit longer (probably no more than a few days) to find out which of the remaining three applicants actually won.

Looks like .music is finally on its way

The hard-fought battle for .music appears to be over.

I’m not yet in a position to tell you which of the eight applicants for the new gTLD has been successful, but I can tell you some of those who were not.

Two applicants have this week withdrawn their bids, an almost certain sign that the contention set has been privately settled.

The first applicant to ditch its bid was dot Music Ltd, an application vehicle of Domain Venture Partners (we used to call this outfit Famous Four Media, but that’s changed).

The other is .music LLC, also known as Far Further.

We can almost certainly expect all but one of the remaining applicants to withdraw their applications over the coming days.

Applicants typically sign NDAs when they settle contention privately, usually via an auction.

Far Further was one of two unsuccessful “community” applicants for .music. It had the backing of dozens of music trade groups, including the influential Recording Industry Association of America. Even Radiohead’s guitarist chipped in with his support.

Evidently, none of these groups were prepared to fund Far Further to the extent it could win the .music contention set.

The .music contention set has been held up by the continuing protestations of the other community applicant, DotMusic Limited, the company run by long-time .music cheerleader Constantinos Roussos.

After DotMusic lost its Community Priority Evaluation in 2016, on the basis that the “community” was pretty much illusory under ICANN rules, it started to complain that the process was unfair.

The applicant immediately filed a Request for Reconsideration with ICANN.

.music then found itself one of several proposed gTLDs frozen while ICANN conducted an outside review of alleged irregularities in the CPE process.

That review found no impropriety in early 2018, a verdict DotMusic’s lawyer dismissed as a “whitewash”.

It has since stalled the process several times with requests for information under ICANN’s Documentary Information Disclosure Policy, and more RfRs when those requests were denied.

But this series of appeals finally came to an end March 14, when ICANN’s board of directors finally ruled against DotMusic’s 2016 RfR.

That appears to have opened up the .music set for private resolution.

So who won? I don’t know yet, but the remaining applicants are: DotMusic itself, Google, Amazon, MMX, Donuts and Radix.

There are certainly two very deep-pocketed companies on that list. Could we be looking at Google or Amazon as the new proprietors of .music?

If either of those companies has won, prospective registrants might find they have a long wait before they can pick up a .music domain. Neither of these giants has a track record of rushing its new gTLDs to market.

If the victor is a conventional gTLD registry, we’d very probably be looking at a launch in 2019.