Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

New gTLD industry pleads with senators

Kevin Murphy, December 22, 2011, Domain Policy

Twenty-eight domain name industry players have written to two influential US senators in support of ICANN’s new generic top-level domains program.

Calling it “innovative and economically beneficial”, the letter takes issue with third-party claims that the program was “rushed”, pointing out that it took a long time and lots of people to develop.

Since the formation of the multi-stakeholder Internet governance, no process has been as inclusive, and no level of outreach has been as far-reaching as the one facilitating discussion of namespace expansion.

While new gTLDs will experience different levels of end-user adoption, we optimistically anticipate the useful possibilities for new services and applications from the namespace, the positive economic impact in the United States and globally, the inclusion of developing nations in Internet growth and development, and the realization of the hard work and preparation of the thousands of interested stakeholders dedicated not only to their own interests, but that of the global Internet.

The letter (pdf) was signed almost exclusively by registrars, registries, applicants and consultants; with one or two possible exceptions, all companies that stand to make money from new gTLDs.

It was sent to Sen. Jay Rockefeller and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, chair and ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

That committee held a hearing into new gTLDs two weeks ago during which Rockefeller expressed cautious support for the concept, saying he was in favor of competition.

The letter is dated December 8, the day of the Senate hearing.

A similar hearing in the House of Representatives last week resulted in two Congressmen sending a letter (pdf) to the Department of Commerce requesting a delay to the program.

Chance of new gTLD delay “above zero”

Kevin Murphy, December 20, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN has not completely ruled out the possibility that its new generic top-level domains program will be delayed, according to senior vice president Kurt Pritz.

Pritz was asked during a meeting of the GNSO Council last week whether the recent Congressional hearings into new gTLDs could lead to a delay of the January 12 launch.

“I think the risk is above zero,” Pritz said.

An “above zero” risk of delay could still mean a very small risk, of course.

He went on to point out that “the reputation of the multi-stakeholder model is wrapped up in this too”, and that to delay would be a disservice to all the people who have worked on the program.

He noted that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration assistant secretary Larry Strickling has come out in strong support of the multi-stakeholder model.

While the NTIA does not plan to enforce a delay, ICANN itself could make the decision under political pressure from elsewhere in the US, such as from Congress or the Federal Trade Commission.

Pritz faced a rough ride during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing last week, during which a number of Congressmen said they believed delay was appropriate.

The committee was largely concerned about the possible costs to trademark holders and implications for law enforcement agencies.

The hearing was called following lobbying by the Association of National Advertisers and the Coalition for Responsible Internet Domain Oversight.

ICANN bleeps brand names from new gTLDs podcast

Kevin Murphy, December 20, 2011, Gossip

Nike is a dirty word at ICANN.

At least, that’s my conclusion after listening to ICANN’s latest Start podcast on the new gTLDs program, which bleeps out the names of brands given as examples.

During a discussion between communications staffers Scott Pinzon and Michele Jourdan about the possibility of .brand top-level domains, Jourdan remarks:

If you’re looking for [BLEEP!] shoes and you go to shoes.[BLEEP!] you can be pretty sure that those are going to be actual [BLEEP!]-branded shoes.

Later, Pinzon poses a hypothetical:

I have an idea on how I think I can make a lot of money. I’m going to apply for the TLD dot-[BLEEP!] and then just hold out until a certain firm bought it from me. What are my chances?

It just sounds filthy (at least it does with my mind filling in the blanks).

Since I assume Pinzon and Jourdan would not have used words they intended to subsequently censor, I’m thinking an excessively paranoid legal department is probably to blame here.

You can download the 20-minute podcast, which is aimed at new gTLD newbies, here.

Will new gTLDs really increase phishing?

Kevin Murphy, December 17, 2011, Domain Policy

The US Federal Trade Commission has come out swinging against ICANN’s new generic top-level domains program, saying it will increase online fraud and should be scaled back.

In an open letter to ICANN’s top brass yesterday, the FTC’s four commissioners claimed that “the dramatic introduction of new gTLDs poses significant risks to consumers”.

Saying that more gTLDs will make it easier for scammers to acquire domain names confusingly similar to existing brands, the commissioners said the program should be rolled out as a limited pilot.

The FTC commissioners wrote (pdf):

A rapid, exponential expansion of gTLDs has the potential to magnify both the abuse of the domain name system and the corresponding challenges we encounter in tracking down Internet fraudsters. In particular, the proliferation of existing scams, such as phishing, is likely to become a serious challenge given the infinite opportunities that scam artists will now have at their fingertips. Fraudsters will be able to register misspellings of businesses, including financial institutions, in each of the new gTLDs, create copycat websites, and obtain sensitive consumer data with relative ease before shutting down the site and launching a new one.

The letter demands better Whois accuracy enforcement, better ICANN compliance programs, and a cap on approved new gTLDs in the first round perhaps as low as a couple dozen.

The FTC’s claims that new gTLDs will increase phishing may not be supported by reality, however.

The latest data (pdf) from the Anti-Phishing Working Group shows that in the first half of the year only 18% of domain names used in phishing attacks were registered by the attacker.

That was down from 28% in the second half of 2010. Phishers are much more likely to compromise a domain belonging to somebody else – by hacking a web server, for example.

Of the 14,650 maliciously registered domains 10,444 (70%) were used to phish Chinese targets, “overwhelmingly” the e-commerce site Taobao.com, the APWG found.

Furthermore, only 2% of these domains – just 1,816 over six months – were judged to have been registered due to their confusing similarity with the brands they target.

The APWG said (emphasis in the original):

These are the lowest numbers we have observed in the last past four years, and show that using domain names containing brand strings has fallen further out of favor among phishers.

the domain name itself usually does not matter to phishers, and a domain name of any meaning, or no meaning at all, in any TLD, will usually do. Instead, phishers almost always place brand names in subdomains or subdirectories

The APWG found only one gTLD that ICANN has introduced – .info, with 4.5% – in its top ten phishing TLDs. The .com space accounts for 48.9% of all phishing domains.

Will the increase in the number of gTLDs reverse these trends? The FTC seems to think so, but the claims in its letter appear to be based largely on guesswork and fear rather than data.

I suspect that the FTC’s letter is more concerned with ICANN’s ongoing bilateral talks with registrars over law enforcement-demanded amendments to the Registrar Accreditation Agreement.

These talks are completely separate and distinct from the new gTLDs program policies, but in the last few weeks we’ve seen them being repeatedly conflated by US lawmakers, and now the FTC.

This may be ignorance, but it could just as well be an attempt to apply political pressure on ICANN to make sure the RAA talks produce the results law enforcement agencies want to see.

ICANN does not want to be forced into an embarrassing retreat on its hard-fought gTLD expansion. By producing a strong RAA, it could deflect some of the concerns about the program.

Half the industry fighting over EBERO contracts

Kevin Murphy, December 15, 2011, Domain Registries

ICANN received a whopping 14 responses to its recent request for emergency back-end registry operators, contracts that could turn lucrative if and when new gTLDs start going out of business.

Following a request for information last month, responses received before the December 5 deadline came from Europe, Asia and North and South America, ICANN’s Karla Valente blogged.

While 14 may not seem like a lot, I’m only aware of 19 companies that are actively marketing new gTLD back-end registry services, so it’s a pretty high response rate.

The EBERO’s job is to make sure domain names continue to work after a new gTLD registry goes out of business. In the worst case scenario, it keeps the names resolving for up to three years, giving registrants the opportunity to migrate to another TLD.

The EBERO may, and I’m speculating here, also have an advantage in talks to take over the failed TLD full-time.

The successful providers will be paid from the Continuing Operations Instrument, a big chunk of cash that all new gTLD applicants are obliged to put aside to pay for their own funeral costs.

The price the successful EBEROs intend to charge is an important consideration when applicants calculate the size of their own COI, but those numbers have not yet been revealed.

The EBERO idea has come in for a bit of criticism due to ICANN’s high technical demands – 25,000 concurrent connections for an essentially stagnant TLD, for example – which some say favors incumbent registry operators such as VeriSign, Afilias and Neustar.

ICANN may wind up selecting more than one EBERO when it makes its decision early next year.