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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.

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.

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.

Apple using apple.news as (yawn) redirect service

Kevin Murphy, September 22, 2015, Domain Registries

Apple has become the latest famous brand to deploy a new gTLD domain in the wild.

The domain apple.news has been observed this week being used as a URL redirection service by its Apple News app.

It seems that when somebody shares a link to a news site via social media, using Apple News, the app automatically shares an apple.news redirect link instead.

The domains apple.news and www.apple.news do not resolve to web sites (for me at least) but Google has already indexed over a thousand apple.news URLs. Clicking on these links transparently punts the surfer to the original news source.

UPDATE: Thanks to Gavin Brown for pointing out in the comments that apple.news does resolve if you specify “https://” rather than “http://” in the URL. The secured domain bounces visitors to apple.com/news.

It puts me in mind of .co’s original flagship anchor tenant, Twitter, which obtained t.co five years ago and continues to use it as its core URL redirection service.

It’s impossible to tell what impact t.co had on the success of .co — the domain was in use from .co’s launch — but it surely had some impact.

.news, a Rightside TLD, had just over 24,400 domains in its zone file yesterday. We’ll have to see whether Apple’s move has an impact on sales.

Taryn Naidu, Rightside’s CEO, said in a press release:

This is just the start, but Apple.NEWS is the most significant use of a new top-level domain (TLD) yet, and I am very excited at the promise and potential that this development signals. Whether they’re used as a complementary domain, content-sharing links (bit.ly, but with branding) or a simple re-direct, new domain extensions have a real and important place in every company’s overarching brand strategy today.

There’s no denying that having popular software automatically generating links for your gTLD is a great way to raise awareness.

But is this as significant as Apple actually launching a web site at apple.news, or switching from .com to .apple, and encouraging people with marketing and branding to actually type those domains into their browsers? I’m skeptical.

Donuts wins five more new gTLD auctions

Kevin Murphy, December 3, 2014, Domain Registries

Donuts added five new gTLDs to its ever-growing portfolio this week, as the results of five private auctions were revealed.

The company won the following strings:

.news — went to Donuts after withdrawals from Merchant Law Group, Amazon, Radix, Uniregistry, Famous Four Media and Primer Nivel. As somebody with a vested interest in the news media, I’m glad this one went to a registry with an open registration policy.

.golf — Donuts beat Famous Four, Dot Golf and Fegistry.

.casino — Donuts won after withdrawals from Famous Four, Afilias and dotBeauty.

.school — Donuts beat Fegistry, Uniregistry and Minds + Machines.

.football — Donuts beat Famous Four.

The registry currently has 156 delegated TLDs, more than half of those it originally applied for. It has another 99 active applications in various stages of pre-delegation.

Directi expects all 31 of its gTLDs to be contested

Directi has applied for 31 new top-level domains and expects all 31 of them to be contested, according to CEO Bhavin Turakhia.

The company has budgeted $30 million for its unashamedly mainstream portfolio of applications – which includes the likes of .web – but that’s not including what it expects to spend at auction.

“I expect there to be contention in all of them,” he said. “Whether they will end up going to auction… we’re completely open to strategic partnerships with other industry players who we believe can add value and join hands with us, based on merit. We’ll be evaluating this on a case by case basis.”

“Something like a .web, there’ll be enough competitors out there that it will certainly go to auction, no matter what,” he said, adding that he expects at least 10 rivals for .web.

Directi has applied for: .web, .shop, .bank, .law, .music, .news, .blog, .movie, .baby, .store, .doctor, .hotel, .play, .home .site, .website, .click, .online, .one, .ping, .space, .world, .press, .chat, .city, .deals, .insurance .loans, .app, .host, and .hosting.

The company is applying via its new business unit, Radix, using ARI Registry Services as its back-end registry provider.

Turakhia said he expects to use a traditional registry-registrar model for most of the domains, assuming Directi wins its contention sets.

“The strings that we have gone for are strings that are relevant to all registrars so we expect there to be significant adoption,” he said.

“If eNom were to apply for .web and .shop – and they probably will – and if they were to win those TLDs, then our registrar businesses would definitely carry them irrespective of the fact that we have our own TLDs,” he said. “There are only so many good viable strings out there.”

Most of Directi’s gTLDs, if approved, will be completely unrestricted.

For .movie, .law, .doctor and .bank there will be some tight restrictions, Turakhia said. (UPDATE: he later added that .insurance and .loans will also be restricted).

Some will also have additional rights protection mechanisms that go above and beyond what ICANN mandates in its standard registry contracts.

But none of its applications are “community” applications, the special category of application defined by ICANN.

Turakhia said he doesn’t think some of the applicants trying to “sneak through” as community applications will be successful.

“We’re treating these as all generic strings for anyone to register domains in,” he said. “.music for me does not represent a community. I could be a bathroom singer and want a .music domain name.”

“If you treat music lovers as a community then 100% of the world is part of that community.”