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As .wed goes EBERO, did the first new gTLD just fail?

Kevin Murphy, December 11, 2017, Domain Registries

A wedding-themed gTLD with a Bizarro World business model may become the first commercial gTLD to outright fail.

.wed, run by a small US outfit named Atgron, has become the first non-brand gTLD to be placed under ICANN’s emergency control, after it lost its back-end provider.

DI understands that Atgron’s arrangement with its small New Zealand back-end registry services provider CoCCA expired at the end of November and that there was a “controlled” transition to ICANN’s Emergency Back-End Registry Operator program.

The TLD is now being managed by Nominet, one of ICANN’s approved EBERO providers.

It’s the first commercial gTLD to go to EBERO, which is considered a platform of last resort for failing gTLDs.

A couple of unused dot-brands have previously switched to EBERO, but they were single-registrant spaces with no active domains.

.wed, by contrast, had about 40 domains under management at the last count, some apparently belonging to actual third-party registrants.

Under the standard new gTLD Registry Agreement, ICANN can put a TLD in the emergency program if they fail to meet up-time targets in any of five critical registry functions.

In this case, ICANN said that Atgron had failed to provide Whois services as required by contract. The threshold for Whois triggering EBERO is 24 hours downtime over a week.

ICANN said:

Registry operator, Atgron, Inc., which operates gTLD .WED, experienced a Registration Data Directory Services failure, and ICANN designated EBERO provider Nominet as emergency interim registry operator. Nominet has now stepped in and is restoring service for the TLD.

The EBERO program is designed to be activated should a registry operator require assistance to sustain critical registry functions for a period of time. The primary concern of the EBERO program is to protect registrants by ensuring that the five critical registry functions are available. ICANN’s goal is to have the emergency event resolved as soon as possible.

However, the situation looks to me a lot more like a business failure than a technical failure.

Multiple sources with knowledge of the transition tell me that the Whois was turned off deliberately, purely to provide a triggering event for the EBERO failover system, after Atgron’s back-end contract with CoCCA expired.

The logic was that turning off Whois would be far less disruptive for registrants and internet users than losing DNS resolution, DNSSEC, data escrow or EPP.

ICANN was apparently aware of the situation and it all happened in a coordinated fashion. I’ve yet to confirm this with ICANN but will update this story when I get additional clarity.

In its statement, ICANN says that Nominet has only been appointed as the “interim” registry, while Atgron works on its issues.

It’s quite possible that the registry will bounce back and sign a deal with a new back-end provider, or build its own infrastructure.

KSregistry, part of the KeyDrive group, briefly provided services to .wed last week before the EBERO took over, but I gather that no permanent deal has been signed.

One wonders whether it’s worth Atgron’s effort to carry on with the .wed project, which clearly isn’t working out.

The company was founded by an American defense contractor with no previous experience of the domain name industry after she read a newspaper article about the new gTLD program, and has a business model that has so far failed to attract customers.

The key thing keeping registrars and registrants away in droves has been its policy that domains could be registered (for about $50 a year) for a maximum period of two years before a $30,000 renewal fee kicked in.

That wasn’t an attempt to rip anybody off, however, it was an attempt to incentivize registrants to allow their domains to expire and be used by other people, pretty much the antithesis of standard industry practice (and arguably long-term business success).

That’s one among many contractual reasons that only one registrar ever signed up to sell .wed domains.

Atgron’s domains under management peaked at a bit over 300 in March 2016 and were down to 42 in August this year, making it probably the failiest commercial new gTLD from the 2012 round.

In short, .wed isn’t dead, but it certainly appears extremely unwell.

Cops tell Nominet to yank 16,000 domains, Nominet complies

Kevin Murphy, November 15, 2017, Domain Registries

Nominet suspended over 16,000 .uk domain names at the request of law enforcement agencies in the last year.

The registry yanked 16,632 domains in the 12 months to October 31, more than double the 8,049 it suspended in the year-earlier period.

The 2016 number was in turn more than double the 2015 number. The 2017 total is more than 16 times the number of suspended domains in 2014, the first year in which Nominet established this cozy relationship with the police.

The large majority of names — 13,616 — were suspended at the request of the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit. Another 2,781 were taken down on the instruction of National Fraud Intelligence Bureau.

Nominet has over 12 million .uk domains under management, so 16,000 names is barely a blip on the radar overall.

But the fact that police can have domains taken down in .uk with barely any friction does not appear to be acting as a deterrent to bad actors when they choose their TLD.

The registry said that just 15 suspensions were reversed — which requires the consent of the reporting law enforcement agency — during the period. That’s basically flat on 2016.

“A suspension is reversed if the offending behavior has stopped and the enforcing agency has since confirmed that the suspension can be lifted,” the company said.

The company does not publish data on how many registrants requested a reversal and didn’t get one, nor does it publish any of the affected domains, so we have no way of knowing whether there’s any ambiguity or overreach in the types of domains the police more or less unilaterally have taken down.

It seems that the only reasons suspension requests do not result in suspensions are when domains have already been suspended or have already been transferred to an IP rights holder by court order. There were 32 of those in the last 12 months, half 2016 levels.

The separate, ludicrously onerous preemptive ban on domains that appear to encourage sexual violence resulted in just two suspensions in the last year, bringing the total new domains suspended under the rule since 2014 to just six.

Some poor bugger at Nominet had to trawl through 3,410 new registrations containing strings such as “rape” in 2017 to achieve that result, up from 2,407 last year.

Cybersquatting cases down in .uk

Kevin Murphy, June 23, 2017, Domain Policy

The number of cybersquatting complaints filed against .uk domains fell in 2016, according to data out this week from Nominet.

The .uk registry said that there were 703 complaints filed with its Dispute Resolution Service in the year, down from 728 in 2015.

However, the number of individual domains complained about appears to have increased, from 745 to 785. That’s partly due to registrants owning both .co.uk and .uk versions of the same name.

The number of cases that resulted in domains being transferred was 53%, the same as 2015, Nominet said.

The large majority of cases were filed by UK-based entities against UK-based registrants, the stats show.

Now new gTLDs are being scapegoated for child abuse material (rant)

The guy responsible for getting the string “rape” closely restricted for no reason in .uk domain names is now gunning for ICANN and new gTLDs with a very similar playbook.

Campaigner John Carr, secretary of the little-known Children’s Charities’ Coalition on Internet Safety, wants ICANN to bring in strict controls to prevent convicted pedophiles registering domains in child-oriented domains such as .kids.

He’s written to the UK prime minister, the two other ministers with the relevant brief, the US federal government and the California attorney general to make these demands.

That’s despite the fact that he freely acknowledges that he does not have any evidence of a problem in existing kid-oriented TLDs and that he does not expect there to be a problem with .kids, should it be delegated, in future.

Regardless, ICANN comes in for a bit of a battering in the letter (pdf), with Carr insinuating that it and the domain industry are quite happy to throw child safety under the bus in order to make a quick buck. He writes:

ICANN has definitely not been keeping the internet secure for children. On the contrary ICANN shows complete indifference towards children’s safety. This has led to real dangers that ICANN could have prevented or mitigated.

ICANN, the Registries and the Registrars have an obvious financial interest in increasing the number of domain names being sold. Their interest in maximising or securing their revenues appears sometimes to blind them to a larger obligation to protect the weak and vulnerable e.g. in this instance children.

Despite this worrying premise, Carr admits in an accompanying paper (pdf) that the Russian version of .kids (.дети), which has been live for three years and only has about 1,000 registrations, does not seem to have experienced a deluge of sex offenders.

Nevertheless, he says ICANN should have forced the .дети registry to do criminal background checks on all registrants to make sure they did not have a record of sexual offences.

While at the time of writing we have no information which suggests anything untoward has happened with any Russian .kids websites, and we understand the volume of sales has been low so far, the matter should never have been left open in that way. When ICANN let the contract it could have included clauses which would have made it a contractual obligation to carry out the sort of checks mentioned. The fact that ICANN did not do this illustrates a degree of carelessness about children’s well-being which is tantamount to gross negligence.

Quite how a domain registry would go about running criminal records checks on all of its customers globally, and what the costs and the benefits would be, Carr does not say.

The letter goes on to state incorrectly that Amazon and Google are in contention for .kids.

In fact, Google applied for the singular .kid. While the two strings are in contention due to an adverse String Confusion Objection, there’s also a second applicant for .kids, the DotKids Foundation, which proposes to keep .kids highly restricted and which Carr is either unaware of or deliberately omits from his letter.

Based on his assumption that .kids is a two-horse race between Amazon and Google, he says:

while I am sure both Google and Amazon will choose to do the right thing, whichever one is the eventual winner of the contract, the point is matters of this kind should never have been left as an option

So not only does Carr not have any evidence that extant “.kids” domains are currently being abused years after delegation, he’s also sure that .kids won’t be in future.

But he wants Draconian background checks implemented on all registrants anyway.

His letter coincides with the release of and heavily cites the 2016 annual report (pdf) of the Internet Watch Foundation — the organization that coordinates the takedown of child abuse material in the UK and elsewhere.

That report found that new gTLD domains are being increasingly used to distribute such material, but that Verisign-run TLDs such as .com are still by far the most abused for this purpose.

The number of takedowns against new gTLD domains in 2016 was 272 (226 of which were “dedicated to distributing child sexual abuse content”) the IWF reported, a 258% increase on 2015.

That’s 272 domains too many, but averages out at about a quarter of a domain per new gTLD.

There were 2,416 domains being used to distribute this material in 2016, IWF said. That means new gTLDs accounted for about 11% of the total child abuse domains — higher than the 7.8% market share that new gTLDs command (according to Verisign’s Q4 industry brief).

But the IWF report states that 80% of the total abuse domains are concentrated in just five TLDs — .com, .net, .se, .io, and .cc. Even child abusers are not fans of new gTLDs, it seems.

Despite the fact that two of these domains are operated under ICANN contract, and the fact that .io is operated by a British company representing a British overseas territory, Carr focuses his calls for action instead on new gTLDs exclusively.

And his calls are receiving attention.

A The Times article this week cries “New internet domain is magnet for paedophiles, charities warn”, while tabloid stable sister The Sun reported on “fears predators are exploiting new website addresses to hide indecent material”.

This is how it started with Carr’s campaign to get “rape” domains banned in the UK.

Back in 2013, he wrote a blog post complaining that it was possible to register “rapeher.co.uk” — not that it had been registered, only that it could be registered — and managed to place a couple of stories in the right-leaning press calling for Nominet to do more to prevent the registration of “depraved and disgusting” domains such as the one he thought up.

This led to a government minister calling for an independent policy review, an actual review, and a subsequent policy that sees some poor bastard at Nominet having to pore over every .uk registration containing rapey strings to see if they’re potentially advocating or promoting actual rape.

Implementation of that policy has so far confirmed that Carr’s worries were, as I said in my 2013 rant, baseless.

In 2016, there were 2,407 registrations of domains containing the string “rape”, but just one of them was found to be using it in the context of sexual assault and was suspended, according to Nominet stats.

In 2015, the number of suspensions was the same. One.

The same story is playing out now — a single Don Quixote with a tenuous grasp of the systems he’s criticizing calling for ludicrous policies to prevent a problem that he freely admits does not exist and probably won’t exist in future.

Still, at least he gets to wave some headlines in front of his employers to pretend he’s actually earning his salary.

Nominet gets new chair

.uk registry Nominet has appointed a new chair from the world of news media.

Mark Wood will replace outgoing chair Rennie Fritchie on April 28, the company said yesterday.

Wood is formerly a director of Reuters and chair/CEO of the UK television news company ITN. He’s also on the board of CityWire and the advisory board of PwC.

Baroness Fritchie has chaired Nominet for seven years.