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Facebook, under Chinese court threat, transfers Instagram.com to its new registrar

Kevin Murphy, April 19, 2016, Domain Registrars

It’s not quite cyberflight, but Facebook has transferred threatened domain name instagram.com to its newly acquired in-house registrar.

Whois records show that the domain, used for the popular photo-sharing social network, was moved from MarkMonitor to RegistrarSEC yesterday.

It emerged on Friday that Facebook had recently acquired RegistrarSEC.

So why the transfer?

It does not appear that the move is part of a wholesale transfer of domains — facebook.com, whatsapp.com, fb.com and all the other Facebook domains I checked are still with MarkMonitor.

Instead, I would speculate that it’s related to the lawsuit in China in which the family of a deceased cybersquatter are fighting for the return of the domain to their ownership.

Instagram acquired the name for $100,000 from the Guangdong-based Zhou family in January 2011, just a couple of months after Zhou Weiming, the now deceased patriarch, bought it from an American domainer.

According to a lawsuit (pdf) filed against the family in California by Instagram this January, Zhou’s widow and two daughters are suing the third daughter in a Chinese court for selling the domain without the proper authority.

They want the domain returned to them.

By transferring instagram.com to a registrar completely controlled by Facebook, the company has removed one huge risk factor from the Chinese lawsuit.

If MarkMonitor were to be served with a Chinese court order ordering the transfer of the domain to the Zhous, and it were to comply, the Instagram service used by millions could be held hostage by a group of known cybersquatters.

Now that the domain is at RegistrarSEC, Facebook gets the ability to refuse to comply with any such order.

This all begs the question of whether the deep-pocketed social network would go to the trouble of acquiring a registrar (with only 11 names to its accreditation) purely to provide a layer of insurance.

A fresh ICANN accreditation would be cheaper, but would take longer, and transferring to a different third-party registrar wouldn’t really solve the problem.

Instagram is predicted by one analyst to provide Facebook with $5.8 billion in annual revenue by the end of the decade.

Facebook bought a registrar

Kevin Murphy, April 14, 2016, Domain Services

Facebook has acquired a domain name registrar, according to its point person in ICANN.

Facebook domain manager Susan Kawaguchi said on tonight’s GNSO Council teleconference, as a matter of disclosure, that Facebook recently acquired a registrar.

Multiple sources say the registrar is RegistrarSEC LLC.

DI records show that RegistrarSEC took over the ICANN registrar accreditation of Focus IP Inc, doing business as AppDetex, on March 26.

RegistrarSEC is led by one of the long-gone founders of brand protection registrar MarkMonitor, Faisal Shah, and Chris Bura, founder of Alldomains.com.

Facebook is one of MarkMonitor’s most prominent clients.

RegistrarSEC is not a conventional registrar. It had just 11 registrations under its IANA ID at the end of 2015.

But its parent was founded in 2013 as primarily a provider of brand protection services focused on the mobile app space.

My guess is that Facebook is interested in RegistrarSEC’s parent’s intellectual property, rather than its registrar.