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No .sex please, we’re infected!

MMX saw poorer-than-expected sales of porn-related defensive registrations in the first half of the year, the only blip in what was otherwise a strong period for the company.

The registry updated the market today to say that its domain name base grew by 31% year over year during the half, ending June with 2.38 million names under management. It only grew by 19% in the same period last year.

Billings for H1 were up 7% at $7.9 million, MMX said.

But because the mix shifted away from one-off brokered sales, which are registered on the earnings report as a lump sum, and towards regular automated registrations, which are recognized over the lifetime of the reg, MMX expects to report revenue 5% down on last year.

While that’s all fair enough, the company said that it didn’t sell as many defensive blocks in .xxx, .sex, .porn and .adult as it had expected, which it blamed on coronavirus:

Management also notes that expected H1 channel sales from the Company’s brand protection activity were held back due to the impact of COVID-19, but anticipates those brand protection initiatives that were delayed in Q2 will resume in H2.

It’s a reference to the AdultBlock and AdultBlock Plus services launched last year, which enable trademark owners to block (and not use) their marks in all four adult TLDs for about $350 to $800 a year.

$11 billion dot-brand blames coronavirus as it self-euthanizes

Another new gTLD you’ve never heard of and don’t care about has asked ICANN to terminate its registry contract, but it has a rather peculiar reason for doing so.

The registry is Shriram Capital, the financial services arm of a very rich Indian conglomerate, and the gTLD is .shriram.

In its termination notice, Shriram said: “Due to unprecedented Covid-19 effect on the business, we have no other option but to terminate the registry agreement with effect from 3lst March 2020.”

Weird because the letter was sent in May, and weird because Shriram Group reportedly had revenue of $11 billion in 2017. The carrying cost of a dot-brand isn’t that much.

Registries don’t actually need an excuse to terminate their contracts, so the spin from Shriram is a bit of a mystery.

Shriram had actually been using .shriram, with a handful of domains either redirecting to .com sites or actually hosting sites of their own.

It’s the 79th dot-brand to self-terminate. ICANN expects to lose 62 in the fiscal year that started three weeks ago.

Donuts rolls out free phishing attack protection for all registrants

Donuts is offering registrants of domains in its suite of new gTLDs free protection from homograph-based phishing attacks.

These are the attacks where a a bad guy registers a domain name visually similar or identical to an existing domain, with one or more characters replaced with an identical character in a different script.

An example would be xn--ggle-0nda.com, which can display in browser address bars as “gοοgle.com”, despite having two Cyrillic characters that look like the letter O.

These domains are then used in phishing attacks, with bad actors attempting to farm passwords from unsuspecting victims.

Under Donuts’ new service, called TrueNames, such homographs would be blocked at the registry level at point of sale at no extra cost.

Donuts said earlier this year that it intended to apply this technology to all current and future registrations across its 250-odd TLDs.

The company has been testing the system at its registrar, Name.com, and reckons the TrueNames branding in the shopping cart can lead to increased conversions and bigger sales of add-on services.

It now wants other registrars to sign up to the offering.

It’s not Donuts’ first foray into this space. Its trademark-protection service, Domain Protected Marks List, which has about 3,500 brands in it, has had homograph protection for a few years.

But now it appears it will be free for all customers, not just deep-pocketed defensive registrants.

Amazon finally gets its dot-brands despite last-minute government plea

Amazon’s three long-sought dot-brand gTLDs were added to the DNS root last night, despite an eleventh-hour attempt by South American governments to drag the company back to the negotiating table.

.amazon, along with the Japanese and Chinese translations — .アマゾン (.xn--cckwcxetd) and .亚马逊 (.xn--jlq480n2rg) — and its NIC sites have already gone live.

Visiting nic.amazon today will present you with a brief corporate blurb and a link to Amazon’s saccharine social-responsibility blog. As a dot-brand, only Amazon will be allowed to use .amazon domains.

The delegations come despite a last-minute plea to ICANN by the eight-government Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization, which unsuccessfully tried to insert itself into the role of “joint manager” of the gTLDs.

ACTO believes its historical cultural right to the string outweighs the e-commerce giant’s trademark, and that its should have a more or less equal role in the gTLD’s management.

This position was untenable to Amazon, which countered with a collection of safeguards protecting culturally sensitive strings and various other baubles.

Talks fell through last year and ICANN approved the gTLDs over ACTO’s objections.

ACTO’s secretary-general, Alexandra Moreira, wrote to ICANN (pdf) May 21 to take one last stab at getting Amazon back in talks, telling CEO Göran Marby:

the name “Amazon” pertains to a geographical region constituting an integral part of the heritage of its countries. Therefore, we Amazonians have the right to participate in the governance of the “.amazon” TLD.

Our side is ready to resume negotiations on the TLD’s governance with the Amazon Corporation., from the point where their side interrupted it, with a view to arriving at a satisfactory agreement.

Her letter came in response to an earlier Marby missive (pdf) that extensively set out ICANN’s case that talks fell apart due to ACTO repeatedly postponing and cancelling scheduled meetings.

Despite the fact that Amazon’s basically got what it wanted, seven years after filing its gTLD applications, ACTO’s members didn’t get nothing.

The contracts Amazon signed with ICANN back in December have Public Interest Commitments in them that allow the governments to reserve up to 1,500 culturally sensitive strings from registration, as well as giving each nation its own .amazon domain.

World’s youngest country launches its Nazi-risk TLD next week

South Sudan is gearing up to launch its controversial top-level domain, .ss, on Monday.

It’s being run by the National Communication Authority for the country, which was founded in 2011 after its split from Sudan and is the world’s youngest nation.

As I noted back then, while SS was the natural and obvious choice of ISO country code, it’s potentially controversial due to the risk of it being used by modern-day Nazis in honor of Hitler’s Schutzstaffel.

Arguably, the risk nine years later is even greater due to the rise of the populist, nationalist right around the world.

So some readers may be pleased to hear that the registry is playing its launch by the book, starting with a sunrise period from June 1 to July 15. Trademark owners will have to show proof of ownership.

I’m sure Hugo Boss already has an intern with a checkbook, trademark certificate and sleeping bag outside the registry’s HQ, to be sure to be first in line on Monday.

Sunrise will be followed by a landrush period from July 17 to August 17, during which names can be acquired for a premium fee.

Immediately after that there’ll be an early access period, from August 19 to August 29, with more premium fees. General availability will begin September 1.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the direction other ccTLDs have been taking over the last decade, South Sudan has opted for a three-level structure, with registrations possible under .com.ss, .net.ss, .biz.ss, .org.ss, .gov.ss, .edu.ss, .sch.ss and .me.ss.

The com/net/biz/me versions are open to all. The others require some proof that the registrant belongs to the specific category.

The registry says it plans to make direct second-level regs available “at a later date”.

Getting your hands on a .ss domain may prove difficult.

Trademark owners won’t be able to use their regular corporate registrar (at least not directly) as NCA is only currently accredited South Sudan-based registrars. So far, only two have been accredited. Neither are also ICANN-accredited.

One is rather unfortunately called JuHub. It’s apparently using a free domain from Freenom’s .ml (Mali) and is listed as having its email at Gmail, which may not inspire confidence. Its web site does not resolve for me.

The other is NamesForUs, which is already taking pre-registration requests. No pricing is available.

The registry’s web site has also been down for most of today, and appears to have been hacked by a CBD splogger at some point, neither of which bodes well.

Irony alert! Data protection agency complains it can’t get access to private Whois data

Kevin Murphy, May 26, 2020, Domain Policy

A European data protection authority has complained to ICANN after a registrar refused to hand over one of its customers’ private Whois records, citing the GDPR data protection regulation, according to ICANN.

Compounding the irony, the DPA wanted the data as part of its probe into an alleged GDPR violation at the domain in question.

This is the frankly hilarious scenario outlined in a letter (pdf) from ICANN boss Göran Marby to Andrea Jelinek, chair of the European Data Protection Board, last week.

Since May 2018, registrars and registries have been obliged under ICANN rules to redact all personally identifiable information from public Whois records, because of the EU’s General Data Protection regulation.

This has irked the likes of law enforcement and intellectual property owners, who have found it increasingly difficult to discover the identities of suspected bad actors such as fraudsters and cybersquatters.

Registrars are still obliged to hand over data upon request in certain circumstances, but the rules are vague, requiring a judgement call:

Registry and Registrar MUST provide reasonable access to Personal Data in Registration Data to third parties on the basis of a legitimate interests pursued by the third party, except where such interests are overridden by the interests or fundamental rights and freedoms of the Registered Name Holder or data subject pursuant to Article 6(1)(f) GDPR.

While an ICANN working group has been attempting to come up with a clearer-cut set of guidelines, administered by a central body, this so-called SSAD (System for Standardized Access/Disclosure) has yet to come to fruition.

So when an unidentified European DPA recently asked a similarly unidentified non-EU registrar for the Whois data of somebody they suspected of GDPR violations, the registrar told it to get stuffed.

It told the DPA it would “not act against a domain name without any clear and unambiguous evidence for the fraudulent behavior” and said it would respond to legal requests in its own jurisdiction, according to ICANN.

The DPA complained to ICANN, and now ICANN is using that complaint to shame the EDPB into getting off the fence and providing some much-needed clarity about when registrars can declassify Whois data without breaking the law.

Marby wrote that registrars are having to apply their “subjective judgment and discretion” and will most often come down on the side of registrants in order to reduce their GDPR risk. He wrote:

ICANN org would respectfully suggest to the EDPB that a more explicit recognition of the importance of certain legitimate interests, including the relevance of public interests, combined with clearer guidelines on balancing, could address these problems.

ICANN org would respectfully suggest to the EDPB to consider issuing additional specific guidance on this topic to ensure that entities with a legitimate interest in obtaining access to non-public gTLD registration data are able to do so. Guidance would in particular be appreciated on how to balance legitimate interests in access to data with the interests of the data subject concerned

ICANN and the EDPB have been communicating about this issue for a couple of years now, with ICANN looking for some clarity on this largely untested area of law, but the EDPB’s responses to data have been pretty vague and unhelpful, almost as if it doesn’t know what the hell it’s doing either.

Will this latest example of the unintended consequences of GDPR give the Board the kick up the bum it needs to start talking in specifics? We’ll have to wait and see.

CSC removes reference to “retiring” new gTLD domain after retiring new gTLD domain

The corporate registrar and new gTLD management consultant CSC Global has ditched a new gTLD domain in favor of a .com, but edited its announcement after the poor optics became clear.

In a brief blog post this week, the company wrote:

We’re retiring cscdigitalbrand.services to give you a more user-friendly interface at cscdbs.com.

From the trusted provider of choice for Forbes Global 2000 companies, this more user-friendly site is filled with information you need to secure and protect your brand. You’ll experience a brand new look and feel, at-a-glance facts and figures, learn about the latest digital threats, access our trusted resources, and see what our customers are saying.

Visit the site to learn more about our core solutions: domain management, domain security, and brand and fraud protection.

But the current version of the post expunges the first paragraph, referring to the retirement of its .services domain, entirely.

I’m going to guess this happened after OnlineDomain reported the move.

But the original text is still in the blog’s cached RSS feed at Feedly.

CSC blog post

It’s perhaps not surprising that CSC would not want to draw attention to the fact that it’s withdrawn to a .com from a .services, the gTLD managed by Donuts.

After all, CSC manages dozens of new gTLDs for clients including Apple, Yahoo and Home Depot, and releases quarterly reports tracking and encouraging activation of dot-brands.

Interestingly, and I’m veering a little off-topic here, there is a .csc new gTLD but CSC does not own it. It was delegated to a company called Computer Sciences Corporation (ironically through an application managed by CSC rival MarkMonitor) which also owns csc.com.

Computer Sciences Corporation never really got around to using .csc, and in 2017 merged with a unit of HP to form DXC Technology.

If you visit nic.csc today, you’ll be redirected to dxc.technology/nic, which bears a notice that it’s the “registry for the .dxc top-level domain”.

Given that the .dxc top-level domain doesn’t actually exist, I think this might make DXC the first company to openly declare its intent to go after a dot-brand in the next round of new gTLDs.

Four more dot-brands join the gTLD deadpool

Kevin Murphy, April 21, 2020, Domain Registries

Four big-brand gTLDs have asked ICANN to terminate their contracts so far this year, bringing the total number of voluntarily discontinued strings to 73.

Notable among the terminations are two of the three remaining gTLDs being held by luxury goods maker Richemont, both of them Chinese-language generics.

It’s dumped .珠宝 (.xn--pbt977c) which is “.jewelry”, and .手表 (.xn--kpu716f) which is “.watches”.

The company, which applied for 14 gTLDs in the 2012 round, has already gotten rid of nine dot-brands. Only the English-language .watches remains of its former portfolio.

Also being terminated is .esurance, named for an American insurance provider owned by Allstate. This appears to be related to Allstate’s plan to discontinue the Esurance brand altogether this year.

There is still one .esurance domain active and listed in Google’s index: homeowners.esurance.

Allstate continues to own .allstate, which has a few active domains (which forward to its primary .com domain).

Finally, French reinsurance giant SCOR wants rid of .scor, which it has not been using.

Whois privacy talks in Bizarro World as governments and trademark owners urge coronavirus delay

Kevin Murphy, April 15, 2020, Domain Policy

Coronavirus may have claimed another victim at ICANN — closure on talks designed to reopen private Whois data to the likes of law enforcement and trademark owners.

In a remarkable U-turn, the Governmental Advisory Committee, which has lit a series a fires under ICANN’s feet on this issue for over a year, late last week urged that the so-called Expedited Policy Development Process on Whois should not wrap up its work in June as currently planned.

This would mean that access to Whois data, rendered largely redacted worldwide since May 2018 due to the GDPR regulation in Europe, won’t be restored to those who want it as quickly as they’ve consistently said that they want it.

Surprisingly (or perhaps not), pro-access groups including the Intellectual Property Constituency and Business Constituency sided with the GAC’s request.

In an email to the EPDP working group’s mailing list on Thursday, GAC chair Manal Ismail indicated that governments simply don’t have the capacity to deal with the issue due to the coronavirus pandemic:

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, and its drastic consequences on governments, organizations, private sector and individuals worldwide, I would like to express our serious concerns, as GAC leaders, that maintaining the current pace of work towards completion of Phase 2 by mid-June could jeopardize the delivery, efficacy and legitimacy of the EPDP’s policy recommendations.

While recognizing that the GAC has continually advised for swiftly completing policy development and implementing agreed policy on this critical public policy matter, we believe that given the current global health emergency, which puts many in the EPDP and the community under unprecedented stress (for example governments has been called to heightened duties for the continuity of essential public services), pressing important deliberations and decisions in such a short time frame on already strained participants would mean unacceptably sacrificing the product for the timeline.

We understand there are budget and human resources considerations involved in the completion of Phase 2 of the EPDP. However, we are all living through a global health pandemic, so we call on the EPDP Team to seriously reassess its course and expectations (be it on the duration of its calls, the turn-around time of reviews, its ultimate timeline and budget) emulating what numerous governments, global organizations, and households are doing to adapt during these challenging times across the world.

In April last year, before the EPDP group had even formally started its current phase of talks, Ismail wrote to ICANN to say the GAC expected the discussions to be more or less wrapped up by last November and that the new policy be implemented by this April.

Proponents of the access model such as Facebook have taken to suing registrars for not handing over Whois data in recent months, impressing the need for the issue to be urgently resolved.

So to now request a delay beyond June is a pretty big U-turn.

While Ismail later retracted her request for delay last Thursday, it was nevertheless discussed by the working group that same day, where the IPC, the BC and the ALAC all expressed support for the GAC’s position.

The registrars and registries, the non-commercial users and the ISPs were not supportive.

Delay might be tricky. For starters, hard-sought neutral working group chair Janis Karklins, has said he can’t continue working on the project beyond June 30, and the group has not secured ICANN funding for any further extensions to its work.

It will be up to the GNSO Council to decide whether to grant the extension, and the ICANN board to decide on funding.

The working group decided on Thursday to ask the Council for guidance on how to proceed.

What’s worrying about the request, or at least the IPC and BC’s support of it, is that coronavirus may just be being deployed as an excuse to extend talks because the IP owners don’t like the proposal currently on the table.

“The reality is we’re looking at a result that is… just not going to be sufficient from our perspective,” MPAA lawyer Frank Journoud, an IPC rep on the working group, said on its Thursday call. “We don’t want the perfect to be the enemy of the good, but right now we’re not even going to get to good.”

The current state of play with the working group is that it published its initial report (pdf) for public comment in February.

The group is recommending something called SSAD, for Standardized System for Access and Disclosure, in which a central gateway provider, possibly ICANN itself, would be responsible for granting Whois access credentials and fielding requests to the relevant registries and registries.

The almost 70 comments submitted before the March 23 deadline have been published in an unreadable, eye-fucking Google spreadsheet upon which transparency-loving ICANN may as well have hung a “Beware of the Leopard” sign. The staff summary of the comments is currently nine days late.

Facebook WILL sue more registrars for cybersquatting

Kevin Murphy, March 13, 2020, Domain Registrars

Facebook has already sued two domain name registrars for alleged cybersquatting and said yesterday that it will sue again.

Last week, Namecheap became the second registrar in Facebook’s legal crosshairs, sued in in its native Arizona after allegedly failing to take down or reveal contact info for 45 domains that very much seem to infringe on its Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp trademarks.

In the complaint (pdf), which also names Namecheap’s Panama-based proxy service Whoisguard as a defendant, the social media juggernaut claims that Whoisguard and therefore Namecheap is the legal registrant for dozens of clear-cut cases of cybersquatting including facebo0k-login.com, facebok-securty.com, facebokloginpage.site and facebooksupport.email.

In a brief statement, Facebook said these domains “aim to deceive people by pretending to be affiliated with Facebook apps” and “can trick people into believing they are legitimate and are often used for phishing, fraud and scams”.

Namecheap was asked to reveal the true registrants behind these Whoisguard domains between October 2018 and February 2020 but decline to do so, according to Facebook.

The complaint is very similar to one filed against OnlineNIC (pdf) in October.

And, according to Margie Milam, IP enforcement and DNS policy lead at Facebook, it won’t be the last such lawsuit.

Speaking at the second public forum at ICANN 67 yesterday, she said:

This is the second in a series of lawsuits Facebook will file to protect people from the harm caused by DNS abuse… While Facebook will continue to file lawsuits to protect people from harm, lawsuits are not the answer. Our preference is instead to have ICANN enforce and fully implement new policies, such as the proxy policy, and establish better rules for Whois.

Make no mistake, this is an open threat to fence-sitting registrars to either play ball with Facebook’s regular, often voluminous requests for private Whois data, or get taken to court. All the major registrars will have heard her comments.

Namecheap responded to its lawsuit by characterizing it as “just another attack on privacy and due process in order to strong-arm companies that have services like WhoisGuard”, according to a statement from CEO Richard Kirkendall.

The registrar has not yet had time to file its formal reply to the legal complaint, but its position appears to be that the domains in question were investigated, found to not be engaging in nefarious activity, and were therefore vanilla cases of trademark infringement best dealt with using the UDRP anti-cybersquatting process. Kirkendall said:

We actively remove any evidence-based abuse of our services on a daily basis. Where there is no clear evidence of abuse, or when it is purely a trademark claim, Namecheap will direct complainants, such as Facebook, to follow industry-standard protocol. Outside of said protocol, a legal court order is always required to provide private user information.

UDRP complaints usually take several weeks to process, which is not much of a tool to be used against phishing attacks, which emerge quickly and usually wind down in a matter of a few days.

Facebook’s legal campaign comes in the context of an ongoing fight about access to Whois data. The company has been complaining about registrars failing to hand over customer data ever since Europe’s GDPR privacy regulation came into effect, closely followed by a new, temporary ICANN Whois policy, in May 2018.

Back then, its requests showed clear signs of over-reach, though the company claims to have scaled-back its requests in the meantime.

The lawsuits also come in the context of renewed attacks at ICANN 67 on ICANN and the domain industry for failing to tackle so-called “DNS abuse”, which I will get to in a follow-up article.