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PwC wants to be your Whois gatekeeper

Kevin Murphy, June 11, 2019, Domain Services

PricewaterhouseCoopers has built a Whois access system that may help domain name companies and intellectual property interests call a truce in their ongoing battle over access to private Whois data.

Its new TieredAccess Platform will enable registries and registrars to “outsource the entire process of providing access to non-public domain registration data”.

That’s according to IP lawyer Bart Lieben, partner at the Belgian law firm ARTES, who devised the system and is working with PwC to develop it.

The offering is designed to give trademark lawyers access to the data they lust after, while also reducing costs and mitigating domain name industry liability under the General Data Protection Regulation.

TieredAccess would make PwC essentially the gatekeeper for all requests for private Whois data (at least, in the registries plugged into the platform) coming from the likes of trademark owners, security researchers, lawyers and law enforcement agencies.

At one end, these requestors would be pre-vetted by PwC, after which they’d be able to ask for unredacted Whois records using PwC as an intermediary.

They’d have to pick from one of 43 pre-written request scenarios (such as cybersquatting investigation, criminal probe or spam prevention) and assert that they will only use the data they obtain for the stated purposes.

At the other end, registries and registrars will have adopted a set of rules that specify how such requests should be responded to.

A ruleset could say that cops get more access to data than security researchers, for example, or that a criminal investigation is more important than a UDRP complaint.

PwC has created a bunch of templates, but registrars and registries would be able to adapt these policies to their own tastes.

Once the rules are put in place, and the up-front implementation work has been done to plug PwC into their Whois servers, they wouldn’t have to worry about dealing with Whois requests manually as most are today. The whole lot would be automated.

Not even PwC would have human eyes on the requests. The private data would only be stored temporarily.

One could argue that there’s the potential for abusive or non-compliant requests making it through, which may give liability-nervous companies pause.

But the requests and response metadata would be logged for audit and compliance, so abusive users could be fingered after the act.

Lieben says the whole system has been checked for GDPR compliance, assuming its prefabricated baseline scenarios and templates are adopted unadulterated.

He said that the PwC brand should give clients on both sides “peace of mind” that they’re not breaking privacy law.

If a registrar requires an affidavit before releasing data, the assertions requestors make to PwC should tick that box, he said.

Given that this is probably a harder sell to the domain name industry side of the equation, it’s perhaps not surprising that it’s the requestors that are likely to shoulder most of the cost burden of using the service.

Lieben said a pricing model has not yet been set, but that it could see fees paid by registrars subsidized by the fees paid by requestors.

There’s a chance registries could wind up paying nothing, he said.

The project has been in the works since September and is currently in the testing phase, with PwC trying to entice registries and registrars onto the platform.

Lieben said some companies have already agreed to test the service, but he could not name them yet.

The service was developed against the backdrop of ongoing community discussions within ICANN in the Expedited Policy Development Working group, which is trying to create a GDPR-compliant policy for access to private Whois records.

ICANN Org has also made it known that it is considering making itself the clearinghouse for Whois queries, to allow its contracted parties to offload some liability.

It’s quite possible that once the policies are in place, ICANN may well decide to outsource the gatekeeper function to the likes of PwC.

That appears to be what Lieben has in mind. After all, it’s what he did with the Trademark Clearinghouse almost a decade ago — building it independently with Deloitte while the new gTLD rules were still being written and then selling the service to ICANN when the time came.

The TieredAccess service is described in some detail here.

Brand kills off gTLD that is actually being USED

Two more companies have told ICANN they’ve changed their minds about running a dot-brand gTLD, including the first example of a TLD that is actually in use.

Dun & Bradstreet has said it no longer wishes to launch .duns, and Australian insurance company iSelect has had enough of .iselect.

Both companies filed to voluntarily terminate their ICANN registry agreements in March, and ICANN published its preliminary decision to allow them to do so this week.

While business data provider D&B never got around to using .duns, .iselect has had dozens of active domains for years.

The company started putting domains in its zone file about three years ago and had over 90 registered names at the last count, with about a dozen indexed by Google. That’s a quite a lot for a dot-brand.

It is using domains such as home.iselect, news.iselect and careers.iselect as redirects to parts of its main corporate site, while domains such as gas.iselect, creditcards.iselect and health.iselect send customers to specific product pages.

They all redirect to its main iselect.com.au site. There are no web sites as far as I can tell that keep visitors in the .iselect realm.

I’m pretty certain this is the first example of a voluntary contract termination by a dot-brand that is actually in active use.

There have been 52 such terminations to date, including these two latest ones, almost all of which have been dot-brands that never got out of the barn door.

That’s over 10% of the dot-brands that were delegated from the 2012 gTLD application round.

Smaller registrars say .uk release is biased towards the Big Boys

A group of small .uk registrars have complained to Nominet that the imminent release of three million second-level .uk domain names is biased towards their deep-pocketed rivals.

So far, 33 registrars have signed a petition, penned by Netistrar’s Andrew Bennett, against Nominet’s rules.

On July 1, the registry plans to start releasing .uk 2LDs that are currently reserved under its five-year-long grandfathering program.

These are domains that match existing third-level domains in .co.uk, .org.uk, etc.

The 3LD registrants have until 0500 UTC on June 25 to claim their 2LD matches. A week later, Nominet will start releasing them in alphabetical batches of 600,000 per day, over five days, to the available pool.

It’s going to be a little like “the drop” in gTLDs such as .com, with registrars all vying to pick up the most-valuable names as soon as they are released.

In the gTLD space, each registrar is given an equal number of connections, which is why drop-catch specialists such as SnapNames own hundreds of registrar accreditations.

Nominet’s doing it a little different, instead throttling connections based on how much credit registrars have with the registry, which the petitioners believe rigs the system towards the registrars with the most money.

According to the Nominet, registrars with £450 of credit get six connections per minute, rising to nine per minute for those with £4,500, 60 per minute for £45,000 and, at the top end, 150 per minute for registrars with £90,000 stashed in the Bank of Nominet.

Larger registrars with multiple Nominet accreditations, known as “tags” in the .uk space, will be able to stack their connections for an even greater chance at grabbing the best names.

Registrars such as GoDaddy are already taking pre-orders and will auction off the domains they catch to the highest bidder, if there are multiple pre-orders for the same names, so there’s potentially a fair bit of money to be made.

The small registrars say these credit-based rules are “disproportionately unfair” to their business models.

They point out that it doesn’t make much sense to rate-limit connections based on their proven ability to pay, given that there’s no link between how many they plan to register in the crucial first minute after the drop and how many they intend to register overall.

Nominet says on its web site that the tiers as described are provisional and will be firmed up the week of June 24.

The petitioners are also bothered that Nominet has not made any EPP code available to help the smaller guys, which have fewer engineering resources, to adjust to this temporary, time-sensitive registration system, and that the release plan was not communicated well to registrars.

They further claim that Nominet has not conducted enough outreach to .uk registrants to let them know their grandfathered rights will soon expire.

Many well-known brands have yet to claim their trademark.uk names, they claim.

Nominet has previously told DI that it planned to advertise the end of grandfathering in the press and on radio in the run-up to the release.

These 27 companies have ditched the .com for their dot-brand

Earlier today, I listed what I believe might be the top 10 dot-brand gTLDs with the most active web sites, but noted that it was probably a rubbish way to gauge the success of the dot-brand concept.

As a follow-up, I thought I’d figure out which brands have taken the bold step of ditching the .com and made their dot-brand their primary web destination.

I found 27 TLDs, which is simultaneously not a lot and easily twice as many as I was expecting.

The most-popular second-level string was “home”, with 12 examples. The string “global” occurs five times on the list.

I did this research manually with Google and a list of 275 dot-brands — anything with Spec 13 in its contract and more than two domains in its zone file — culled from my database.

To get on this list, at least one of the following had to be true:

  • The dot-brand was the top hit on Google when searching for the brand in question.
  • The .com redirects to the dot-brand.

Sometimes I had to factor out Google’s enormously irritating habit of localizing results, which would prioritize a .uk domain, particularly in the case of automotive brands.

On a few occasions, if I could not be certain whether the “official” primary site was in a ccTLD or the dot-brand, I used the brand’s Wikipedia page as a tie-breaker.

Some entries on the list may be a bit debatable.

I’m not sure whether .barclays should be there, for example. There’s little doubt in my mind that barclays.co.uk is the site that the majority of Barclays’ banking customers use, but barclays.com redirects visitors to home.barclays, so it fits my criteria.

In general, I’ve erred on the side of caution. If the top search result was for the brand’s .com, it was immediately ruled out, no matter how enthusiastic a dot-brand user the company otherwise appeared to be.

Here’s the list. Please let me know if you think I’ve missed any.

TLDBrand2LD
bnpparibasBNP Paribasgroup
bradescoBanco Bradesco S.A.banco
canonCanon Inc.global
cernEuropean Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN)home
cuisinellaSALM S.A.S.ma
dhlDeutsche Post AGlogistics
fageFage International S.A.home
hisamitsuHisamitsu Pharmaceutical Co.,Inc.global
ipirangaIpiranga Produtos de Petroleo S.A.portal
komatsuKomatsu Ltd.home
kpmgKPMG International Cooperativehome
locusLocus Analytics LLChome
neustarNeuStar, Inc.home
pictetPictet Europe S.A.group
pioneerPioneer Corporationglobal
praxiPraxi S.p.A.praxi
sandvikSandvik ABhome
saxoSaxo Bank A/Shome
schmidtSALM S.A.S.home-design
senerSener Ingeniería y Sistemas, S.A.ingenieriayconstruccion
toyotaToyota Motor Corpglobal
warmanWeir Group IP Limitedhome*
weberSaint-Gobain Weber SAhome
weirWeir Group IP Limitedglobal

Twenty-seven gTLDs is not a great many, of course, considering that some dot-brands have been delegated for half a decade already.

It’s about half as many as have already torn up their ICANN registry agreements, and it represents less than 6% of the new gTLDs that my database says have Spec 13 in their contracts.

But I reiterate that this is not a list of companies using their dot-brands but rather of those apparently putting their .com firmly in the back seat to their dot-brand.

These are the 10 most-used dot-brands

It occurred to me recently that my regular coverage of companies that choose to abandon their unused dot-brand gTLDs may have created a misleading impression that the dot-brand portion of the new gTLD program has been a big old waste of time.

I make no apologies for this. As a news guy, I look for deviations from the norm — “man bites dog” stuff — when deciding what to write about, and that quite often means reporting what could be considered Bad News.

When companies do adopt their dot-brands in a big way, they tend to do it rather quietly and almost always in a foreign language, so the news doesn’t usually cross my radar until long after it has ceased to be timely.

But it is true that the background noise of dot-brands is that quite a lot of them are being actively used to varying degrees, and I’m feeling some sense of obligation to report on that activity too, despite it being thoroughly un-newsworthy.

So here I present an unofficial list of the top 10 most-used dot-brands.

It’s based on how many active web sites I’ve found in each of the 460-odd dot-brand gTLDs I regularly spider.

I count a “dot-brand” as any gTLD that has Specification 13 in its ICANN contract, and here I’m defining an active web site to exclude redirects to sites in other, off-brand TLDs.

The numbers may not be precisely accurate today, because sites come and go, but I think they’re a decent guide.

I’m also fairly certain that “number of active web sites” is an absolutely terrible way to compare and rank dot-brands, but if nothing else I think the metric is a good indicator of enthusiasm for dot-brands (by the brand, if not necessarily its customers).

Here goes.

.seat — SEAT, S.A.

Spanish car manufacturer SEAT had 532 active .seat web sites at my last count, the vast majority of which appear to be template-driven brochureware sites named after and designated to the company’s authorized dealers across Europe.

The domain bradys.seat, for Dublin-based dealer Brady’s, is a rare example of an English-language version of the site.

I call the sites “brochureware” because, while it does appear to be possible to buy a car via these sites, you are invariably redirected to SEAT’s local ccTLD site before you get to this stage of the transaction.

SEAT itself does not appear to use .seat domains for its own web sites, preferring instead to use local ccTLDs.

SEAT is a subsidiary of Germany-based Volkswagen Group.

.lamborghini — Automobili Lamborghini S.p.A.

The second brand on the list is another car maker and another Volkswagen subsidiary, Italy-based Lamborghini. It had 145 active .lamborghini web sites at my last count.

Like sister-company SEAT, Lamborghini’s dot-brand is most-often used by its official dealers across the world, also using identikit, non-transactional templates.

Unlike SEAT, which grants its dealers domains matching their brands, dealer .lamborghini domains are in almost all cases geographic. For example, the German dealer MAHAG gets the domain munich.lamborghini.

Lamborghini has some domains for its own non-dealer use, such as home.lamborghini and contact.lamborghini, but these redirect to its .com site so I have not counted them here.

.bmw — Bayerische Motoren Werke Aktiengesellschaft

BMW also makes cars, but it’s not owned by VW. Its dot-brand, .bmw, had 83 live sites at my last count.

While the ownership may differ, the strategy does not. Most .bmw sites appear to be template-driven dealer sites.

BMW also has a few branded call-to-action domains, such as missiontomars.bmw and enjoytheride.bmw, but these redirect outside of .bmw.

While researching this TLD, I also found my first-ever example of an expired dot-brand domain, at productgeniusclips.bmw. Of course, one of the benefits of a dot-brand is that nobody else will be able to register this name when it drops.

.weber — Saint-Gobain Weber SA

We seem to be looking at an example here of a company that missed out on good domains to similarly named companies in different industries and is compensating with a dot-brand.

There are several companies in the world called Weber, and I had to do a double-take when I realized that this one is the “world leader in industrial mortars”.

It’s a concrete company, owned by 354-year-old French multinational Saint-Gobain.

It appears to be the first example on this list of a company that is using its dot-brand for its primary web site.

When I search for Weber from here in the UK, the first result for this particular company is uk.weber. It’s former domain in the UK seems to have been netweber.co.uk, which now redirects to the dot-brand.

A barbecue maker also called Weber, which owns weber.com, currently has far better search engine rankings from where I’m sitting.

Mortar-making Weber’s list of .weber domains are primarily two-character country-codes, but it also has a few generic terms that point to resolving web site wecare.weber, a domain that matches one of its slogans.

.bnpparibas — BNP Paribas

BNP Paribas is the world’s eighth-largest bank and one of several companies to wholeheartedly throw its weight behind the dot-brand concept.

It ditched its .fr and .net domains in 2015, instead pointing its retail banking customers in France to mabanque.bnpparibas. It also uses group.bnpparibas as its primary corporate web site.

Both of those domains are in the top 100,000 most-visited domains worldwide, according to Alexa data.

It had 62 active .bnpparibas sites at my last count, many of which appear to be fully-developed sites dedicated to groups such as shareholders and enterprise customers. There are also country-focused sites such as usa.bnpparibas and informational sites such as history.bnpparibas.

.abbott — Abbott Laboratories, Inc.

Abbott is a $30 billion-a-year healthcare company with 57 sites in its .abbott gTLD. It’s the only US-based company on this list.

The company appears to have a hybrid strategy when it comes to its dot-brand. While it has many active sites, it also has many redirects to sites in off-brand TLDs.

The domain shop.abbott bounces visitors to abbottstore.com, for example, while fully fledged product-specific sites such as transfusion.abbott, pediasure.abbott and diabetescare.abbott all remain in .abbott.

Google searches for the term “abbott” track this hybrid approach, returning a mixture of URLs in dot-brand and off-brand TLDs.

Abbott has yet to make the leap to using .abbott for its primary web sites, which remain in ccTLDs and .com.

.leclerc — A.C.D. LEC Association des Centres Distributeurs Edouard Leclerc

This huge “hypermarket” retail chain will no doubt be a household name to my French readers, but it’s a new one to this rosbif.

Leclerc logoInterestingly, the company has been called E.Leclerc — with the dot — since it was founded by Edouard Leclerc in 1949. This is apparently the logo it was using from its foundation until 2012, when it made most of the letters lower-case. This was of course the same year it applied for the .leclerc gTLD.

As you might imagine, the domain e.leclerc was a no-brainer.

The cool thing about the domain is that if somebody “searches” for the brand in their browser’s navigation bar, the browser will actually resolve it as a domain and take them straight to the retailer’s web site, avoiding the Google SERPs advertising tax that many companies feel obliged to pay.

The uncool, maddening flipside is that e.leclerc bounces visitors to e-leclerc.com, which seems like a huge missed trick in terms of branding.

That said, Leclerc does have a number of non-redirect .leclerc web sites that focus on specific product groups, such as technology, culture and homecare.

This could turn out to be the model Amazon eventually uses, if/when it gets its .amazon gTLD.

.bradesco — Banco Bradesco S.A.

Banco Bradesco is a Brazilian bank with almost $62 billion of annual revenue.

Like BNP Paribas, it’s ditched its old TLDs in favor of its dot-brand, and now uses banco.bradesco as its primary web site. The .com and .com.br both redirect to the .bradesco.

There’s also lots of redirecting internal to the TLD, with a few dozen brand/product .bradesco domains pointing back to banco.bradesco pages.

.aquarelle — Aquarelle.com

Aquarelle.com Group is a French flower delivery company, an early mover in the e-commerce world that has been using aquarelle.com since 1997. It operates in several European countries.

It has not made the leap away from the .com domain that has been its brand for the last 22 years, but it does use .aquarelle for a variety of creative purposes.

art-floral.aquarelle, for example, offers bouquet-making video tutorials. Sites such as chocolats.aquarelle act as promo pages for specific products that can be bought at the .com site. It also appears to be running a transactional web site for a third-party retailer, Darty, at darty.aquarelle.

.fage — Fage International S.A.

Finally, yoghurt! Or, as my US English spell-checker insists, “yogurt”.

Fage is brand I’ve never heard of, of a product I despise, but I gather it’s one of Greece’s most recognizable dairy brands.

It’s another example of a company that has thrown itself fully behind its dot-brand.

Before it applied for .fage, it was using fage.gr for its primary web site. Now, that domain redirects to greece.fage. The matching .com is owned by an unrelated entity.

It’s also the only example on this top 10 list of a dot-brand using “home” at the second level as its primary domain.

Other domains include various translations of the word “recipe”, which redirect internally to other .fage sites.