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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

This article was deleted October 1, 2019 after numerous errors were discovered.