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Oh, the irony! Banned anti-Islam activist shows up on “Turkish” new gTLD domain

Kevin Murphy, April 23, 2019, Domain Policy

Tommy Robinson, who has been banned from most major social media platforms due to his anti-Islam “hate speech”, is now conducting business via a domain name that some believe rightfully belongs to the Muslim-majority nation of Turkey.

The registration could add fuel to the fight between ICANN and its governmental advisers over whether certain domains should be blocked or restricted.

Robinson, the nom de guerre of the man born Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, is the founder and former leader of the far-right English Defence League and known primarily for stirring up anti-Muslim sentiment in the UK for the last decade.

He’s currently, controversially, an adviser to the UK Independence Party. Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, also a thoroughly unpleasant bloke, considers Robinson so far to the right he quit the party in response to the appointment.

Over the last year, Robinson has been banned from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and had his YouTube account placed under serious restrictions. This month, he was also banned from SnapChat, and the EDL he used to lead was among a handful of far-right groups banned from Facebook.

Since his personal Facebook page went dark in February, he’s been promoting his new web site as the primary destination for his supporters.

It features news about his activities — mainly his ongoing fights against social media platforms and an overturned contempt of court conviction in the UK — as well as summaries of basically any sufficiently divisive anti-Islam, anti-immigration, or pro-Brexit stories his writers come across.

The domain he’s using is tr.news, a new gTLD domain in a Donuts-owned registry. It was registered in December via GoDaddy.

Given it’s a two-character domain, it will have been registry-reserved and would have commanded a premium price. Other two-character .news domains are currently available on GoDaddy for between $200 and $10,000 for the first year.

It will come as no surprise at all for you to learn that the domain was transferred out of GoDaddy, which occasionally kicks out customers with distasteful views, to Epik, now de facto home of those with far-right views, a couple of weeks after the web site launched.

The irony of the choice of domain is that many governments would claim that tr.news — indeed any two-character domain, in any gTLD, which matches any country-code — rightfully belongs to Turkey, a nation of about 80 million nominal Muslims.

TR is the ISO 3166-1 two-character code for Turkey, and until a couple of years ago new gTLD registries were banned from selling any of these ccTLD-match two-letter domains, due to complaints from ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee.

Many governments, including the UK and US, couldn’t care less who registers their matching domain. Others, such as France, Italy and Israel, want bans on specific domains such as it.pizza and il.army. Other countries have asked for blanket bans on their ccTLD-match being used at all, in any gTLD.

When new gTLDs initially launched in 2012, all ccTLD matches were banned by ICANN contract. In 2014, ICANN introduced a cumbersome government-approval system under which governments had to be consulted before their matches were released for registration.

Since December 2016, the policy (pdf) has been that registries can release any two-letter domains, subject to a provision that they not be used by registrants to falsely imply an affiliation with the country or registry with the matching ccTLD.

Robinson is certainly not making such an implication. I imagine he’d be as surprised as his readers to learn that his new domain has a Turkish connection. It’s likely the only people who noticed are ICANN nerds and the Turkish themselves.

Would the Turkish people look at tr.news and assume, from the domain alone, that it had some connection to Turkey? I think many would, though I have no idea whether they would assume it was endorsed by the government or the ccTLD registry.

Would Turkey — a government whose censorship regime makes Robinson’s social media plight look like unbounded liberalism — be happy to learn the domain matching its country code is being used primarily to deliver divisive content about the coreligionists of the vast majority of its citizens? Probably not.

But under current ICANN policy it does not appear there’s much that can be done about it. If Robinson is not attempting to pass himself of as an affiliate of the Turkish government or ccTLD registry, there’s no avenue for complaint.

However, after taking the cuffs off registries with its December 2016 pronouncement, allowing them to sell two-letter domains with barely any restrictions, ICANN has faced continued complaints from the GAC — complaints that have yet to be resolved.

The GAC has been telling ICANN for the last two years that some of its members believe the decision to release two-character names went against previous GAC advice, and ICANN has been patiently explaining the process it went through to arrive at the current policy, which included taking GAC advice and government comments into account.

In what appears to be a kind of peace offering, ICANN recently told the GAC (pdf) that it is developing an online tool that “will provide awareness of the registration of two-character domains and allow for governments to report concerns”.

The GAC, in its most-recent communique, told ICANN its members would test the tool and report back at the public meeting in Montreal this November.

The tool was not available in December, when tr.news was registered, so it’s not clear whether Turkey will have received a formal notification that its ccTLD-match domain is now registered, live, and being used to whip up mistrust of Muslims.

Update April 30: ICANN informs me that the tool has been available since February, but that it does not push notifications to governments. Rather, governments can search to see if their two-letter codes have been registered in which gTLDs.

Registrar CEO faces terrorism charges

Kevin Murphy, August 16, 2016, Domain Registrars

The CEO of Turkey’s largest registrar is facing terrorism charges in the wake of last month’s coup attempt in the country, according to reports.

Abdullah Büyük of Istanbul-based FBS was deported from Bulgaria last Wednesday, according to local reports, having overstayed his visa.

Büyük went to Bulgaria last year and Turkey had unsuccessfully tried to get him extradited earlier this year.

Turkey’s Erdogan government, which has arrested thousands of people since the July 15 attempted coup, claims Büyük is a supporter of US-based exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen.

Turkey claims that Gulen is behind a terrorist group called FETÖ, which it believes carried out the attack.

Buyuk is reportedly an open supporter of Gulen, but it’s not entirely clear from English-language reports out there what he’s accused of doing.

I suspect it’s probably unrelated to domain names.

The decision to hand over Buyuk to Turkish authorities has proved controversial in Bulgaria, where some suspect it was a political gesture related to Europe’s migrant crisis.

FBS is believed to be Turkey’s largest registrar, with just shy of 600,000 domain names under management.

Turkey blocks Google DNS in Twitter crackdown

Kevin Murphy, March 23, 2014, Domain Policy

The Turkish government has reportedly blocked access to Google’s public DNS service from with its borders, as part of its recently instituted censorship of Twitter.

According to local reports, the IP addresses 8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4 — Google’s public DNS servers — were banned after they became widely used to circumnavigate blocks on Twitter’s domain names.

Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week vowed to “wipe out” Twitter, after the company refused to take down tweets criticizing his government over corruption allegations ahead of an election next week.

Twitter is encouraging Turkish users to use SMS to send tweets instead. Many Turks are also turning to VPNs to evade this bizarre piece of Draconian censorship.

More government domain name censorship?

Kevin Murphy, April 28, 2011, Domain Policy

The government of Turkey has reportedly just kicked off a Draconian crackdown on domain names that contain words relating to sex and pornography.

According to the Hürriyet Daily News, a local daily newspaper, the telecommunications authority today send a list of 138 banned strings, many of them English words, to Turkish web hosts.

If the report is to be believed, any web sites containing any of the banned words in the domain will be shut down, even if the offending string is caused by two unrelated words running together.

The affect of the decision could see the closure of many website that feature the banned words. For example, the website “donanimalemi.com” (hardwareworld.com) because the domain name has “animal” in it, a banned word and likewise “sanaldestekunitesi.com,” (virtualsupportunit.com) would not be able to operate under its current name because it has “anal” in it; also among the 138 banned words.

In addition to many Turkish and English words, apparently the number 31 is also verboten, because it is local slang for “masturbation”.

The report suggests that the ban affects domain names in .com, not just in Turkey’s .tr country-code domain, but that it only affects web hosts, rather than access providers or registrars.

If the report is accurate (a machine translation of this regulator press release, in Turkish, suggests that it may be), it may be the strangest piece of government domain censorship in the internet’s short history.

Thankfully, if it only applies to web hosts (rather than to ISPs and domain registrars) I can’t see it having much of an impact.

If you host in Turkey, I expect that switching to a foreign provider will in many cases be fairly straightforward.

If there are any Turkish speakers reading this who are able to shed light upon this bizarre story, please do get in touch.