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Alibaba, among new RDRS opt-ins

Kevin Murphy, April 17, 2024, Domain Registrars

Eleven registrars representing millions of domain names signed up to support ICANN’s Registration Data Request Service last month. One registrar dropped out.

One of Chinese tech giant Alibaba’s registrars was among the additions. Alibaba Cloud Computing (Beijing), which has 2.6 million names under management, is a notable addition given that one of its sister registrars was recently hit with an ICANN Compliance action due to alleged abuse inaction.

Also opting in to the Whois band-aid service were Identity Digital’s (2.2 million names), three of its sister companies, and Newfold Digital’s (1.5 million names). Nominalia, P.A Vietnam, and Ubilibet also signed up.

Realtime Register dropped out of the voluntary service, the third registrar to opt out since RDRS launched in Novemeber.

ICANN says its coverage is now 57% of the total gTLD domains out there, up from 55% in February. It has 86 registrars on-board in total, including most of the largest.

RDRS is a two-year pilot that offers people who want access to private Whois records, largely intellectual property interests and law enforcement, a simpler way to connect with the registrars holding that data.

Alibaba hit with ICANN breach notice

One of the companies in the Alibaba Group, China’s biggest registrar and one of the largest technology companies in the world, has been handed a breach notice, containing a long list of complaints including abuse failures and non-payment of fees, by ICANN Compliance. Singapore E-Commerce, one of Alibaba’s four accredited registrars, failed to respond to abuse reports and failed to respond to ICANN’s requests for information about its failure to respond to abuse reports, the notice claims.

The breach notice will likely to be the last to be sent out for claims under the current version of the Registrar Accreditation Agreement. In two days, April 5, stricter domain takedown rules approved earlier this year will become effective on all registrars.

The abuse claims seem to cover four domains in .com and .vip that look like typos that could have been used in phishing attacks.

ICANN Compliance says that Alibaba also hasn’t published the names of its officers or its redemption fees, as the RAA also requires. It says the registrar also owes it an unspecified amount of past-due fees.

The chronologies reported in the notice claim Alibaba has been giving Compliance the run-around, failing to respond to calls and emails, since early November.

All four registrars in the Alibaba Group have the same published email and phone details, but it’s not clear whether the same ones are listed in ICANN’s internal directory. Singapore is one of four accredited registrars owned by Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant. The parent is not short of a bob or two, reporting revenue equivalent to $126 billion last year. It can afford to pay its ICANN fees.

Of the three Alibaba registrars that have domains the “Singapore” one is the smallest, with about 660,000 domains under management. The other two have 3.2 million and 2.6 million domains to their accreditations.

The company has been told it has until April 17 to come back into compliance or risk getting terminated.

Founders out as Com Laude gets equity injection

Corporate registrar Com Laude is losing four company founders as part of a new investment from the private equity firm PX3 Partners.

The company said last week that founders Nick Wood and Lorna Gradden will exit the firm, along with Penny Hearn and Andrew Lothian, who founded Demys, which Com Laude acquired in 2018. Wood will stick around to consult for a while.

The privately held, London-based registrar did not disclose the size of the investment or the new ownership structure, but it did say that former investor Vespa Capital is also out.

Com Laude focuses on the corporate market and brand protection services and has over 211,000 gTLD domains under management at the last count.

CEO Glenn Hayward said in a blog post that PX3 was picked for its “deep network of international relationships and experience in helping companies scale and internationalise”.

Epik backtracks on Kiwi Farms claim after legal threat

Kevin Murphy, March 19, 2024, Domain Registrars

Epik has retracted a claim it made on social media that former customer Kiwi Farms was hosting child sexual abuse material on its web site.

The troubled registrar had said on Twitter in January that it had received a complaint about a “doxxing” post on the Kiwi Farms troll forum that contained naked photographs of an individual Epik said it believed was “underaged”.

Kiwi Farms supporters counter-claimed that the person in question was a 19-year-old adult and the web site’s owner, known as Null, threatened Epik with legal action.

Today, Epik tweeted:

Epik retracts its statement in regards to the Kiwi Farms @KiwiFarmsDotNet having child sexual abuse material on its website. While Epik may not agree with content that may be on its website, Epik has no direct knowledge of child sexual abuse material on the Kiwi Farms’ website.

In the last couple of month, Epik has sought to rebrand itself as a responsible registrar focused on entrepreneurs rather than controversial anchor tenants. It updated its abuse policy last year and kicked out customers such as Kiwi Farms and Gab.

The company is now owned by Registered Agents, a company formation company.

Tucows reports 2023 results

Kevin Murphy, February 23, 2024, Domain Registrars

Tucows reported a domains business that was slightly stronger in the fourth quarter, as the company’s overall revenue grew by over 10%.

The registrar said its Tucows Domains unit grew by 2.6% at $61.8 million in the period, compared to Q4 2022. Gross profit was up 2.5% at $18.9 million and adjusted EBITDA was $10.8 million, up 2.1%.

For the full year, Domains brought in revenue down slightly at $242.1 million from $243.2 million in 2022. Gross profit was down from $78.2 million to $66.7 million and adjusted EBITDA was down to $42.6 million from $44.8 million in 2022.

CEO Elliot Noss said that he expects EBITDA for the domains business in 2024 to be $43 million.

Tucows’ domains under management was up at bit at the end of December, with 24.56 million names compared to 24.54 million at the end of Q3 and 24.39 million at the end of 2022.

Domains represents about 31% of the company’s overall business, with its Ting internet access services and Wavelo telecoms software unit making up the rest.

The company’s total revenue for Q4 was flat sequentially at $86.9 million, up from $78 million in the year-ago period. Full-year revenue was $339.3 million, up from $321.1 million in 2022.

GoDaddy reports strong domains growth

Kevin Murphy, February 14, 2024, Domain Registrars

GoDaddy reported its fourth-quarter financial results last night, including growth in primary and secondary market domain sales it described as strong.

The company reported Q4 net income up 1,132% at $1.13 billion, on revenue up 5.8% at $1.1 billion. Income was higher than revenue due to a tax fiddle worth about a billion dollars.

CEO Aman Bhutani told analysts that domains revenue growth in the quarter was up 4%, while domains bookings was up 7%. Aftermarket domain sales totaled $118 million, an increase of 14%, he said.

For the full year, GoDaddy had net income up 295% at $1.39 billion on revenue that grew 4% to $4.25 billion. The annual results were of course also affected by the same tax situation.

Report: Monster “misappropriated” millions from Epik

Kevin Murphy, February 9, 2024, Domain Registrars

Epik former CEO Rob Monster “misappropriated” over $3.5 million from the company before his departure last year, according to a report in Wired yesterday.

In a fairly in-depth piece on the registrar’s turbulent 2023, the tech publication said it has had eyes on a forensic accounting document that made the allegations:

An accounting firm hired by Epik to conduct a forensic investigation alleged that Monster had misappropriated more than $3.5 million, according to an internal preliminary report obtained by WIRED. More than $1.5 million was attributed to Monster personally withdrawing funds from the company. Nearly $2 million of Epik funds was used in Kingdom Ventures, Monsters’ venture capital firm, according to the report.

The article does not make it clear whether any criminality is alleged and Monster did not respond to the magazine’s request for comment.

The article also shed some extra light on the takeover of the former Epik Inc registrar by Epik LLC, a new company confirmed by ICANN to be owned by a company-formation outfit in Wyoming called Registered Agents Inc and not affiliated with Monster.

Registered Agents’ lawyer Bryce Myrvang told Wired that the plan is to offer its clients domains and web hosting when they form their companies, apparently confirming that the company is in it for the synergies rather than to hide Epik’s true owner.

Myrvang also offered his apologies to anyone offended by the recent weirdness coming out of its official Twitter account, which led some to believe that Monster was still pulling the strings at the company despite the new ownership.

GoDaddy offers free Ethereum blockchain integration

Kevin Murphy, February 5, 2024, Domain Registrars

GoDaddy has updated its domain management platform to allow users to add their Ethereum blockchain wallet addresses to their domains for free.

The registrar said it has partnered with Ethereum Name Service to offer the service, which will enable mutual customers to transact with ETH cryptocurrency using regular domain names instead of the massive gibberish strings crypto wallets usually use.

It’s free, due to ENS’s release last week of gasless DNSSEC, which links Ethereum to DNS by placing wallet addresses in the TXT records of domain names.

Before this update, ENS said the crypto transaction fees (“gas fees”) involved in validating domain ownership could reach as high as 0.5 ETH, which is over $1,100 at today’s prices.

The GoDaddy integration means the process of adding the TXT records has been simplified and can the accomplished in just a few clicks via the usual domain management interface.

Using ENS with your domain does require turning on DNSSEC, which adds some security benefits but also carries a downtime risk over the long term.

Epik reveals who is running the company

Kevin Murphy, February 5, 2024, Domain Registrars

Epik has named the three people it says are running the company following the change of control last June.

They are: JM Spear (identified as president) Jon Garrison (treasurer) and Bryce Myrvang (secretary), according to a recently published page on the company’s web site, which also names Registered Agents Inc as the parent company.

The three men hold the same positions at Registered Agents, according to that company’s web site.

The publishing of the new officers web page follows shortly after ICANN said it would ask Epik to publish such a page last week.

It seems the press release announcing the “acquisition” of Epik by Registered Agents I blogged about yesterday pre-dates ICANN’s approval of the new Epik LLC taking over the registrar accreditation of the old Epik Inc, which followed months of vetting.

So now we know who owns and runs the new Epik, which has committed to regain the trust of customers following a financial scandal and abandon its old devotion to a hard-line “free speech” stance, at least on paper.

The fact that Registered Agents specializes in company formations makes its acquisition of a registrar somewhat plausible, but the fact that its job is often to act as a proxy for its clients’ true beneficiaries means speculation about Epik’s ownership is unlikely to relent immediately.

Epik gets acquired again! The plot thickens…

Kevin Murphy, February 4, 2024, Domain Registrars

Epik has announced that it has been acquired and has named at least one person responsible for running the troubled registrar, but the new information is unlikely to satisfy critics or quash the conspiracy theories around the company’s new management.

“Registered Agents Inc., the leading registered agent service provider in the United States, has acquired key assets of internet domain registrar Epik,” the company said in a press release this weekend.

Bryce Myrvang, in-house counsel for Registered Agents, is named in the press release, but his position at Epik is not stated. Neither is it stated when the acquisition occurred — whether it was before or after ICANN approved the transfer of disgraced Epik Inc’s accreditation to Epik LLC last week, or after.

Neither the names Registered Agents or Bryce Myrvang are new information. Myrvang had been listed in ICANN’s registrar contact database after the LLC bought the Inc last June, but that changed last month to a job title rather than a named individual.

Because Registered Agents’ entire raison d’être is anonymous company formation and management, Epik’s past and current customers naturally wondered aloud whether it was in fact just a front for company founder Rob Monster, on whose watch the registrar started to descend into financial controversy, or somebody else with an interest in keeping their name secret.

But last week Epik and ICANN simultaneously announced that ICANN had completed its due diligence on the new company and found it completely independent of its former owners and leadership.

“Epik, LLC is a recently formed entity that is completely independent of Epik, Inc., its leadership, and shareholders,” ICANN told us.

“No previous owners, including Epik Inc founder Rob Monster and late stage CEO Brian Royce, are involved in Epik LLC in any capacity, including ownership interest in the business,” Epik said.

The announcement today that Registered Agents has bought Epik LLC will do little to unmuddy these waters.

For starters, if Myrvang is indeed a lawyer at a company that prides itself on its professionalism and discretion, there’s not a chance in hell he’s in charge of Epik’s Twitter account, which went a bit crazy last month.

There are undoubtedly synergies between a firm that deals in anonymous company formations — reportedly sometimes for dodgy clients — and a registrar that specialized in controversial anchor tenants.

But Epik is now confirming that it’s done a full U-turn on its strategy to court and welcome some of the web’s most distasteful sites and is now positioning itself as a regular workaday registrar with a focus on small businesses and entrepreneurs.

“Since the acquisition, and throughout the ICANN accreditation transfer review, Epik updated its terms of service and worked aggressively to rid its platform of violators. Having removed a handful of problematic clients, Epik can focus on rebuilding trust with its small business and entrepreneurial clients,” the company said in its latest press release.

Epik lost hundreds of thousands of domains under management last year, after a financial mismanagement scandal caused customers to lose confidence and flee in droves.