Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

ICANN boss warns over existential “threat” from Russia

Kevin Murphy, October 27, 2021, Domain Policy

The Cthulian threat of an intergovernmental takeover of ICANN has reared its head again, but this time a resurgent, interventionist Russia is behind it and ICANN’s CEO is worried.

Speaking at ICANN 72, the Org’s virtual annual general meeting this week, Göran Marby highlighted recent moves by Russia in the UN-backed International Telecommunications Union as a “threat” to ICANN’s existence and the current internet governance status quo in general.

Speaking at a constituency meeting on Monday, Marby said:

We see a threat to the multistakeholder model and ICANN’s role in the Internet ecosystem. And anyone in this call are well aware about this threat: Russia in their attempt to be the next secretary-general of the ITU. Their platform is about having a government running not only ICANN but also the RIRs, the IETF and the root server system.

Marby is referring to two things here: Russia’s month-old policy document calling for the exploration of ways to centralize control over many of the internet’s functions under governments, and its attempt to have one of its former ministers installed as the next head of the ITU at next year’s election.

Secretary-general Houlin Zhao’s second and last four-year term is up next year, and Russia is aggressively promoting its own Rashid Ismailov as his successor. American ITU lifer Doreen Bogdan-Martin is considered the main competition and equally aggressively promoted by the US government.

Marby’s clearly concerned that a Russian secretary-general would give more weight to Russia’s current position on internet governance, which is very much about reducing US influence, doing away with ICANN, and bringing internet infrastructure under intergovernmental control.

At a separate session on Tuesday, Marby referred to this state of affairs as a “threat against the interoperability of the internet, not only ICANN as an institution”.

Such threats from the ITU are certainly nothing new — I’ve been reporting on them for almost as long as I’ve been covering ICANN — but Marby seems to think it’s different this time. He said during the ICANN 72 session:

Some of you would say: oh, we heard that before. But this time I would say it’s a little bit different because I think that some of the positions we see there are more mainstream than they were only five years ago.

Russian-born cybersecurity policy expert Tatiana Tropina concurred, calling Marby’s concerns “very valid” and telling the same ICANN session:

The points Russia makes at the ITU are scary because they can speak to many governments. They are quite moderate — or, rather, midstream — now, but they do refer to issues of power and control.

Russia’s positions were spelled out in a recent ITU policy document, a “risk analysis of the existing internet governance and operational model”.

According to Russia, ICANN poses a risk because it’s based in the US and therefore subject to the US judicial and legislative systems, as well as the Office of Foreign Assets Control, which restricts American companies’ ability to deal with organizations or states deemed to support “terrorism” and is unpopular in the Middle East:

Critical infrastructure operators/ organizations (ICANN, PTI, RIRs, etc.) may be forced to comply with sanctions of a national administration under which jurisdiction they are located. A number of operational organizations performing supranational functions in the Internet governance are registered in the USA, and they must comply with all laws, rules and regulations of the US judicial authorities as well as of the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)

It also thinks there’s a risk of the current model favoring big business over the public interest, harming “the preservation of national and cultural heritage, identity of the territory and language”, and it points to ICANN’s decision to award the .amazon gTLD to Amazon over the objections of the eight governments of the Amazonia region.

It’s also worried about the hypothetical ability of ICANN to disconnect ccTLDs from the rest of the world, due to its influence over the DNS root server system, perhaps at the demand or request of the US government.

You can download the Russian document, which covers a broader range of issues, from here as a Word file, but be warned: if you’re not using Microsoft software you may not be able to open it. Because interoperability, yeah?

1 Comment Tagged: , , ,

Big dose of reality for gTLD-hungry dot-brand applicants

Kevin Murphy, October 26, 2021, Domain Policy

Anyone tuning into yesterday’s Brand Registry Group session at ICANN 72 expecting good news about new gTLDs was in for a reality check, with a generally gloomy outlook on display.

BRG members expressed frustration that ICANN continues to drag its feet on the next application round, failing to provide anywhere near the degree of certainty applicants in large organizations need.

Meanwhile, a former ICANN director clashed with GoDaddy’s chief new gTLD evangelist on whether the 2012 round could be considered a success and whether there really is a lot of demand for the next round.

The BRG has arguably been the most vocal group in the community when it comes for calling for ICANN to stop messing around and approve the next round already, so members are naturally not enthused about the recent approval of an Operational Design Phase, a new layer of bureaucracy expected to add at least 13 months to the next-round runway.

Deborah Atta-Fynn, a VP at current and prospective future dot-brand owner JP Morgan Chase, expressed frustration with ICANN’s inability to put a date on the next round, or even confirm it will be approved, saying that it’s tough to get departmental buy-in for a project with undefined timing and which may never even happen.

Would-be dot-brands “need that clarity, and they need that definitive timeline” she said.

“In the same way that ICANN has to ramp up, we need to ramp up,” she said. “We have to get internal stakeholders from legal and marketing and whatever other groups may be involved to buy into it. They need to see the value, they need to see the use cases.”

“That open-endedness of the timeline makes it very difficult for us to get that stakeholder buy-in that we need. It makes it difficult for us to do any definitive planning,” she said.

Nigel Hickson, now the UK’s Governmental Advisory Committee representative and a civil servant but a senior ICANN staffer at the time of the 2012 round, concurred with the need for firmer timeline.

“It’s very difficult to tell ministers that something is going to happen, and then it doesn’t happen for a couple of years, because basically they lose interest,” he said. “Having some predictability in this process is very important.”

But probably the most compelling interventions during yesterday’s session came from former ICANN director Mike Silber, a new gTLD skeptic who abstained from the 2011 vote approving the program, and new gTLD evangelist Tony Kirsch, now with GoDaddy Registry after years with Neustar.

Silber had some stern words for ICANN of 2011, and for the two CEOs preceding Goran Marby, and indicated that he was an admirer of the policy work done by the New gTLD Subsequent Procedures working group (SubPro) and a supporter of a thorough ODP.

Silber started by taking a pop at former ICANN directors and staffers who he said pushed the program through “for their own personal benefit or ego boost or whatever”, then left the Org to let others “clean up the mess they created by rushing”. He didn’t name them, but I can think of at least three people he might have been talking about, including ICANN’s then-chair and then-CEO.

“This time it doesn’t look like a rush,” he said.

He went on to say that he expects the next application round to be a different animal to 2012, with less speculation and a more realistic approach to what new gTLDs can achieve.

“If you look at the number of applications and look at the number of TLDs actually launched and the number of TLDs that have actually been successful, I think that he hype that existed in 2012 is not there any longer,” he said.

“I think people are going to look long and hard before submitting an application,” Silber said. “These weird and wonderful applications for these weird and wonderful TLDs, by people who thought they would make a fortune, are vaporware.”

“I think applicants now are more serious, and I think there’s going to be a lot less speculation,” he said.

This hype-reduction takes the pressure of ICANN to quickly approve the next round, he said.

Counterpoint was provided by GoDaddy’s Kirsch, a long-time cheerleader for new gTLDs and in particular dot-brands. He’s not a fan of the ODP and the delay it represents.

Kirsch said that new gTLD advocates are reflecting the fact that there’s demand for both top-level and second-level domains out there.

“If there is no customer base, if there is no demand, then there is no revenue base,” he said.

He pointed to data showing that, while there are only 26 million new gTLD domains registered today, there have been 136 million registered over the lifetime of the 2012 round to date (about seven years).

While agreeing that the next round might see less wild top-level speculation, and that the industry has “matured”, Kirsch suggested there might actually be more applications for generic dictionary TLDs next time, but with a better understanding of the marketing commitment needed to make them succeed.

“I’m working with people right now who are doing that with a far greater business plan underneath it, and an understanding that if they don’t have that they won’t succeed with a generic term in the new world,” he said.

Silber dismissed the 136 million number as “indicative of speculation”, which Kirsch did not try very hard to dispute, and expressed skepticism about the level of demand at the top level.

“I find it quite amusing that people say there’s real demand, but then they need a target date to actually drive demand and it makes me worry that maybe the demand’s not quite as real as they think it is,” he said.

Atta-Fynn, Kirsch and session chair Martin Sutton challenged this.

“I think that the the idea that we need to target date to drive demand is incorrect,” Kirsch said. “I think we need a target date to convert interest into demand.”

“It is incumbent on ICANN to make sure that it provides a robust and visible plan for applicants to buy into this, because I think everyone’s watching and we’ve had enough time. It’s time to turn this into a into a real program that that benefits all internet users around the world,” he said.

Comment Tagged: , , , ,

UDRP respondent has name hidden on mental health grounds

Kevin Murphy, October 22, 2021, Domain Policy

An accused cybersquatter has had his or her name redacted from the UDRP record on mental health grounds in what appears to be an unprecedented decision.

The case of Securian Financial Group v [redacted] resulted in the transfer of securian.contact to the complainant, but the ADR Forum panelist did not make a determination on the merits.

Rather, the registrant had asked for the domain to be transferred free of charge and for their personal details to be kept out of the public record, telling the panelist:

I have a documented mental health history. I want to request ICANN and/or the complainant to at least redact my personal information from this case on medical grounds… I do not want to submit or reveal my medical documents to anyone, but if required by ICANN, I will do so.

The registrant said that the case had proved “mentally impactful” and that they did not want their name appearing in search results as it could affect their job and university applications.

The panelist found UDRP precedent of personal information being redacted in cases of identity theft and applied it to these apparently novel circumstances.

Because the respondent offered to freely give up the domain, the panelist did not decide on what would presumably have been a fairly cut-and-dried case.

Comment Tagged: , , , ,

Facebook rebrand: did one new gTLD or domainer just hit the jackpot?

Kevin Murphy, October 20, 2021, Domain Sales

Facebook is reportedly just days away from unveiling a major corporate rebranding, which will raise only one question in the minds of DI readers: what domain is it going to use?

Citing an unnamed source, The Verge is scooping that a name change is coming in the next week or so “to reflect its focus on building the metaverse”.

The article suggests that we’re looking at a new parent company, with a new umbrella brand, for services including Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus, along the same lines as Google’s reorganization under the Alphabet monicker a few years back.

You’ll recall that Alphabet famously chose abc.xyz as its domain, giving a huge early boost to marketing efforts at XYZ.com’s .xyz registry.

Could a different TLD registry get a similar leg-up from a new Facebook identity?

If the company has chosen a dictionary word for its brand, we’re looking at either something in a new gTLD, or a .com that would likely have to have been purchased from a domain investor.

If the domain has been bought on the secondary market, it almost certainly would have been acquired via a pseudonymous proxy, to avoid price gouging and to keep the name a secret.

Other options are that Facebook has come up with some fanciful neologism and bought the domain at reg price, or has selected a brand from a domain already in its portfolio.

The Verge expects a revelation by the company’s Connect conference October 28, but says it could come sooner.

5 Comments Tagged: ,

.basketball domain emerges under GoDaddy with fewer hoops

Kevin Murphy, October 20, 2021, Domain Registries

The .basketball gTLD has finally had its coming-out party, with the registry announcing general availability this week.

Fédération Internationale de Basketball has outsourced management of the gTLD to sports marketing agency Roar Domains, doing business here as Roar.Basketball, which in turn is using GoDaddy Registry for the technical registry functions.

The domain has been in a seemingly interminable series of qualified launch programs, community priority registration phases and sunrise periods for the last four years, but FIBA said yesterday .basketball is now open to all-comers.

Technically, it’s been in general availability for a few months, but the broader marketing effort only began this week.

Right now, it’s being marketed via Roar’s site at be.basketball, where the base registration price is $50 a year. Premiums are available at higher prices.

Roar appears to be using Australian registrar Bombora Technologies, which GoDaddy acquired as part of its Neustar deal last year, as its primary — possibly exclusive — registrar.

Roar’s FAQ states that be.basketball “is the only site where you can register and manage a .basketball domain name”.

Other registrars are accredited, and almost 20 have a handful of presumed sunrise regs, but currently Bombora holds 80% of the 600 domains currently under management.

Weirdly, GoDaddy itself does not appear to currently sell .basketball names through its primary storefront.

Roar/FIBA originally had MMX as its partner, with CentralNic as its back-end, but that changed earlier this year when GoDaddy acquired most of MMX’s assets, including the .basketball relationship.

Comment Tagged: , , , , ,

Donuts shuts down 14 registrars, but it’s “not related to DropZone”

Kevin Murphy, October 20, 2021, Domain Registrars

Donut has let 14 of its shell registrar accreditations expire, but told DI it’s not related to its recently approve drop-catching service, DropZone.

ICANN records show that the companies, with names such as Name118 Inc and Name104 Inc, all basically mini-clones of Name.com, recently had their registrar contracts terminated.

This kind of thing happens fairly regularly with companies resizing the networks they use for catching dropping domains. Donuts still has at least half a dozen active accreditations, records show.

But the move comes just weeks after ICANN approved a controversial new Donuts service called DropZone, which would see dropping domains across Donuts’ portfolio of 250+ gTLDs being handled by a dedicated parallel registry.

DropZone would reduce the need for owning vast numbers of shell accreditations in order to effectively drop-catch, but has faced criticism from rival DropCatch because a) Donuts may charge registrars for access and b) claims that Donuts-owned registrars would have an advantage.

But Donuts says the two things are unrelated. Name.com senior product marketing manager Ethan Conley said in an email:

We did recently let 14 ICANN registrar accreditations expire. These accreditations had become an administrative headache and a point of confusion for customers. This decision was not related to DropZone, and the domain drop business has not been a core focus of Name.com for quite some time.

It’s worth noting that cancelling registrar accreditations would also have an affect on the ability to catch names in other, unaffiliated gTLDs, including .com.

Comment Tagged: , , , , , ,

EURid fends off rivals for .eu contract

Kevin Murphy, October 19, 2021, Domain Registries

EURid has been renewed as the European Union’s ccTLD operator for another five years.

The organization announced yesterday that the European Commission has asked it to continue to run .eu and associated internationalized domain names until October 2027.

EURid beat off competition from three competitors — the Estonian ccTLD registry and two Luxembourg non-profits that appeared to have been formed just to bid on the contract.

EURid has been running .eu since its inception in 2005.

Comment Tagged: ,

Guy fills exact-match domain with porn, wins UDRP anyway

Kevin Murphy, October 19, 2021, Domain Policy

A Chinese registrant has managed to survive a UDRP over an exact-match domain name, despite not responding to the complaint and filling the associated web site with porn.

An ADR Forum panelist yesterday ruled the registrant could keep the domain boltonmenk.com (NSFW) despite Bolton & Menk, a Minnesota engineering firm that says it was founded in 1949, claiming infringement of common-law trademark.

Bolton & Menk has used the hyphenated version, bolton-menk.com, since 1996.

The non-hyphenated version at issue in this case has been in the hands of third-party registrants for at least 15 years, with at least 13 drops, according to DomainTools.

It seems to have been mostly parked with regular, inoffensive ads, and it was presumably only the recent addition of hard-core pornography that caught the complainant’s attention.

But the UDPR panelist ruled that Bolton & Menk, which has only a pending US trademark application, had failed to provide enough evidence that its brand also operates as a common-law trademark.

The complaint was therefore dismissed for the complainant’s lack of rights without even considering the registrant’s bad faith or legitimate interests.

It looks like a case of the bad guy getting away with it due to a less-than-comprehensive complaint.

Comment Tagged: , ,

Bahrain to relaunch ccTLD globally

Kevin Murphy, October 19, 2021, Domain Registries

The government of Bahrain has announced that it is relaunching its .bh and البحرين. ccTLDs with a simplified, automated, standardized registration process.

The domains will be available globally, the local Telecommunications Regulatory Authority said: “The new process of registration is fast, simple, and secure cutting the time of registration from days to minutes.”

Names will be “available for local and international customers”, the TRA said.

It looks like Bahrain has switched its back-end to CentralNic, and will be operating a standard EPP system.

While launch dates, registration rules and participating registrars were not announced, the TRA did indicate that the launch would begin with a sunrise period for trademark owners some time in the fourth quarter.

Bahrain is small but wealthy island state in the Persian Gulf with about 1.5 million inhabitants. The number of current registrations in .bh is not known.

Comment Tagged: , , ,

CentralNic says it’s making more money than expected

Kevin Murphy, October 18, 2021, Domain Registries

Domain all-rounder CentralNic this morning told the markets it thinks it will hit or beat expectations this year.

CEO Ben Crawford said in a statement this morning that at the end of 2021 the company expects to be “at or above” analyst estimates of $348.6 million to $355.3 million at the top line and profit of $41.1 million to $42.0 million.

For the nine month ended September 30, CentralNic expects revenue to come in at $280 million or above, with adjusted EBIDTDA of at least $32 million, up 66% and 45% respective on the same 2020 period.

That represents organic growth, normalizing the impact of acquisitions, or 29%, the company said.

While the company did not reveal the drivers behind its growth, in recent quarters the best performer has been its domain monetization business, which provides revenue from parking ads and traffic redirection.

It will report its results November 22.

Comment Tagged: ,