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CentralNic wins .london back-end deal from Nominet

CentralNic today announced that it’s taking over back-end registry operations for .london.

It’s taking over from Nominet, which has run the technical aspects of the registry since 2016 when MMX dumped its registry business.

The contracted registry is London & Partners, the marketing arm of the London mayor’s office.

CentralNic is based in London, whereas Nominet, which runs .uk and .wales, is based in nearby Oxford. Original registry MMX was based in the British Virgin Islands.

.london currently has about 51,000 domains under management, down from a 2018 peak of about 86,000.

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Donuts offers name spinner to show potential attacks

Kevin Murphy, May 13, 2021, Domain Tech

Donuts has launched a tool to show off its TrueName offering, which blocks potential phishing attacks at the domain registry level.

It’s like a regular name spinner, but instead of showing you available domains it shows you visually confusingly similar domains — homographs — that it will block if you register said name in any of Donuts’ portfolio of 2xx (subs, please check) TLDs.

For example, spinning truename.domains returns results such as trʋenɑme.domains (xn--trenme-exc57b.domains) and trᵫname.domains (xn--trname-xk6b.domains), which could be used in phishing attacks.

How many strings get blocked depends largely on what characters are in your name. The letters I and O have a great many visually confusing variants in other non-Latin scripts, and each instance exponentially increases the potential attack vectors.

For example, if I were to register “domainincite” in one of Donuts’ TLDs, Donuts would block 767 homographs at the registry level, but if I were to register “kevinmurphy”, it would only need to block 119.

It only blocks the homographs in the same TLD as the original name. It’s not a replacement for brand protection in other TLDs.

Donuts doesn’t charge anything extra for this service. It’s included in the price of registration and offered as a unique perk for Donuts’ selection of gTLDs.

I gave TrueName a brief post when it launched last year, but I have to say I really like the idea. It’s a rare example of true innovation, rather than simple money-grubbing, that has come from the new gTLD program.

If Verisign were to roll out something similar in .com, it would eliminate a bunch of phishing and cut down on legal fees for big brands chasing phishers and typosquatters through UDRP or the courts.

It was born out of Donuts’ Domain Protected Marks List product, which allows trademark owners to block their brands and homographs across the whole Donuts stable for less money than defensively registering the names individually.

The downside of the spinner tool is of course that, if you’re a bad guy, it simplifies the process of generating samples of homograph Punycode (the ASCII “xn--” string) that can be used in any non-Donuts TLD that supports internationalized domain names.

The tool is limited to 10 domains per spin, however, which limits the potential harm.

Try it out here.

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Two world wars and one dot-brand? Americans beat Germans in long-running gTLD fight, kinda

A chemicals company called Merck has beaten another chemicals company called Merck for the right to run .merck as a dot-brand gTLD.

But it looks like we may be looking at an unprecedented case of a shared dot-brand.

US-based Merck Registry Holdings and Germany-based Merck KGaA appear to have resolved their long-running battle over the string, with the German company recently withdrawing its application, enabling its rival to sign a contract with ICANN and go live on the internet.

But it’s not as straightforward as one applicant emerging victorious over the other. Recent changes to the American company’s winning gTLD application strongly suggest that the two companies intend to share the space.

The application was substantially rewritten in March to make it clear that American Merck plans to allow unaffiliated third parties to register .merck names, and that it may substantially change its eligibility policies not long after launch.

Whereas its original 2012 application was pretty much boilerplate dot-brand territory, the March 2021 version is more nuanced. It now talks about extending eligibility to “other registrants” rather than merely “licensees”, for example.

The application now says it “reserves the right to consider allowing third party registrants outside of current affiliate or subsidiary relationships to own .MERCK domains at a future date.”

But, more importantly, it now also says that it intends to transfer its .merck Registry Agreement to a new shell company, London-based MM Domain Holdco Ltd, shortly after ICANN signs it off.

Company records show that MM Domain Holdco has directors — trademark lawyers — from both the American and German companies.

So we’re looking at some kind of shared dot-brand, it seems. If you don’t count Amazon’s uneasy deal with South American governments, that’s pretty much unprecedented for new gTLDs.

The US applicant is a subsidiary of Merck & Co Inc, a New York-listed company with a market cap of $197 billion. The German company is listed in Frankfurt with a market cap of €17 billion.

The German firm is 350 years old and was the parent of the American company until it was seized, and eventually re-privatized as a separate entity, by the US government during World War I.

Both have trademark rights to the term “Merck” and a decades-old cooperation agreement, but have nevertheless been in legal disputes over the mark in recent years.

It will be interesting to see whether the two Mercks ultimately share and actively use .merck, or like so many other dot-brands merely own a defensive, inactive gTLD.

The resolution of the contention set comes after the better part of a decade and many years of negotiations and legal tussles with ICANN.

ICANN had been bent on forcing the companies to a last-resort auction of which it would be the financial beneficiary. Whether this was because it wanted to force the Mercks to the negotiating table to resolve their differences amicably, or because it saw dollar signs… you decide. Maybe both.

The Mercks have in recent years repeatedly delayed the auction, using different ICANN appeals mechanisms. The contention set had been in a Cooperative Engagement Process since late last year, but had been slated to go to auction yesterday, May 12.

The settlement occurred before that date, however, so ICANN won’t be getting any auction money this time.

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Brexit specter creeping up on .eu

The .eu ccTLD shrank a bit in the first quarter as a result of Brexit finally kicking in fully.

Registry EURid reported that there were 3,681,337 registered .eu, .ею and .ευ domains at the end of March, down from 3,684,984 at the end of 2020, a dip of just a few thousand names.

Domains registered by UK registrants, who are still grandfathered in for another couple of months, stood at 59,779 at the end of the quarter, down from 77,000 at the end of 2020.

The top-line numbers were also affected negatively by Portugal, which has seen its numbers up and down over the last couple of years due to a cycle of registrar promotions and deletions.

Under EURid rules, Brits and UK residents have until the end of June to make arrangements for their domains before they are deleted.

Because EU citizens living in the UK and elsewhere outside the EU are now eligible for .eu domains, EURid has started breaking out that number too. It was 15,308, more than names registered in Croatia and Latvia, among other nations.

The Brexit impact was tempered by strong sequential growth of 9.4% in Ireland, from 78,030 to 85,381 domains.

Given the shared border, language, and confusing/controversial current trading relationship between the UK and Ireland, I wonder whether any of this Irish growth can be attributed to some kind of Plastic Paddy effect, in much the same way as applications for Irish passports increased following the 2016 Brexit referendum.

In percentage terms, the place with the strongest .eu growth in Q1 was the French territory of Saint Martin, which DOUBLED(!) its total in the quarter, growing from 1 to 2.

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ICANN CEO is first to get paid over $1,000,000 a year

Kevin Murphy, May 12, 2021, Domain Policy

ICANN CEO Göran Marby was paid over a million bucks out of the domain-buying public’s pocket in the org’s fiscal 2020, newly released tax documents show.

He’s now, I believe, the best-paid CEO ICANN’s ever had and the first to make more than $1 million per year in the role.

ICANN’s FY20 tax return, which covers the year to June 30, 2020, discloses Marby’s total reportable compensation as $991,557, with another $67,665 in estimated additional compensation, making a total of $1,059,222.

That’s an increase of $193,652 over the $865,570 he received in FY19.

Marby’s been making more than immediate predecessor Fadi Chehadé for a few years, but now he’s also overtaken Rod Beckstrom, who made $961,672 in 2012, his last full year on the job.

Neither Beckstrom nor his predecessor Paul Twomey ever quite made it into seven figures.

This February, ICANN’s board of directors voted to give Marby another 5% pay raise, though a few directors voted against the package.

ICANN’s form 990 tax releases also disclose salaries for another 36 senior staff and board members, showing 19 of them get paid more than $300,000 a year.

Five, including Marby, made over half a million, though a few of those are no longer with the organization.

General counsel John Jeffrey, the second-biggest earner, now has total compensation of $709,784, compared to the $314,628 he was getting 10 years ago when he was in exactly the same job.

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PDR wins beauty contest to take over Net4’s stranded customers

PublicDomainRegistry.com, part of the new Newfold Digital registrar group, has been picked to take over thousands of domain names from disgraced and defunct Net 4 India.

ICANN seems to have used the beauty contest method of picking Net4’s successor, saying that PDR was picked in part because it already operates in the region. It’s based in Mumbai.

ICANN expects PDR to start reaching out to its new customers next week with instructions on how to get access to their domains at their new registrar.

It goes without saying that Net4 customers should be wary of possible scams, which sometimes accompany this kind of event.

Customers won’t be charged for the transfers, and they won’t have to deal with transfer authorization codes, ICANN said.

PDR was part of the Endurance group until its recent merger with the Web.com group, which created Newfold.

It’s the second-largest registrar group and undoubtedly a safer set of hands than Net4, which has left thousands of customers struggling to renew, manage and transfer their domains for several months.

The bulk transfer to PDR comes after ICANN terminated Net4’s contract for multiple breaches.

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ICANN throws out another challenge to the Donuts-Afilias deal

Kevin Murphy, May 12, 2021, Domain Policy

ICANN is set to reject a plea for it to reconsider its decision to allow Donuts to buy Afilias last December.

Its Board Accountability Mechanisms Committee recently threw out a Request for Reconsideration filed by Dot Hotel and Domain Venture Partners, part of a multi-pronged assault on the outcome of the .hotel gTLD contention set.

The RfR was “summarily dismissed”, an infrequently used way of disposing of such requests without considering their merits. BAMC concluded that the requestors had failed to sufficiently state how they’d been harmed by ICANN’s decision, and therefore lacked standing.

The requestors, both applicants for .hotel, had said that they were harmed by the fact that Donuts now owns two applications for .hotel — its own open, commercial one and Afilias’ successful community-based one.

It also said that ICANN’s seemingly deliberate opacity when it came to approving the deal broke its bylaws and sowed confusion and risk in the registry industry.

At some point before the December 17 board meeting that approved the acquisition, ICANN staff briefed the board on its decision to approve the deal, but no formal resolution was passed.

By exploiting this loophole, it’s not clear whether the board actually voted on the deal, and ICANN was not obliged by its bylaws to publish a rationale for the decision.

But BAMC, acting on the advice of ICANN’s lawyers, decided (pdf) that the statements of alleged harm were too vague or seemed to rely on potential future harms.

DVP and Dot Hotel are also party to a lawsuit and an Independent Review Process case against ICANN related to .hotel.

A Documentary Information Disclosure Request related to the Afilias acquisition was also thrown out in March.

BAMC’s dismissal will be rubber-stamped by ICANN’s full board at a later date.

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Earnings reports: GoDaddy, Tucows and NameSilo report growth

Three of the industry’s largest registrars announced revenue growth in their latest reporting periods in recent days.

GoDaddy

Market-leading GoDaddy reported a whopping 18.8% year-over-year revenue growth from domains in its first quarter, with $422.7 million.

CEO Aman Bhutani told analysts that much of this growth is being driven by the company’s emerging strategy of acting as a secondary-market intermediary, making it easier for domainers to sell their domains quickly to end-users (what it calls “independent customers”) and vice-versa.

“Independent customers added over 200,000 domain names that had otherwise been passive into the aftermarket, spurring activity for domain investors,” Bhutani said.

It currently has over 20 million domains listed on its aftermarket platform, contributing 10% of total revenue, the first time it’s broken into double-digits, analysts were told.

Domains was the best-performing segment in growth terms by some margin.

Including its other segments, GoDaddy’s overall Q1 revenue was up 13.8% year over year, at $901.1 million. It had a net income of $10.8 million, compared to $43.2 million a year earlier.

Tucows

Tucows reported domain services revenue up 4%, from $59.5 million in Q1 2020 to $61.2 million, with adjusted EBIDTA of $13.8 million versus $11.5 million a year ago.

CEO Elliot Noss said in a statement that new domain registration growth was slowing following the “pandemic surge” it experienced in 2020, when lockdown-hit businesses flew online to keep afloat.

Including its non-domain segments, Tucows reported Q1 revenue of $70.9 million. That was down from $84 million a year earlier largely as a result of the sale of its Ting Mobile business to Dish Network.

Net income for the quarter was $2.1 million, down 24% compared to the year-ago period.

NameSilo

Fast-growing registrar NameSilo reported revenue for its full-year 2020 of $31 million, up 14.3% on 2019. That was primarily driven by domains growth and its newish add-on services, it said, but it does not break down its revenue by segment.

It had net income of $6.5 million in fiscal 2020, compared to a net loss of $4 million in 2019.

It added 235,347 net domains in gTLDs in 2020, according to reports filed with ICANN, ending 2020 with 3,663,090 names under management. NameSilo said that number is now around 3.9 million.

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$40 million UNR auction brings fresh blood to domain industry

Six entities are entering the domain registry business for the first time following UNR’s auction last month, which saw over 20 new gTLDs sold off for a total of over $40 million, according to UNR.

While playing its cards close to its chest and revealing the auction results in rather general terms, UNR disclosed last week that there were 17 bidders at the three-day event, which ran in late April.

It said “between 10 and 20 bidders came away as winners”, which I assume we have to interpret as “between 10 and 17”.

Anyone predicting a bulk purchase by a rival portfolio registry was dead wrong, it appears.

UNR said that, while it will not disclose their identities, “established registries, investment firms, blockchain companies, and high net-worth individuals” were among the winners.

None of the ICANN Registry Agreements have yet changed hands, according to ICANN records.

While existing registries and investment firms (presumably the kind of private equity interests that have shown high levels of interest in the domain industry in recent years) will come as no surprise as buyers, blockchain companies and high net-worth individuals will perhaps raise more eyebrows.

ICANN won’t, to the best of my knowledge, sign an RA with an individual, so we’ll no doubt be seeing a corporate vehicle or two established to take over contracts on behalf of those buyers.

The idea of a blockchain company taking over a TLD in the internet’s official root zone is particularly interesting.

The closest we’ve had to that scenario to date is MMX’s experiments integrating .luxe into the Ethereum blockchain, which has been described as genuinely innovative.

But most forays by blockchain outfits into “domain names” have been strictly alt-root moves, such as Unstoppable Domains’ use of .crypto addresses, which do not use the ICANN root and instead require browser plug-ins to function.

These kinds of services usually have their ability to avoid centralized oversight and control as a USP, which makes an attempt from this sector to suck on the ICANN teat especially intriguing.

And which of UNR’s TLDs would be most suited to blockchain applications? .link? .click? .lol?

UNR has not broken down how much was paid for each TLD, and we’ll likely never know, but the $40 million top-line is far above the $11.65 million minimum opening bids it had established for the no-reserve auction.

But it still works out as under $2 million on average across each of the 23 gTLDs on offer, many of which had been on the market for six or seven years, begging the question of whether UNR CEO Frank Schilling’s big bet on new gTLDs back in 2012 was ultimately a success.

Schilling said in a press release: “All UNR shareholders should be exceptionally pleased with the final outcome of this first-of-its-kind event. We are deeply satisfied to have seen so much new interest and blood enter the arena.”

The TLDs auctioned were: .audio, .blackfriday, .christmas, .click, .country, .diet, .flowers, .game, ,guitars, .help, .hiphop, .hiv, .hosting, .juegos, .link, .llp, .lol, .mom, .photo, .pics, .property, .sexy and .tattoo.

DI will of course reveal the winners over time as their ICANN contracts are updated to reflect the new operators.

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ICANN name servers come under attack

Kevin Murphy, April 30, 2021, Domain Tech

ICANN’s primary name servers came under a distributed denial of service attack, the Org said earlier this week.

The incident appears to have gone largely unnoticed outside of ICANN and seems to have been successfully mitigated before causing any significant damage.

ICANN said on its web site:

ICANN was subjected to a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack targeting NS.ICANN.ORG. This event did not result in harm to the organization. It was mitigated by redirecting traffic flows through a DDoS scrubbing service.

ns.icann.org is the address of ICANN’s name servers, which handle queries to ICANN-owned domains such as icann.org and iana.org.

The servers are also authoritative for Ugandan ccTLD .ug for some reason, and until a few years ago also handled the .int special-purpose TLD and sponsored gTLD .museum.

ICANN did not disclosed the exact date of the attack, nor speculate about whether it was targeted and why it might have happened.

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