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Mystery gTLD applicant to take Google fight to lawmakers

Kevin Murphy, February 13, 2013, Domain Policy

An as-yet unidentified new gTLD applicant plans to lobby Washington DC and Brussels hard to get dozens of Google’s new gTLD bids thrown out of ICANN on competition grounds.
Phil Corwin of the law firm Virtuallaw, who is representing this applicant, told DI yesterday that his client believes Google plans to use new gTLDs to choke off competition in the web search market.
“They’re trying to use the TLD program to enhance their own dominance and exclude potential competitors,” Corwin said. “We think this should be looked at now because once these TLDs are delegated the delegations are basically forever.”
He’s planning to take these concerns to “policy makers and regulators” in the US and Europe, in a concerted campaign likely to kick off towards the end of the month (his client’s identity will be revealed at that time, he assured us).
Corwin’s client — which is in at least one contention set with Google, though in none with Amazon — reckons ICANN’s new gTLD program is ill-suited to pick the best candidate to run a gTLD.
If objections to new gTLD applications fail, the last-resort method for deciding the winner of a contention set is auction. Google obviously has the resources to win any auction it finds itself in.
“On any TLD Google has applied for, nobody can beat them,” said Corwin. “They have $50bn cash, plus the value of their stock. If they want any of the TLDs they’ve applied for, they get them.”
“A string contention process that relies solely on an auction clearly favors the deep-pocketed,” he said.
Google applied for 101 new gTLDs, 98 of which remain in play today. A small handful of the strings are dot-brands (such as .youtube and .google), with the majority comprising dictionary words and abbreviations.
Some of its generic bids propose open business models, while others would have “closed” or single-registrant business models. As we reported on Friday, this has kicked off a firestorm in the ICANN community.
Corwin said that Google appears to be planning to close off not only individual TLDs, but entire categories of TLDs.
For example, Google has applied for .youtube as a brand, but it’s also applied for .film, .movie, .mov, .live, .show and .tube with a variety of proposed business models.
“You can pretty well bet that they’ll exclude those that will pose a competitive threat to YouTube,” Corwin said.
Search will become much more important after the launch of hundreds of new gTLDs, Corwin reckons, as consumers are “not going to know that most of them exist”.
“Generic words are the perfect platform for constructing vertical search engines that can compete against Google’s general search engine,” Corwin said.
“Google is trying to buy up not just one but multiple terms that cover the same goods and services in key areas of internet commerce, and in effect control them so competition cannot arise and challenge Google’s dominance as a search engine,” he said.
Google has not yet revealed in any meaningful way how its search engine will handle new gTLDs.
The US Federal Trade Commission, at the conclusion of an antitrust investigation, recently gave Google a pass for its practice of prominently displaying results from its own services on results pages.
With that in mind, if Google were to win its contention set for .movie, but not for .film, is it possible that .movie would get a competitive advantage from preferential treatment in search?
Corwin reckons that Google anti-competitive intentions are already suggested by its strategy in ICANN’s new gTLD prioritization draw, which took place in December.
Of the roughly 150 applications for which Draw tickets were not purchased, Google is behind 24 of them — including .movie, .music, .tube and .search — 22 of which are in contention sets.
As a result, these contention sets have all been shunted to the back of ICANN’s application processing queue, adding many months to time-to-market and costing rival, less-well-funded applicants a lot of money in ongoing overheads.
“We see Google playing a rather different game here to most other applicants in terms of their motivation, which is not to enter the market but to protect their market dominance,” Corwin said.
Corwin said the game plan is to taken all these concerns to policy makers and regulators in the US and Europe in order to get governments on-side, both inside and outside of the ICANN process.
Corwin is also counsel and front-man for domainer group the Internet Commerce Association, but he said that the new anti-Google drive is unrelated to his work for ICA.
So why is his client only bringing up the issue now? After all, we’ve all known about the contents of every new gTLD application since last June.
My hunch is that Google is playing hard-ball behind the scenes in settlement talks with contention set rivals.
Contention sets can be resolved only when all but one of the applicants drops out, either following an ICANN auction or private buy-outs. Most applicants favor private resolution because it offers them the chance to recoup some, all, or more than the money they splashed out on applying.
That game plan probably does not apply to Google, of course, which is not wanting of funds. The company may even have good reason to prefer ICANN auctions, in order to to discourage those who would apply for new gTLDs in future just in order to put their hands in Google’s pockets.
The topic of closed generics and competition is likely to be a hot-button topic at ICANN’s next public meeting, coming up in Beijing this April.
Members of ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee have already expressed some concerns about many “closed gTLD” applications made by Google, Amazon and others.
ICANN’s board of directors is currently mulling over what to do about the issue, and has thrown it open to public comment for your feedback.

Google, L’Oreal execs tapped for new gTLD summit

Kevin Murphy, February 11, 2013, Domain Services

Executives from Google, L’Oreal and The Boston Globe have been lined up to speak at the new gTLD marketing conference taking placing New York next month.
Hal Bailey, director of Google’s domains business, will speak on the panel “Domains in 2015, 2020, 2025: A View of the dot Future” at the Digital Marketing & gTLD Strategy Congress, according to organizers.
L’Oreal’s chief digital officer has dropped out of the conference, but he has been replaced by Brigitte King, senior vice president of the company’s digital business.
L’Oreal and Google are two of the new gTLD applicants currently under fire for applying for so-called “closed generic” gTLDs, which could make for some interesting discussions.
King will chair the conference and deliver a keynote entitled “The L’Oreal Story: Building Beauty Brands with Digital, Data and Direct Relationships”. L’Oreal has applied for 13 new gTLDs.
The Boston Globe, which has applied for .boston, is sending Jeff Moriarty, it vice president for digital products, and industry IP lawyer Bart Lieben to talk about the newspaper’s plans for the gTLD.
Momentum Consulting, which is organization the dot-brand focused event, says it has 80 confirmed attendees and is on target to have more than its expected 120 by the time ticket sales close.
DI will also be in attendance. I’m hosting a fireside chat with ICANN’s Sally Costerton, head of stakeholder relations.
The conference runs March 11-12 in New York City.

Google backing new gTLD trade association

Kevin Murphy, January 24, 2013, Domain Registries

New gTLD applicants and others have been meeting in Amsterdam this morning to discuss setting up a new trade association to promote new gTLDs and domain names in general.
The meeting, which was organized by Google, coincided with but was separate from an ICANN registry-registrar gathering in the city.
According to sources on the ground, the proposed trade association would be focused on raising consumer awareness about domain names and their benefits, outside of the ICANN community.
It’s a very early-stage idea, and today’s meeting — we hear — discussed things like possible funding sources and membership requirements.
More details are expected to emerge later today.
We also hear that the important topic of “universal acceptance” of TLDs has been discussed.
As we reported earlier in the week, there’s still not enough support from major software developers (including browser makers, whose job it is to connect users to web sites) for some of the newest TLDs.
Lack of awareness could cause technical problems as well as marketing ones, so a trade association — especially one back by Google’s headline-raising powers — may well be good for the industry.
Google is an applicant for almost 100 new gTLDs.

Apple, Google and Microsoft still don’t understand new TLDs

Kevin Murphy, January 22, 2013, Domain Tech

The world’s most-popular web browsers are still failing to recognize new top-level domains, many months after they go live on the internet.
The version of the Safari browser that ships with the Mountain Lion iteration of Apple’s OS X appears to have even gone backwards, removing support for at least one TLD.
The most recent versions of Google’s Chrome and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer also both fail to recognize at least two of the internet’s most recently added TLDs.
According to informal tests on multiple computers this week, Safari 6 on Mountain Lion and the Windows 7 versions of Internet Explorer 9 and Chrome v24 all don’t understand .post and .cw addresses.
Remarkably, it appears that Safari 6 also no longer supports .sx domains, despite the fact that version 5 does.
Typing affected domain names into the address bars of these browsers will result in surfers being taken to a search page (usually Google) instead of their intended destination.
If you want to test your own browser, registry.sx, una.cw and ems.post are all valid, resolving domain names you can try.
The gTLD .post was entered into the DNS root last August and the first second-level domain names went live in October.
The ccTLDs .sx and .cw are for Sint Maarten (Dutch part) and Curacao respectively, two of three countries formed by the breakup of the Netherlands Antilles in 2010.
ICANN approved the delegation of .cw in October 2011 and second-level domains there have been live since at least July 2012 (that’s when the registry’s site, una.cw, went live).
SX Registry’s .sx was delegated in December 2011 and sites there have been live since early 2012. It went into general availability in November.
Safari v5 on Windows and OS X recognizes .sx as a TLD, but v6 on Mountain Lion does not.
The problems faced by .post and .cw on Chrome appear to be mostly due to the fact that neither TLD is included on the Public Suffix List, which Google uses to figure out what a TLD looks like.
A few days after we reported last May that .sx didn’t work on Chrome, SX Registry submitted its details to the PSL, which appears to have solved its problems with that browser.
It’s not at all clear to me why .sx is borked on newer versions of Safari but not the older ones.
If the problem sounds trivial, believe me: it’s not.
The blurring of the lines between search and direct navigation is one of the biggest threats to the long-term relevance of domain names, so it’s vital to the industry’s interests that the problem of universal acceptance is sorted out sooner rather than later.

ICM seizes on Google’s porn algorithm change

Kevin Murphy, December 14, 2012, Domain Registries

Grasping the opportunity for a bit of easy publicity, ICM Registry has seized upon a recent Google algorithm change to promote its .xxx gTLD’s brand.
It was reported earlier this week that Google has made it harder to accidentally stumble across sexually explicit imagery in Google Images by making its Safe Search filtering mandatory in the US.
The company defended itself from cries of censorship by pointing out that porn could still be found, as long as you are a bit more “explicit” about what it is you’re looking for, telling CNet:

If you’re looking for adult content, you can find it without having to change the default setting — you just may need to be more explicit in your query if your search terms are potentially ambiguous.

Now ICM is plugging .xxx as a “workaround” to this problem, saying in a press release today:

one can simply type a description of whatever porn one wants into any search bar followed by the letters “XXX.” Results are instant and on target. For example, if one is looking for adult content that includes a mainstream generic word like “Toys,” simply enter the search term “Toys XXX” and problem solved.

ZDNet gave similar advice in an article this week, and ICM says that traffic to its own search engine, search.xxx, saw a 50% spike in the last 24 hours as a result.
Could this be a portent for changes in user search behavior in the age of niche new gTLDs?

IEDR admits blame for hack that brought down Google and Yahoo

Kevin Murphy, November 9, 2012, Domain Registries

IEDR, the Irish ccTLD registry, has admitted that an attack on its own web servers was responsible for google.ie and yahoo.ie being hijacked last month.
In a detailed statement, the registry said that hackers spent 25 days probing for weaknesses in its systems, before eventually breaking in through a vulnerability in the Joomla content management software.
This enabled the attackers to upload malicious PHP scripts and access the back-end database, according to the statement. They then redirected yahoo.ie and google.ie to an Indonesian web site.
It’s a reverse of position for IEDR, which had appeared to blame one of its registrars (believed to be Mark Monitor) for the lapse in security when the hack was discovered last month.
IEDR told ZDNet October 11: “an unauthorised change was made to two .ie domains on an independent registrar’s account which resulted in a change of DNS nameservers”.
But today it said instead: “The IEDR investigation also confirmed that neither the Registrar of the affected domains nor its systems had any responsibility for this incident.”
The registry has filed a complaint with the Irish police over the incident, and apologized to its customers for the disruption.
It also said it plans to roll out a Domain Lock service to help prevent hijacking in future, though I doubt such a service would have prevented this specific incident.

Original .web gTLD applicant sues ICANN

Kevin Murphy, October 18, 2012, Domain Registries

Image Online Design, which unsuccessfully applied for the .web gTLD all the way back in 2000, has sued ICANN, alleging trademark infringement and breach of contract.
IOD, which says it has over 20,000 .web domains under management in an alternate root, says ICANN never officially rejected its .web bid, and that it should not have allowed other companies to apply for it.
It’s looking for an injunction preventing ICANN awarding .web to any other company, as well as seeking ICANN’s “profits” resulting from the alleged infringement of its mark.
There are seven .web applicants in the current round, but IOD is not among them.
The company paid $50,000 for its application in 2000, but it’s not happy with the $86,000 discount ICANN offered 2000-round applicants on their $185,000 fees if they wanted to resubmit their applications.
The IOD complaint claims:

Allowing other entities to file applications for a .web TLD while IOD’s .WEB TLD application was still pending is improper, unlawful and inequitable.

The complaint cites the November 2000 ICANN meeting in Marina Del Rey, during which the first proof-of-concept gTLDs were approved by ICANN’s board of directors.
It notes that then-chair Vint Cerf steered the board away from approving .web applications filed by Afilias and others because IOD was already operating .web in an alternate root at the time.
You can watch a video of that meeting here.
The complaint also alleges tenuous conflicts of interest between two .web applicants (Afilias and Google) and members of ICANN’s board of directors (current chair and vice-chair Steve Crocker and Bruce Tonkin in the case of Afilias, and long-gone chair Vint Cerf in the case of Google).
The suit comes just a few days after IOD’s fellow 2000 applicant and alternate root player, Name.Space, sued ICANN on similar grounds, trying to prevent 189 gTLDs being approved.
Here’s the IOD complaint.

Hey, domainers, watch Frank Schilling tell you why ICANN is cool

Kevin Murphy, October 11, 2012, Domain Policy

I think this is the first time I’ve seen noted domainer Frank Schilling appearing in an ICANN-related video.
It was produced by Google during ICANN’s meeting in Prague a few months ago, and published on YouTube this week.
Alongside many familiar faces from the ICANN-policy-wonk side of the industry, you’ll also see Schilling, who is of course behind portfolio gTLD applicant Uniregistry, telling you:

What I like about ICANN is just that: it’s not controlled by anyone, yet it’s controlled by you. You control it just by contributing to the process. And it’s open to anyone in any language, anywhere in the world


I think the video pretty much nails it.
ICANN 45 starts in Toronto, Canada this weekend. You don’t need to be there to get involved.

Consumer Watchdog slams “outrageous” Google and Amazon keyword gTLD bids

Kevin Murphy, September 20, 2012, Domain Registries

Consumer Watchdog, a California-based consumer rights advocacy group, has attacked Google and Amazon’s new gTLD applications in a letter to an influential senator.
The organization has asked Sen. Jay Rockefeller, chair of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, to “thwart” the “outrageous” plans for single-registrant dictionary-word gTLDs.
Google and Amazon have separately applied for dozens of gTLDs — such as .music, .blog and .book — that they would exclusively use to market their own products and services.
Consumer Watchdog said in its letter (pdf):

If these applications are granted, large parts of the Internet would be privatized. It is one thing to own a domain associated with your brand, but it is a huge problem to take control of generic strings. Both Google and Amazon are already dominant players on the Internet. Allowing them further control by buying generic domain strings would threaten the free and open Internet that consumers rely upon. Consumer Watchdog urges you to do all that you can to thwart these outrageous efforts and ensure that the Internet continues its vibrant growth while serving the interests of all of its users.

As we reported yesterday, a number of domain name industry participants are planning to complain to ICANN about these applications on pretty much the same grounds.

Google junks three of its new gTLD applications

Kevin Murphy, September 6, 2012, Domain Registries

The identities of the first four new gTLD applications to be withdrawn have been revealed by ICANN.
Google has, as predicted, dropped its bids for .and, .are and .est, because they’re protected three-letter country-codes listed in the ISO 3166 alpha-3 standard.
An application for .ksb, by the KSB, a German maker of “pumps, valves and related liquid transportation systems”, has also been withdrawn, though the reasons are less clear.
KSB is not a protected geographic string, nor has .ksb received any negative public comments. I’m guessing the application was an unnecessary defensive move.
With Google expected to lose 30% of its application fees for the three withdrawn applications ($165,000) I can’t help but wonder why ICANN allowed it to apply for the strings in the first place.
The ban on ISO 3166 alpha-3 codes in the Applicant Guidebook appears to be hard and non-negotiable. The strings essentially enjoy the same degree of exact-match protection as Reserved Names such as .iana and .example.
However, while the TLD Application System was hard-coded to reject attempts to apply for Reserved Names, banned geographic strings did not get the same safeguards.
There’s one other application for an ISO 3166 alpha-3 string — .idn — which does not appear to have been withdrawn yet.
There are at least 16 other applications for protected geographic words that may require government support — but are not outright prohibited — according to our DI PRO study.
According to ICANN, six applications have been withdrawn to date. The change in status only shows up on ICANN’s web site after the refunds have been processed, however.
Google, which applied as Charleston Road Registry, has 98 new gTLD applications remaining.