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Weak demand for private Whois data, ICANN data shows

Kevin Murphy, January 17, 2024, Domain Services

There were fewer than six requests for private Whois data per day in December, and most of those were denied, according to newly published ICANN data.

The disappointing numbers, which also show that only about 2.5% of accredited registrars are participating, show that ICANN’s new Registration Data Request Service is certainly off to a slow start.

RDRS launched in November. It’s a ticketing system that enables people to request unredacted private Whois data, with no guarantee the requests will be granted, from registrars via an ICANN portal.

As it’s a two-year trial, ICANN promised to publish usage data every month. The first such report was published today (pdf).

The report shows that 1,481 requester accounts have been created so far, but that just 174 requests were made in December — about 5.6 per day on average.

Almost a third of requesters were intellectual property interests, with domain investors at 4.5% and law enforcement at 8%. Security researchers accounted for 15% of requests.

The data shows that most requests — 80.47% — were marked as “Denied” by registrars, largely because the registrar needed more information from the requester before it could process their request. ICANN said RDRS has no visibility into whether data was ultimately handed over outside of the system.

The supply-side data isn’t particularly encouraging either. Only 72 registrars were participating in RDRS at the end of the year.

That’s 2.5% of the 2,814 registrar entities ICANN contracts with, but if we exclude the 2,000+ drop-catching shell registrars owned by the likes of TurnCommerce, Newfold Digital and Gname, participation might be more fairly said to be closer to 10%.

ICANN said that the 72 registrars, which include many of the largest, account for 53% of all registered gTLD domain names, so you might think requesters have a better-than-even chance of being able to use the system for any given domain.

That’s not the case. RDRS data requesters are finding that the domain they are querying belongs to a non-participating registrar far more often than not — 80% of queries through the system were for domains not in the system, the report shows.

And when the registrar is participating, chances are that the data request will be denied — 80% were denied versus just 11.72% approved and 1.56% partially approved.

It takes on average two days for a request to be denied and four days for a request to be approved, the report shows.

While the results to date are arguably disappointing, given the years of effort the ICANN community and staff put in to build this thing, it’s still early days.

I also think it quite likely some of the numbers have been skewed by both the Christmas and New Year holiday period and early-adopter requesters kicking the tires with spurious requests.

ICANN begs people to use its new Whois service

Kevin Murphy, December 20, 2023, Uncategorized

ICANN’s CEO has published an open letter encouraging the community to spread the word about its new Registration Data Request Service.

Sally Costerton explained (pdf) that RDRS is a “free, global, one-stop shop ticketing system” that hooks up people seeking private Whois data with the relevant registrar.

“I appreciate your attention to this new service and ask that you share this information with the relevant stakeholders in your organization,” she concludes.

The plea comes after the late-November launch of the system and the revelation that the system currently has far from blanket coverage from registrars.

“Use of the RDRS is voluntary, but I’m pleased to let you know that we have strong participation from registrars already,” Costerton wrote.

Since I published a blog post three weeks ago naming 25 large registrars not participating in RDRS, only Markmonitor has chosen to sign up, adding another one million domains to RDRS’s footprint.

But it turns out Chinese registrar Alibaba, which I was unable to check due to a bug or downtime somewhere, definitely is not participating, so there are still 25 out of the 40 registrars with over a million domains that are not participating.

Usage on the demand side is not known, but ICANN says it will publish regular monthly progress reports.

The RDRS is considered a pilot. It will run for at least two years before ICANN figures out whether it’s worth keeping.

Most registrars are shunning ICANN’s new Whois system

Kevin Murphy, November 30, 2023, Domain Policy

Most of the largest domain registrars are not currently participating in ICANN’s new Registration Data Request Service, according to my research.

I used the RDRS tool to check domains managed by every accredited registrar that has over a million domains under management and discovered that at least 25 out of these 40 registrars do not currently support the service.

The number may be 26, but RDRS did not recognize any domains managed by Chinese registrar Ali Baba as valid, giving instead a “domain does not exist” error message, even for alibaba.com itself.

In total, the 25 registrars coming up blank look after over 63 million gTLD domains, about 28% of the total.

Some very recognizable brands are not in the system.

Squarespace Domains II, the new name for the old Google Domains, the fourth-largest registrar, is the largest company not participating. Together with its original accreditation, Squarespace Domains, they have over 10 million domains under management.

TurnCommerce, GMO, IONOS, NameSilo, PDR, Gname, Dynadot, Wix, OVH, Register.com, FastDomain, Name.com, Domain.com, Hostinger, Sav.com, Xin Net, West.cn, Cronon, Domain Robot, Automattic, DNSPod, and Cloudflare are also not in the system.

Oh, and neither is Markmonitor.

While I only checked 40 registrars, not the full 2,702 that were active in the July registry transaction reports, I would expect the level of support to decline the lower down the list you get, particularly as hundreds of accreditations have a trivial number of domains or are merely aliases for companies already known to not support RDRS.

It’s quite possible some of the registrars I’ve named here are planning to sign up and have just been slow to do so, but they’ve had plenty of time — ICANN has been onboarding registrars since September 20.

The level of support from the registrar industry will be critical to judging whether the RDRS project is deemed a success.

In a recent letter to the GNSO Council discussing “success criteria” for the program, ICANN chair Tripti Sinha wrote (pdf):

The Board agrees that the participation of a sufficient number of registrars with a sufficient number of domain name registrations under management will be important with respect to gathering data.

On the bright side, GoDaddy, Tucows and Namecheap are on board, and that represents about 90 million domains. GoDaddy alone accounts for 65 million, slightly more than the combined total of the 25 large registrars that are not participating.

RDRS is a system designed to simplify the process of requesting non-public Whois data by passing all such requests to the relevant registrars through a central hub.

Of course, it’s only useful if the registrars are actually in the system.

ICANN’s private Whois data request service goes live

Kevin Murphy, November 28, 2023, Domain Registrars

ICANN has this evening gone live with its service that enables anyone to request private Whois data on any gTLD domain.

The Registration Data Request Service lets people request contact information on registrants that would otherwise be redacted in the public Whois due to laws such as the GDPR.

The press release announcing the launch seems to have come out an hour or two before the service actually became accessible, but it’s definitely live now and I’ve tried it out.

The system is defined largely by what it isn’t. It isn’t an automated way to get access to private data. It isn’t guaranteed to result in private data being released. It isn’t an easy workaround to post-GDPR privacy restrictions.

It is a way to request an unredacted Whois record knowing only the domain and not having to faff around figuring out who the registrar is and what their mechanisms and policies are for requesting the data.

After scaling back the extremely complex and expensive original community recommendations for a post-GDPR Whois service, ICANN based the RDRS on its now decade-old Centralized Zone Data Service, which acts as an intermediary between registries and people like myself who enjoy sniffing around in zone files.

The RDRS merely connects Whois data requestors — the default settings in the interface suggest that ICANN thinks they’ll mostly be people with court orders — with the registrars in charge of the domains they are interested in.

Anyone who has used CZDS will recognize the interface, but the requesting process is longer, more complex, and requires accepting more disclaimers and Ts&Cs. That said, it’s not particularly confusing.

At first glance, it looks fine. Slick, even. I’ve used it to submit a test request with GoDaddy for my own Whois data, specifying that whoever deals with the request is free to ignore it. Let’s see what happens.