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Registrars CAN charge for Whois, ICANN grudgingly admits

Kevin Murphy, December 1, 2022, Domain Registrars

ICANN is powerless to prevent registrars from charging for access to non-public Whois data, the Org has reluctantly admitted.

In a recent advisory, ICANN said it is “concerned” that registrars including Tucows have been charging fees to process requests for data that would otherwise be redacted in the free public Whois.

But it said there’s nothing in the Registrar Accreditation Agreement, specifically the Temporary Specification governing Whois in the post-GDPR world, that bans such services:

While the RAA explicitly requires access to public registration data directory services to be provided free of charge, the Temporary Specification does not specifically address the issue of whether or not a registrar may charge a fee for considering requests for access to redacted registration data.

So basic Whois results, with all the juicy info redacted, has to be free, but registrars can bill organizations who ask for the veil to be lifted. ICANN wrote:

ICANN org is concerned that registrars’ imposition of fees for consideration of requests for access to nonpublic gTLD registration data may pose an access barrier. Access to registration data serves the public interest and contributes to the security and stability of the Internet

The advisory calls out Tucows’ Tiered Access Compliance and Operations system, TACO, as the primary example of a registrar charging for data, but notes that others are too.

Not long after the advisory was published, Tucows posted an article in which it explained that the fees are necessary to cover the cost of the “thousands” of automated requests it has received in the last four years.

Charging fees for compliance with other forms of legal process is not uncommon in the industry, and the vast majority of requests for registration data (approximately 90%) continue to come from commercial litigation interests and relate to suspected intellectual property infringement.

Facebook, now Meta, was at first, and may still well be, a frequent bulk filer.

Tucows said that it “frequently” waives its fees upon request for “single-use requestors and private parties”.

New new gTLD registry in town as Rostam buys UNR

Kevin Murphy, December 1, 2022, Domain Registries

UNR, the former Uniregistry, has emerged under new ownership, new leadership, and with another new name, apparently finalizing Frank Schilling’s piecemeal exit from the domain name industry.

The nine gTLD contracts remaining with UNR following its fire-sale auction 18 months ago are now owned by Internet Naming Company, which like UNR is based in Grand Cayman.

The new company, which appears to be a continuation of UNR yet promising a “clean slate”, is owned and run by Shayan Rostam, who was UNR’s chief growth officer and previously worked for XYZ.com and Intercap.

INC’s portfolio comprises .click, .country, .help, .forum, .hiv, .love, .property, .sexy, and the unlaunched .trust, which together have over 350,000 registered domains.

Registry-recommended retail pricing varies wildly between TLDs, from the .com-competitive, such as .click at $9.99, to the wallet-busting, such as .sexy at $2,999 and .forum at $1,199.

INC is also offering consulting, auction and management services for other TLDs, including dot-brands.

The emergence of INC means we now know where all 23 of the gTLDs UNR auctioned off last year ended up. XYZ.com wound up with 10, with GoDaddy, Top Level Design, Nova Registry and Dot Hip Hop all grabbing one or two each.

UNR sold its registrar business to GoDaddy and its registry back-end business to Tucows (which is supporting INC’s portfolio) last year, giving INC the ability to talk about going “back to basics”, unencumbered by any conflicts of interest.

The new company is using inaming.co for its web site. The individual TLDs’ sites still use UNR landing pages.

Stop me if you’ve heard this…

Kevin Murphy, November 30, 2022, Domain Services

The collective noun for wildebeest is “an implausibility”.

In the incredibly unlikely event that you’re ever confronted by a large group of these majestic bovine quadrupeds, that’s how you should describe what you see.

An implausibility of wildebeest.

I tell you this not because it’s relevant to anything else that appears in this article, but because a series of unfortunate and unavoidable circumstances have kept me offline for the last few weeks, and you may find this round-up piece tells you lots of things you already know.

If that’s the case for you, I can only apologize, with the caveat that you probably didn’t know about the wildebeest thing, so at least this post has provided some value.

Let’s start with ICANN, shall we?

My ICANN announcements feed contains 20 unread articles this morning, and as far as I can tell from a cursory glance over the headlines, the Org has done almost nothing of consequence recently.

It’s mostly outreach-this, engagement-that, review-the-other. If official announcements were any guide, ICANN would look like an entity far more concerned with promoting and promulgating its own increasingly debatable legitimacy, rather than doing the stuff it was originally set up to do.

Like new gTLDs, for example…

While ICANN continues to fart around with its working groups and consultations and Dantean layers of bureaucracy, the blockchain/crypto/web3 crowd are continuing to bolster their efforts to eat the Org’s breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Most notably, blockchain-based alt-root naming services including Unstoppable have launched the Web3 Domain Alliance, which, even if it misses its goals, promises to make the next new gTLD round an even bigger litigation clusterfunge than the last.

The alliance intends to among other things “advocate for the policy position that NFT domain registry owner-operators create trademark rights in their web3 TLDs through first commercial use with market penetration.”

In other words, if some well-financed crypto bro creates .example on some obscure blockchain root and gets a little bit of traction, ICANN shouldn’t be allowed to create .example on the authoritative consensus root.

This has the potential to make Jarndyce and Jarndyce look like a parking ticket hearing and I take some comfort from the fact that I’ll most likely be long dead before the lawsuits from the next new gTLD round have all played out.

The Web3 Domain Alliance is promising imminent pledges of support from “web2” companies, and it will be interesting to see if any company in the conventional domain name industry is ready to break ranks with ICANN and sign up.

In actual gTLDs…

Another thing that will likely post-date my death is the launch of the last gTLD from the 2012 application round. Many still lie dormant, but they do still continue to trickle out of the gates.

While I’ve been offline, we’ve witnessed the general availability launch of Google’s .boo and .rsvp — the former criminally missing the increasingly lengthy and bewildering Halloween season and the latter probably a little late for the Christmas party season — while non-profit .kids went GA a couple of days ago.

In the world of ccTLDs…

GoDaddy is formally relaunching .tv, the rights to operate it won in a bidding process earlier this year after incumbent registry Verisign declined to compete.

It’s talking about a “a complete rebrand and marketing makeover”, with a new, very colorful, destination site at TurnOn.tv.

Many years ago, a senior Verisign exec described .tv to me as “better than .com”, and in a world where any shouty teenage pillock can essentially launch their own TV show for the price of an iPhone and broadband connection, that’s probably never been truer.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian ccTLD registry Hostmaster isn’t going to let the little matter of an ongoing Russian invasion interfere with its 30th birthday celebrations and the 12th annual UADOM conference.

It’s being held remotely for obvious reasons. It starts tomorrow, runs for two days, and more details can be found here and here.

In other conference news, NamesCon has also announced dates for its 2023 NamesCon Global conference. According to Domain Name Journal, it will return to Austin, Texas, from May 31 to June 3 next year.

DomainPulse, the conference serving the Germanophone region of Europe (albeit in English), has set its 2023 event for February 6 and 7 in Winterthur, Switzerland.

Scoop of the month…

By far the most interesting article I’ve read from the last month came from NameBio’s Michael Sumner, a reverse-exposé of the successful .xyz domain investor who goes by the name “Swetha”.

This area of the industry is not something I spend a lot of time tracking, but I’ll admit whenever I’ve read about this mononymed India-based domainer’s extensive, expensive .xyz sales, I’ve had a degree of skepticism.

It turns out that skepticism was shared by some fellow industry dinosaurs, so Sumner did the legwork, amazingly and ballsily obtaining Swetha’s Afternic login credentials (with her consent) and hand-verifying years of sales data.

He concluded that the sales she’s been reporting on Twitter are legit, and that she’s a pretty damn good domainer, but understandably could not fully disprove the hypothesis that some of her buyers are .xyz registry shills.

Elliot Silver later got a comment from the registry in which it denied any kind of collusion and implied skepticism was the result of sexism and/or racism, rather than the sketchiness sometimes displayed by anonymous Twitter accounts and the registry itself.

Earnings, M&A, IPOs…

  • The otherwise-consolidating industry is getting its first IPO in some time, with United-Internet pitching a public markets spin-off of its IONOS group, which includes brands such as Sedo and InternetX, to potential investors. DNW pulled out some of the more interesting facts from its presentation.
  • Industry consolidator CentralNic reported a strong Q3, though its growth is no longer dependent on its domain name business.
  • Tucows reported modest growth (pdf) for Q3, hindered by flat-to-down results in its domain name business.
  • GoDaddy, which no longer breaks out numbers for its domains business, reported a billion-dollar quarter.
  • Smaller, faster-growing registrar NameSilo reported turning a loss into a profit in the quarter.
  • In M&A, Namespace, owner of EuroDNS, announced it has acquired fellow German registrar Moving Internet.

And finally…

The DNS turned 35. So that’s nice.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have 600 unread emails to deal with…

Cancelled misogynist Andrew Tate moves domain to (drumroll)… Epik!

Kevin Murphy, August 26, 2022, Domain Registrars

Andrew Tate has become the latest high-profile controversy magnet to move his domain to Epik, at the end of a week that saw him thoroughly “cancelled” over reportedly violently misogynistic speech.

Tate, a former kick-boxer and reality TV contestant who made his money through a large social media following and an online course called Hustler’s University, reportedly told Fox News host Tucker Carlson yesterday:

When they go to cancel you, ladies and gentlemen, it comes hard and fast. You lose your Facebook, then your Instagram, then your Gmail, your Discord, then your website hosting, your domain name, like then your payment processor, and your bank.

Tate reportedly had his accounts on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Tiktok deleted this week. He was getting banned so much it briefly became a meme.

The domain name in question appears to be cobratate.com, based on his apparent nickname “Cobra”, and it appears to still be in his possession, although he has changed registrars.

Up until an hour or two ago the name was managed by Tucows, via United-Internet-owned reseller Fasthosts, but the Whois record now shows it’s with Epik.

It’s not clear right now whether he jumped or, as he implied to Fox, was pushed. Tucows tells me it had not received any complaints about the site, had not investigated, and had not asked Tate to leave. I’ve asked United for comment.

Epik has over the last few years become the safe-haven registrar of choice for people and groups who become internet persona non grata, typically those with far-right or violent views, such as Infowars, 8chan, Gab and The Daily Stormer.

Tucows’ domains business stagnates again in Q2

Kevin Murphy, August 10, 2022, Domain Registrars

Tucows’ domain name business has experienced its third consecutive quarter of stagnating growth.

The company yesterday reported third-quarter total domains revenue of $61 million, compared to $62.3 million a year ago and $61.5 million in the second quarter.

Dave Woroch, CEO of Tucows Domains, described this 2% annual decline as “consistency” on a prerecorded address to analysts.

He pointed to Verisign’s recent comments about a decrease in .com registration volumes as evidence of an industry-wide post-pandemic slowdown, but was somewhat bullish on some new gTLDs.

“At the other end of the industry, we do see more robust growth in many of the new gTLDs that are of higher quality and that have little to no speculation or cyber crime opportunity,” he said.

The domains industry is “generally not showing a lot of growth”, he said, adding that “outsized growth would need to come from new areas”, which could include so-called “web3” efforts.

Woroch noted the recent funding of blockchain alt-root project Unstoppable Domains, but said Tucows is not a fan. Unstoppable has, like similar efforts dating back over 20 years, some “fatal flaws” and “a chicken and egg problem” of adoption, he said.

Domains under management at Tucows decreased to 24.8 million from 25 million sequentially and 25.6 million a year ago.

Tucows’ retail domains revenue was down to $8.5 million from $8.9 million a year ago, while the wholesale business, including value-added services, was down to $52.3 million from $53.4 million.

Including non-domains businesses, Tucows’ Q2 revenue was up 11% to $83.1 million and the net loss was $3.1 million compared with net income of $1.8 million a year ago.

Tucows to reanimate Tucows brand as sales flatten

Tucows has become the latest domain name company to confirm it’s experiencing the post-pandemic blues, and said that it plans to revitalize the Tucows brand.

Reporting basically flat-to-down domain numbers on Thursday night, the company said that it plans to “more closely connect the Tucows parent and the registrar brands” in the coming months.

“For more than two decades, Tucows has been synonymous with domain registration. In the coming months, you will see a stronger connection of the Tucows brand with our registrar properties, with each anchored by the rich heritage of the Tucows name,” Dave Woroch, CEO of Tucows Domains, said in prepared remarks.

It’s not clear what this will entail in practice. The company’s main brands are Hover in retail and OpenSRS and Enom in wholesale, and you’d be hard pressed to find a mention of Tucows on any of their storefronts.

First-quarter domain revenue was “essentially unchanged” from the same period a year ago, at $61.5 million compared to $61.2 million.

Retail domains revenue was down to $9.1 million from $9.2 million. While wholesale revenue was $52.5 million versus $52 million, the increase was driven by value-added services rather than domain revenue, which was basically flat.

The renewal rate was a healthy 81%.

Woroch said that domain transactions “are now settling back in at pre-pandemic levels” after the lockdown bumps experienced over the last two years. He pointed to Verisign’s recent comments to suggest these are industry trends.

Including Tucows non-domains businesses, revenue was up 14% to $81.1 million and there was an overall net loss of $3.0 million compared to a profit of $2.1 million.

Noss pressures bankers, lawyers over Russian oligarch links

Kevin Murphy, February 28, 2022, Domain Registrars

Tucows is putting pressure on its outside bankers, lawyers and accountants to come clean about their relationships with Russian oligarchs.

In a series of tweets on Saturday, CEO Elliot Noss said he’d emailed these longstanding partners to ask them about their policies with regards with regard oligarchs’ “essentially laundered” money.

The implication of course is that Tucows would be unhappy to work with any firms whose policies are found lacking.

Here’s the email, reconstructed from Noss’s tweets.

We are writing today because of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine. We note our longstanding relationship with your firm.

We are asking you, and all of our professionals, about your firm’s policy regarding Russian clients, particularly those associated in any way with the current regime. As we imagine you know, most major Russian businesses are either directly or indirectly controlled or associated with the Russian regime. As you also likely know, the funds these companies and their principals, let’s just call them oligarchs, siphon off of these businesses are essentially laundered with the active support of major law firms, banks and accounting firms.

We do not expect you to respond with a firm policy immediately BUT we do expect you to confirm in writing that you have shared this request with your superiors in a way that will most effectively lead to action and we expect you to manage our expectations as to when we may know of your firm’s position.

If you have any questions or would like to discuss this further, please do not hesitate to reach out.

Respectfully Yours,

Elliot Noss
CEO
Tucows Inc.

Post-lockdown blues hit Tucows’ growth

Kevin Murphy, February 11, 2022, Domain Registrars

Tucows’ domain business was pretty much flat in the fourth quarter and full-year 2021, as the company hit the trough following the spike of the pandemic lockdown bump.

The registrar said last night that its Domain Services business saw new registrations down or flat in both wholesale and retail channels, even when compared to pre-pandemic levels.

The company said (pdf) it ended the year with 25.2 million domains under management, down from 25.4 million a year earlier. The total number of new, renewed or transferred-in domains was 17.4 million, down from 18.2 million.

For the fourth quarter, the total new, renewed or transferred-in domains was 4 million, compared to 4.3 million a year earlier.

In prepared remarks (pdf), CEO Elliot Noss said that wholesale-segment registrations were down 6% to 3.7 million in Q4 and new registrations were down 27% from 2020’s pandemic-related “outsized volumes”.

In retail, total new, renewed and transferred registrations for the quarter were just over 310,000, down 16%, he said. New registrations were down 21% year over year.

The domains business reported revenue of $61.4 million in the fourth quarter, down from $61.8 million in the year-earlier period.

Domain revenue from wholesale was down to $47.1 million from $47.5 million. Retail was down to $8.7 million from $9.2 million. EBITDA across both channels was $11.6 million, down from $12.1 million.

The renewal rates for wholesale and retail were a more-than-respectable 80% and 85% respectively.

Some of the declines can be attributed to the pandemic-related bump Tucows and other registrars experienced in 2020.

Margins had been impacted a bit by the acquisition of UNR’s back-end registry business, the integration of which Noss said has now been fully completed.

For the full company, including non-domain businesses such as mobile and fiber, revenue for the year was down 2.2% at $304.3 million and net income was down 41.7% at $3.4 million.

The company also announced it has renewed its $40 million share buyback program.

“We fell short” — Tucows says sorry for Enom downtime

Kevin Murphy, January 19, 2022, Domain Registrars

Tucows has apologized to thousands of Enom customers who suffered days of downtime after a planned data center migration went badly wrong.

Showing true Canadian humility, the registrar posted the following statement this evening:

Beginning Saturday, January 15, 2022, Enom experienced a series of complications with a planned data center migration that caused significant disruptions for a subset of our customers.

We sincerely apologize to all of those impacted. We pride ourselves on being a reliable domain registration platform, and this weekend we fell short. We are committed to regaining your trust and to serving you better.

A full internal audit is underway and an incident report is forthcoming. This will include a summary of events and scope, learnings, and policy and process changes to mitigate future issues.

We reported on the downtime on Monday, as some customers were entering their third day of non-resolving DNS, which led to broken web sites and email.

At the time, Enom was saying it was tracking a “few hundred” affected domains. As customers suspected, that turned out to be a huge underestimate. The true number was closer to 350,000 domains, Tucows is now saying.

The company had been warning its customers about the planned maintenance for weeks, but it did not anticipate a “a bug in the new DNS provisioning system” that stopped customers’ domains resolving.

The migration started Saturday January 15 at 1400 UTC and was expected to last 12 hours. In the end, the DNS issue was not fully fixed until Monday January 17 at about 1845 UTC.

Nightmare downtime weekend for some eNom and Google customers

Kevin Murphy, January 17, 2022, Domain Registrars

Some eNom customers have experienced almost two days of downtime after a planned data center migration went titsup, leading to DNS failures hitting what users suspect must have been thousands of domains.

Social media has been filled with posts from customers complaining that their DNS was offline, meaning their web sites and email have been down. Some have complained of losing money to the downtime.

Affected domains include some registered directly with eNom, as well as some registered via resellers including Google Workspace.

The issue appears to have been caused by a scheduled data center migration, which was due to begin 1400 UTC on Saturday and last for 12 hours.

The Tucows-owned registrar said that during that time both reseller hub enom.com and retail site enomcentral.com would be unavailable. While this meant users would be unable to manage their domains, DNS was expected to resolve normally.

But before long, customers started reporting resolution problems, leading eNom to post:

We are receiving some reports of domains using our nameservers which are failing to resolve. Owing to the migration we are unable to research and fully address the issue until the migration is complete. This is not an expected outcome from the migration, and we are working to address it as a priority.

The maintenance window was then extended several times, by three to six hours each time, as eNom engineers struggled to fix problems caused by the migration. eNom posted several times on its status page:

The unexpected extension to the maintenance window was due to data migration delays. We also discovered resolution problems that impact a few hundred domains

eNom continued to post updates until it finally declared the crisis over at 0800 UTC this morning, meaning the total period of downtime was closer to 42 hours than the originally planned 12.

A great many posts on social media expressed frustration and anger with the outage, with some saying they were losing money and reputation and others promising to take their business elsewhere.

Some said that they continued to experience problems after eNom had declared the maintenance over.

eNom primarily sells through its large reseller channel, so some customers were left having to explain the downtime in turn to their own clients. Google Workspace is one such reseller that acknowledged the problems on its Twitter feed.

Some customers questioned whether the problem really was just limited to just a few hundred domains, and eNom seemed to acknowledge that the actual number may have been higher.

I’m in contact with Tucows, eNom’s owner, and will provide an update when any additional information becomes available.