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2018 Domain Name Year in Review

Elisa Cooper

Well, it's that time of year again. The time of year when I look back at all of the biggest domain news stories from the last twelve months, and also reflect on my predictions from last year. As expected, GDPR has had a major impact on the ability to access domain ownership information. And we did indeed see a number of M&A transactions over this last year. However, there wasn't a lot of new .Brand activity. This is one prediction where I may have missed the mark — but hey, 2 out 3 ain't bad. So with that, let's take a look at some of the biggest domain news stories from 2018.

10. One Million Domain Names Seized

According to the US Department of Homeland Security, more than 1 million copyright-infringing website domain names selling counterfeit automotive parts, electrical components, personal care items and other fake goods were criminally and civilly seized in the past year through the combined efforts of law-enforcement agencies across the world, high-profile industry representatives and anti-counterfeiting associations.

9. UDRP Filings at WIPO Reach Record High

As of December 20th, 3393 UDRPs were filed in 2018 compared to a total of 3074 for all of 2017. This represents a 10% year-over-year increase. There was some discussion as to whether limited access to Whois data would impact UDRP filings, but that clearly does not seem to be the case given the increase seen in 2018.

8. New gTLD Sells for Record-Breaking $510,000

Six and even seven-figure deals are to be expected for .COMs, but online.casino sold for more than a half million dollars in 2018. Though it's worth noting that Donuts also reported the sale of home.loans for $500,000 and vacation.rentals for $500,300. These high profile, generic domain name sales are music to the ears of gTLD registry operators and a sign that there is new value being built in the ecosystem.

7. ICANN Staff Changes Raise Eyebrows

In early October, it was announced that Akram Atallah, ICANN's Global Domains Division President would be leaving to join Donuts as their CEO. The move was not terribly surprising given Donuts' acquisition by Abry Partners where Fadi Chehade (former ICANN CEO and Akram's former boss and friend) now serves as a Partner. Later that same month, ICANN CEO Goran Marby announced the appointment of his new deputies, John Jeffrey, General Counsel and Secretary, and Theresa Swinehart, Senior Vice President, Multistakeholder Strategy and Strategic Initiatives. According to Goran's blog, his new deputies are now able to stand-in when needed.

6. Renewed Interest in Homograph Domains

Likely due to a report issued by Farsight Security which examined 100 million resolutions across 450 top global brands, many corporate domain professionals are once again defensively registering homograph domains. Using non-Latin characters to create lookalike domains such as ƀrandsight.com, homograph domains are often difficult to detect and can be used to perpetrate phishing scams.

5. Private Equity Interest in Domain Industry Reaches New High

Whether it's the acquisition of Donuts by Abry Partners, the sale of Web.com to Siris Capital Group, or Cinven's announcement that they intend to buy One.com — there can be no doubt that private equity seems to be enamored with the domain name industry. Is it the healthy margins, the renewal rates, opportunity for further consolidation, or just the overall growth potential that makes this market so enticing? Hard to say — but it's likely all of those things.

4. .COM Primed for Price Hike

In November, the Department of Commerce under the Cooperative Agreement agreed to grant pricing flexibility to Verisign. Assuming that ICANN agrees, Verisign would be permitted to increase domain registration and renewal pricing by 7% in each of the last four years of every six-year period starting in 2020. As an aside, wholesale costs for .COM registrations have been frozen since 2012. While ICANN still needs to approve this increase, its seems as though the Street believed that they will, as Verisign's stock jumped 17% on the day of the announcement.

3. .AMAZON TLD Allowed to Proceed – Or Is it?

At ICANN63 in Barcelona it finally seemed like Amazon's patience and perseverance would be rewarded as the ICANN Board directed ICANN to resume processing their applications for .AMAZON. There was an assumption that member countries of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO) had come to an agreement, facilitated by ICANN. However in early December of 2018, in a letter to the ICANN Board, ACTO very clearly stated that they had been ready to initiate a dialogue, but that there were never any discussions with all concerned parties. ACTO has now submitted a reconsideration request to the ICANN Board regarding their decision to remove the "will not proceed' status for the .AMAZON applications.

2. ICANN Implements First-Ever Expedited Policy Development Process (EPDP)

The standard Policy Development Process (PDP) utilized by ICANN can take well over a year to complete and much longer when the policy being developed in contentious or controversial. So when faced with the task of creating new policy to replace the Temporary Specification for gTLD Registration Data which expires in May of 2019, an expedited process was necessary. Unlike the standard PDP, this new expedited process does not include an initial evaluation of the issues.

1. Impact of GDPR Felt Across the Domain Name Ecosystem

With access to personally identifiable domain ownership information no longer readily available as a result of GDPR, uncovering the owner of a domain name has become cumbersome in the best cases, and impossible in the worst cases. For brand owners researching infringement, the process of requesting contact information has become time-consuming, and uncovering associated domains is now becoming more difficult as reverse Whois databases are beginning to degrade. For those Internet users who rely upon Whois to understand domain name ownership, in many cases, the information is simply not there. And of course, registries and registrars were impacted, as they were required to make substantial changes to their systems, impacting many internal processes.

So what's to come in 2019? I feel confident that the EPDP team will complete their final report prior to ICANN64 in Kobe, although I am certain that there will be areas where consensus is not achieved. I also believe that once the EPDP team finishes their work to replace the Temporary Spec, that they will turn their focus towards creating policy to support automated access to non-public Whois data, but that this solution will not happen next year. I also think we'll again see continued M&A;activity, but with greater emphasis on consolidations in 2019.

So that's it from me until next year. From everyone here at Brandsight, we wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous 2019.

By Elisa Cooper, SVP Marketing and Policy at Brandsight, Inc.
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