I’m here to tell you that I think Donuts, Inc are a creepy company, and I think we should all boycott them and all of their new TLDs (top level domains). Because they now own Rightside/United TLD Holdco, their TLDs should be included in the boycott.
The story of my discovery of Donuts, Inc, why I think they are creepy, and the documentation to back up my assertion of their creepiness, all follow.
A few years ago – probably some time in 2016 – I was curious about the current state of the DNS (domain name system), and decided to take a look at the IANA root zone database. What I saw there alarmed me: a ton of random-seeming new TLDs (top-level domains) and a bunch of creepy-sounding sponsoring companies with names like
- Half Oaks, LLC
- Knob Town, LLC
- June Maple, LLC
- Atomic Madison, LLC
I followed the links to the pages describing the delegation of each of these TLDs – .academy, .accountants, .apartments, and .builders, respectively – and discovered that they were all really one company: Donuts, Inc.
Why would they register several hundred shell companies, each one applying for one new TLD, rather than being honest and doing it as Donuts, Inc? And did ICANN notice? And if they did, why did they do nothing? It seems to me that they should have forced Donuts into the open in 2012, at the beginning of this phase of ICANN’s new TLD program.
You may have noticed, if you followed any of the links above, that those four shell LLCs no longer exist. All those delegations are now to “Binky Moon, LLC”. Not to “Donuts, Inc”. ICANN may have forced them to be more transparent, but Donuts, Inc are still hiding. Here is the transfer report, dated 2018-03-23, for 195 Donuts domains.
What’s even weirder is that not all of the Donuts domains got transferred to Binky Moon. As of this writing (August 2018), there are two other Donuts shell LLCs that manage three domains:
Three curious details about Dog Beach and Corn Lake:
- .travel was transferred in February 2018, from Tralliance Registry Management Company, LLC to Dog Beach, LLC. There is no explanation why. (.travel was originally delegated in 2005, during an earlier phase of ICANN’s new TLD program.)
- .memorial and .travel were not included in the transfer to Binky Moon. Why not? Did ICANN screw up and not notice?
- .charity was delegated in June 2018 ... to a new shell LLC (Corn Lake).
Donuts, Inc are still at it, doing their damnedest to hide their identity.
I consider this all rather creepy, and I’m disappointed in ICANN for not forcing Donuts to be more transparent about what’s going on.
In 2017, Donuts acquired Rightside, whose affiliate company (!?!) United TLD Holdco had, like Donuts, applied for, and won, a number of new TLDs. In 2016, Donuts offered $70 million to acquire Rightside; this offer was rejected. In 2017, they offered $213 million; this offer was accepted.
This means that any domains sponsored by “United TLD Holdco” are now Donuts domains, and, in my opinion, to be avoided.
Sadly, this includes a favorite of mine: .rocks.
Starting in 2016, I gathered several “snapshots” of the state of the IANA root zone, by downloading and saving the HTML page that describes it. By running a simple Lua script on this HTML, I extracted a row-by-row “database” of each TLD, and uploaded this to Google Docs as a spreadsheet.
I created a sheet with my five dated snapshots and shared it. Each dated snapshot is its own tab (separate sheet) within the larger document. Look at the bottom and you’ll see the tabs.
There are a few interesting things you can do with this data:
- sort by donuts ownership (by clicking on the triangular icon at the top of the “donuts” column) to gather all the Donuts domains together. This is how I figured out that something fishy was going on with Binky Moon, Dog Beach, and Corn Lake. Also, since Donuts now own United TLD Holdco I’ve shown those as well (as “rightside”, because that is the company affiliated with United TLD Holdco).
- sort by sponsor. If you are looking at the latest snapshot (2018-08-14) you’ll see most of the Donuts names together (as Binky Moon); earlier snapshots will group them together in chunks and you will see the odd way that Donuts generated the names. In all snapshots United TLD Holdco’s TLDs will group together (but remember – they are now a Donuts company!). You’ll also see Amazon’s TLDs, as well as Google’s (they are “Charleston Road Registry, Inc”). Wow, is Google hiding something too?
- sort by name, then by type, and scroll up to see all the country code TLDs grouped together. Though ccTLDs don’t figure in the Donuts story, they are still a fascinating (and widely misused) part of the DNS.
Why are there so many weird, shadowy connections between entities in this business?
What I have described above is only a small piece of the much larger story of ICANN’s wrong-headed and incompetent management of the new TLD process. I mean to write more on this subject!
- a Guardian article from late 2011 musing about the 2012 gTLD application process
- a Washington Post story from 2012 about Donuts, Inc that also describes their connection to Demand Media.
- a Hacker News discussion from 2014 about all this. Being HN, your mileage may vary!