This Will Probably End In Tears

Question: How do you tell when a domain name extension is in trouble?

Answer: You start giving them away for free (with conditions attached).

First some background. Back in 2014, the UK domain name regulator Nominet introduced direct registrations e.g. in addition to yourname.co.uk, it became possible to register yourname.uk.

This brand new world did not happen easily. Nominet were forced to revise their proposals three times before coming up with a scheme whereby existing .co.uk holders were given first rights to the new extension – along with a 5 year grace period to exercise that option. I wrote about this in September 2017.

Fast forward to present time. The take-up of the new.uk extension has been dismal (and that’s being polite). Many existing registrants did not / and do not want to have to pay what is effectively a “double tax”. So most are keeping their options open, and not doing anything at this stage. Why? Because they still have around 2 years to go to exercise their “first rights”.

A “Cunning” Plan

Nominet have recently decided to run a promotion whereby co.uk owners can register the corresponding .uk variant for two years for free. Nothing wrong with that – they want to try and get some life back into the corpse. By this I mean bolster the “registration rate” – or “artificially inflate statistics”.

However, the biggest registrar in UK (123REG) has gone one step further. They have taken it upon themselves to automatically register the .uk variant for their customers who hold .co.uk domains – without prior consent. Plus they have enabled auto-renew! So this means that unless customers opt out, they will be whacked in the future.

This article in The Register explains the situation: “123-Reg customers outraged at automatic .UK domain registration”

Some UK registrants are outraged at this pre-emptive registration (without permission). One can’t really blame them.

Here’s a couple of comments on the very popular Acorn Domains forum (hat tip to Paul Shaw for alerting me to these):

Let’s face it – these big registrars never do anything for the benefit of the client. They pushed for .uk, hand in hand, with Nominet’s board – and that was to the detriment of .co.uk registrants and the .co.uk market in general. So if they’ve taken it upon themselves to register hundreds of thousands of domains (nominet’s stats will soon show actual figures) then there can only be one thing in it for them – money – and on the flip side Nominet get to say .uk domain numbers are looking healthy now – so they’re doing this hand in hand again.

seems like only yesterday that I remember watching a .uk registrar consultation video, in which the nominet spokesperson told the audience that they chose not to consult their 10m .co.uk registrants about the possible introduction of .uk, because it might be deemed spamming them. And here we are a few years later with .uk domains being registered by a registrar, without prior contact or approval of the registrant, and with the registrant’s details hidden behind the registrar’s own privacy service.

My Thoughts

This latest debacle offers some salutary lessons for Australia (auDA).

For a start, if auDA are intent on introducing direct registrations onto these shores, at the very least they have an obligation to first tell every single one of the 1.7 million individual registrants in this country what they propose – and seek ratification. If they don’t do this, then they have no proper mandate to inflict a “double tax” on existing registrants. It will be seen as a no more than a “cash grab”.

Simple as that in my opinion.

Ned O’Meara – 27th October 2017


Disclaimer

 

 

10 thoughts on “This Will Probably End In Tears

  • Avatar
    October 27, 2017 at 8:31 am
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    It’s time to remove the supply side class from the “not for profit” auDA.

    It’s a public resource first not a right to rip off the community.

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  • Avatar
    October 27, 2017 at 8:36 am
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    Nominet’s response to a complainant about this practice,

    ….There is nothing in that RA [registrant agreement] which prohibits this activity. It could be argued that by pro-actively protecting their existing customers by exercising these rights on behalf of the customer, they are actually adhering to the fundamental tenet of the RA which is to act in the best interest of .uk domain name registrants. The RA also says that registrars can act on behalf of their customers, which is in essence what this promotion involves….

    James Middleditch, Nominet Customer Resolution Team

    https://www.acorndomains.co.uk/threads/123reg-taking-liberties-with-your-uk-domain-registration-rights.150252/page-6

     

     

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    • Avatar
      November 3, 2017 at 1:16 pm
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      Two points to make here:

      (i) Under English law, you can’t enter someone into a contract without their explicit consent. In other words, these registrations are illegal.
      (ii) 123 Reg’s actions break several clauses of Nominet’s Registrar Agreement. The key paragraphs are below:

      2.8. You promise us that in respect of every Transaction request you make:
      2.8.1. you have the authority of the Registrant to make that request and (if applicable to a particular transaction) specific authority from the Registrant to fully commit them to all the terms of the contract or obligations connected with that request;

      3.2. You must not request a Transaction if any of the following apply or you have reason to believe that they apply:
      3.2.3. the Registrant you identify to us in the Transaction has not instructed or requested you (directly or indirectly) to act on its behalf or does not exist;
      3.2.6. the service requested is one for which we require Registrants to enter into terms and conditions with us (e.g. the registration or renewal of a domain name) and you have not received positive confirmation that they are aware of, and accept in full, the current terms and conditions we offer for that service or Transaction at the date of the request for it;

      This mass registration of .uk domains without the rights holders’ consent is illegal, totally unethical, and contrary to Nominet’s stated policy on the launch of .uk domains. We should challenge it.

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  • Scott.L
    October 27, 2017 at 10:14 am
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    I think Nominet may have a problem when the registry wants a payment.

    Unsolicited Goods and Services Act 1971. (UK)

    ·         If you receive a request for payment from an organisation / trader for an unsolicited product (goods), it has committed a criminal offence under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. (UK)

    ·         Regulation 40 provides that a consumer is not required to make payments in addition to those agreed for the trader’s main obligation, unless the consumer gave express consent before conclusion of the contract”.
    I wonder if UK registrants had any choice to OPT-OUT? If it were found that .UK was an unsolicited product offer, then the .UK recipients won’t be required to EVER pay for it.
     
    (theoretically)  

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    • Avatar
      October 27, 2017 at 1:56 pm
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      An unsolicited product is a good/service that has already been provided. Not a good/service that will be provided.

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      • Ned O'Meara
        October 27, 2017 at 2:08 pm
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        @Michael – given that 123REG have apparently put these “free” .uk domains into registrants accounts already, would that count as “already been provided”?

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        • Avatar
          October 27, 2017 at 2:18 pm
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          It would, but I’m sure you can give away free products/services, you just can’t demand a payment for those products/services. I’m no judge, so I could be wrong, but this is my knowledge of the subject.

          When it comes to renewing the domains, they may send an invoice/notice for demand of payment for renewal of those domains. Guess you just have to wait and see how they handle the renewal of those domains. This may be fine too, because the demand for payment would be for the renewal, which has not been provided yet. Who knows. It’s just my thoughts.

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  • Scott.L
    October 28, 2017 at 11:51 am
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    What is stopping any online business (registry) from doing the same thing to a customer who purchased a product/service from them?

    “Hey, I gave you a great domain to use for 2 years absolutely free. Now we wouldn’t want you to lose your rights to keep it, so we set your new domain name to automatic renewal, now you won’t forget to pay for it in 2-years’ time.”

     
    Consumers could be “cart spammed” by their own registries to automatically pay for products they did not request.  

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    • Avatar
      October 30, 2017 at 8:42 am
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      Agree. I find Nominet’s logic in allowing this to be ethically questionable. I hope some other UK government department is going to come down hard on this, wouldn’t want to see this spread to other registrars and extensions.

      The robo registrations of .xyz was bad enough but this .uk automatic renew takes things to a whole new level of sleaziness.

  • Scott.L
    October 31, 2017 at 9:28 am
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    Imagine receiving a bill for $100k because you purchaced a bottle of water. It turns out, the retailer assumed you wanted to buy ALL the bottles of water because you didn’t OPT-OUT.

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