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Most businesses don’t care about .uk domains

The majority of businesses in the UK don’t care about direct second-level .uk domains, even when the benefits are spelled out for them, according to Nominet research.

The new survey found that only 27% of businesses would “definitely” or “probably” exercise their new right to buy a .uk domain that matches their .co.uk or .org.uk name.

That number only went up to 40% after respondents had seen a brief Nominet marketing pitch, the survey found.

Another 16% said they had no plans to get their .uk, post-pitch, while 44% remained undecided.

This was the value proposition the respondents saw (click to enlarge):

Nominet sales pitch

Under the direct .uk policy, all registrants of third-level domains, such as example.co.uk, have the right of refusal over the matching example.uk.

If they don’t exercise that right by June 10, 2019, the matching SLDs will be unfrozen and released into the available pool.

The new Nominet research also found out that most registrants don’t even know they have this right.

Only 44% of respondents were aware of the right. That went up to 45% for businesses and down to 33% for respondents who only owned .uk domain names (as opposed to gTLD names).

A quarter of respondents, which all already own 3LD .uk domains, didn’t even know second-level regs were possible.

Of those who had already bought their .uk names, over two thirds were either parking or redirecting. Individuals were much more likely to actually use their names for emails or personal sites.

The numbers are not terribly encouraging for the direct .uk initiative as it enters into its third year.

They suggest that if something is not done to raise awareness in the next few years, a lot of .co.uk businesses could find their matching SLDs in the hands of cybersquatters or domainers.

Nominet members (registrars and domainers primarily) were quizzed about possible ways to increase adoption during a company webinar today.

Suggestions such as making the domains free (they currently cost £2.50 a year, the same as a 3LD) or bribing a big anchor tenant such as the BBC to switch were suggested.

There’s a lot of dissatisfaction among the membership about the fact that .uk SLDs were allowed in the first place.

The number of second-level .uk names has gone from 96,696 in June 2014 to to 350,088 last year to 593,309 last month, according to Nominet stats.

Over the same periods, third-level regs have been shrinking, from 10.43 million to 10.22 million to 10.08 million, .

UK cybersquatting cases flat, transfers down

The number of cybersquatting cases involving .uk domains was basically flat in 2015, while the number of domains that were transferred was down.

That’s according to Nominet’s wrap-up of last year’s complaints passing through its Dispute Resolution Service.

There were 728 DRS complaints in 2015, the registry said, compared to 726 in the year before.

The number of cases that resulted in the transfer of the domain to the complainant was down to 53%, from 55% in 2014.

That’s quite a bit lower than complainants’ success rates in UDRP. In 2015, more than 70% of UDRP cases resulted in a transfer.

Nominet reckons that the DRS saved £7.74 million ($notasmuchasitusedtobe) in legal fees last year, based on a “conservative” estimate of £15,000 per case, had the complaint gone to court instead.

More stats can be found here.

Greimann wins Nominet board seat

Kevin Murphy, April 27, 2016, Domain Registries

Key-Systems general counsel Volker Greimann has been elected to Nominet’s board as a non-executive director, beating two rival candidates.

Nominated by Blacknight and EuroDNS, he got 1,169,785 of the 2,144,612 votes cast, beating Dot Advice CEO Phil Buckingham and Namesco domain development manager Kelly Salter.

Nominet uses a somewhat complex single transferable vote system in its elections, in which members votes are weighted according to how many .uk domains they have under management.

Voting power is capped at 3% of the total pool for each member, so no one registrar or small group of registrars can capture the election.

Salter, who had been nominated by top-ten registrars Go Daddy and LCN.com, was defeated in the first round of voting, with Greimann picking up the majority of the votes as a second preference, enabling him to win.

Buckingham was essentially the “domainer candidate”, backed by Netistrar and Namedropper, who’d promised to address the controversial issue of Nominet’s 50% price increase.

The price increases are arguably less important to registrars which can pass the increase on to their customers, than they are to domainers, which have to swallow the added costs themselves.

Buckingham secured about 34% of the votes in the second round.

Only 15% of the members eligible to vote did so, though that’s up from 12% last year.

The full results can be found here.

Nominet will hold its Annual General Meeting in London tomorrow.

Rape ban results in just one .uk takedown, but piracy suspensions soar

Kevin Murphy, February 19, 2016, Domain Registries

Nominet’s controversial policy of suspending domain names that appear to condone rape resulted in one .uk domain being taken down last year.

That’s according to a summary of take-downs published by Nominet yesterday.

The report (pdf) reveals that 3,889 .uk names were taken down in the 12 months to October 31, 2015.

That’s up on the the 948 domains suspended in the six months to October 31, 2014.

The vast majority — 3,610 — were as a result of complaints from the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit. In the October 2014 period, that unit was responsible for 839 suspensions.

Unlike these types of suspensions, which deal with the allegedly illegal content of web sites, the “offensive names” ban deals purely with the words in the domain names.

Nominet’s systems automatically flagged 2,407 names as potentially in breach of the policy — most likely because they contained the string “rape” or similar — in the 12 months.

But only one of those was judged, upon human perusal, in breach.

In the previous 12 months period, 11 domains were suspended based on this policy, but nine of those had been registered prior to the implementation of the policy early in 2014.

The policy, which bans domains that “promote or incite serious sexual violence”, was put in place following an independent review by Lord Macdonald.

He was recruited for advice due to government pressure following a couple of lazy anti-porn articles, both based on questionable research by a single anti-porn campaigner, in the right-wing press.

Assuming it takes a Nominet employee five minutes to manually review a .uk domain for breach, it seems the company is paying for 200 person-hours per year, or 25 working days, to take down one or two domain names that probably wouldn’t have caused any actual harm anyway.

Great policy.

Complaints over 50% .uk price hike

Kevin Murphy, November 27, 2015, Domain Registries

.uk registrars are petitioning Nominet to complain about plans to increase the price of a .uk domain name by up to 50%.

The registry announced the price increase, which will come into effect March 1 next year, on Wednesday.

A one-year registration will go up to £3.75 ($5.65) wholesale, still cheaper than any gTLD I can think of.

Currently, Nominet charges £3.50 for a one-year reg and £2.50 per year for multi-year registrations.

The company heavily hinted, in an email, that some of this extra cash will wind up in registrars’ pockets, due to promotional spending:

Our new pricing strategy aims to accomplish three things. Firstly, as with any business the price we charge is linked to our ability to deliver a fantastic service. Secondly, we want to invest in the .UK namespace to ensure we can differentiate over the long-term. Thirdly, we want to be able to invest in marketing and promotions in order to secure prominence at point of sale – which our current pricing levels cannot support.

The price of a .uk domain has not increased since 1999, Nominet said.

Increasing the price from a posh coffee to a London beer is presumably not a big deal for most registrants, but domainer-registrars are unhappy.

Andrew Bennett of Netistrar has set up a web site at egm.uk to call for “outraged” registrants and Nominet members to voice their opposition to the changes.

The site points out that Nominet has said it will review its pricing annually.

It calls on Nominet to have a three-month public consultation then a member vote before introducing the changes.

At time of publication, 77 registrants and 47 Nominet members have signed the petition.

On its web site, Nominet lists 2,048 members.

Nominet to give nod to .uk privacy services

Kevin Murphy, March 12, 2015, Domain Registries

Nominet plans to start accrediting proxy/privacy services in .uk domain names, and to make it easier to opt-out of having your full contact details published in Whois.

The proposed policy changes are outlined in a consultation opened this morning.

“We’ve never recognized privacy services,” director of policy Eleanor Bradley told DI. “If you’ve registered a .uk with a privacy service, we consider the privacy service to be the registrant of that domain name.”

“We’ve been pretending almost that they didn’t exist,” she said.

Under the proposed new regime, registrars would submit a customer’s full contact details to Nominet, but Nominet would publish the privacy service’s information in the domain’s Whois output.

Nominet, getting its hands on the customer data for the first time, would therefore start treating the end customer as the true registrant of the domain.

The company says that introducing the service would require minimal work and that it does not intend to charge registrars an additional fee.

Currently, use of privacy services in .uk is pretty low — just 0.7% of its domains, up from 0.09% a year ago.

Bradley said such services are becoming increasingly popular due to some large UK registrars beginning to offer them.

One of the reasons for low penetration is that quite a lot of privacy is already baked in to the .uk Whois database.

If you’re an individual, as opposed to a “trading” business, you’re allowed to opt-out of having any personal details other than your name published in Whois.

A second proposed reform would make that opt-out available to a broader spectrum of registrants, Nominet says.

“We’ve found over the last few years that it’s quite a hard distinction to draw,” Bradley said. “We’ve had some criticisms for our overly strict application of that.”

In future, the opt-out would be available according to these criteria:

i. The registrant must be an individual; and,
ii. The domain name must not be used:
a) to transact with customers (merchant websites);
b) to collect personal data from subjects (ie data controllers as defined in the Data Protection Act);
c) to primarily advertise or promote goods, services, or facilities.

The changes would allow an individual blogger to monetize her site with advertising without being considered a “trading” entity, according to Nominet.

But a line would be drawn where an individual collected personal data on users, such as email addresses for a mailing list, Bradley said.

Nominet says in its consultation documents:

Our continued commitment to Nominet’s role as the central register of data will enable us to properly protect registrants’ rights, release contact data where necessary under the existing exemptions, and maintain public confidence in the register. It acknowledges that some registrants may desire privacy, whilst prioritising the core function of the registry in holding accurate records.

The proposals are open for comments until June 3, which means they could potentially become policy later this year.

.uk suspension problems worse than I thought

Kevin Murphy, December 31, 2014, Domain Registrars

Problems validating the addresses of .uk domain registrants, which caused one registrar to dump the TLD entirely, are broader than I reported yesterday.

Cronon, which does business as Strato, announced last week that it has stopped selling .uk domain names because in more than a third of cases Nominet, the registry, is unable to validate the Whois data.

In many cases the domain is subsequently suspended, causing customer support headaches.

It now transpires that the problems are not limited to .uk second-level names, are not limited to UK registrants, and are not caused primarily by mailing address validation failures.

Michael Shohat, head of registrar services at Cronon, got in touch last night to clarify that most of its affected customers are in fact from its native Germany or from the Netherlands.

All of the affected names are .co.uk names, not .uk SLDs, he added.

And the validation is failing in the large majority of cases not due to Nominet’s inability to validate a mailing address, but rather its inability to validate the identity of the registrant.

“This is where the verification is failing. The database they are using can’t find many of our registrants’ company names,” Shohat said.

“So 30% of our registrations were being put on hold, almost all of them from [Germany] and [the Netherlands], and 90% of them because of the company name. We checked lots of them and in every single case the name of the company was correct, and the address as well,” he said.

Michele Neylon of the ICANN Registrar Stakeholders Group said that Cronon is not the only registrar to have been affected by these issues. Blacknight Solutions, the registrar Neylon runs, has been complaining about the problem since May.

According to Neylon, the Nominet policy causing the issue is its data quality policy, which covers all .uk and .co.uk (etc) names.

The policy itself is pretty vague — Nominet basically says it will work with each individual registrar to determine a baseline of what can be considered a “minimum proportion of valid data”, given the geographic makeup of the registrar’s customer base.

Domains that fail to meet these criteria have a “Data Quality Lock” imposed — essentially a suspension of the domain’s ability to resolve.

Earlier this year, Nominet did backtrack on plans to implement an automatic cancellation of the names after 30 days of non-compliance, following feedback from its registrars.

“It’s disappointing that Cronon have taken this step; we hope they will consider working with us to find a way to move forward,” a Nominet spokesperson added.

She said that the registry has over recent years moved to “more proactive enforcement” of Whois accuracy. She pointed out that Nominet takes on the “lion’s share of the work”, reducing the burden on registrars.

“However, our solution does not include non-UK data sets to cross-reference with, so it is possible that some false positives occur,” she said. “Registrars with a large non-UK registrant bases, who are not accredited channel partners, would be affected more than others.”

An Accredited Channel Partner is the top tier of the three Nominet offers to registrars. It has additional data validation requirements but additional benefits.

While .co.uk domains are not limited to UK-based registrants, all .uk SLD registrants do need to have a UK mailing address in their Whois for legal service.

The company’s inability to validate many non-UK business identities seems to mean .co.uk could also slowly become a UK-only space by the back door.

Big registrar dumps .uk — a glimpse of Christmas future?

Kevin Murphy, December 30, 2014, Domain Registrars

German registrar Cronon, which retails domains under the Strato brand, has stopped carrying .uk domains due to what it says are onerous Whois validation rules.

In a blog post, company spokesperson Christina Witt said that over one third of all .uk sales the registrar has been making are failing Nominet’s registry-end validation checks, which she said are “buggy”.

With the introduction of direct second-level registration under .uk, Nominet introduced a new requirement that all new domains must have a UK address in the Whois for legal service, even if the registrant is based overseas.

According to its web site, Nominet checks registrant addresses against the Royal Mail Postcode Address file, which contains over 29 million UK addresses, and does a confidence-based match.

If attempts to match the supplied address with a UK address in this file prove fruitless, and after outreach to the registrant, Nominet suspends the domain 30 days after registration and eventually deletes it.

It’s this policy of terminating domains that has caused Strato to despair and stop accepting new .uk registrations.

“Databases of street directories or company registers are often inaccurate and out of date,” Witt wrote (translated from the original German). “The result: addresses that are not wrong, in fact, are be found to be invalid.”

Nominet is throwing back over a third of all .uk names registered via Strato, according to the blog post, creating a customer support nightmare.

Its affected registrants are also confused about the verification emails they receive from Nominet, a foreign company of which they have often never heard, Witt wrote.

I don’t know how many .uk names the registrar has under management, but it’s reasonably large in the gTLD space, with roughly 650,000 domains under management at the last count.

If Strato’s claim that Nominet is rejecting a third of valid addresses (and how Strato could know they’re valid is open to question), that’s quite a scary statistic.

Nominet seems to be using an address database, from the Royal Mail, which is about as close to definitive as it gets. And it’s only verifying addresses from a single country.

I shudder to imagine what the false negative rate would be like for a gTLD registrar compelled to validate addresses across 200-odd countries and territories.

The latest version of the ICANN Registrar Accreditation Agreement requires registrars to partially validate addresses, such as checking whether the street and postal code exist in the given city, but there’s no requirement for domains to be suspended if these checks fail.

[UPDATE: Thanks to Michele Neylon of the Registrars Stakeholder Group for the reminder that this RAA requirement hasn’t actually come into force yet, and won’t until the RrSG and ICANN come to terms on its technical and commercial feasibility.]

Where the 2013 RAA does require suspension is when the registrant fails to verify their email address (or, less commonly, phone number), which as we’ve seen over the last year leads to hundreds of thousands of names being yanked for no good reason.

If Strato’s story about .uk is correct and its experience shared by other registrars, I expect that will become and important data point the next time law enforcement or other interests push for even stricter Whois rules in the ICANN world.

Eleven domains suspended under .uk anti-rape rules

Kevin Murphy, December 8, 2014, Domain Registries

Nominet has suspended and permanently blocked 11 “rape” domain names in .uk since introducing a controversial policy earlier this year.

The company today disclosed that nine pre-existing domains were suspended immediately following the introduction of the rules in May. Another two have been blocked since then.

The policy calls for Nominet to ban any domain name that seems to “promote or incite serious sexual offences”.

Examples of such domains given by Lord MacDonald, who compiled the review that led to the policy, included rapeme.co.uk, rapemyteacher.co.uk and rapeporn.co.uk.

Nominet now automatically scans all new .uk registrations for keywords that may be a cause for concern. These are then manually reviewed to weed out the false positives, which could include for example domains that contain the word “grape” or “therapist”.

The false positive level is very high. According to a Nominet report (pdf) this week, 1,029 domains have been automatically flagged since May, only two of which were then suspended.

The policy was introduced following articles in some of the UK’s right-wing tabloids and pressure from government ministers.

Nominet also disclosed this week that 948 domains have been suspended for “criminal activity” in the last six months.

Under Nominet rules, such domains are suspended merely upon notification by the law enforcement agencies that the domain in question is suspected of harboring criminal activity. Unlike elsewhere in the world, no court order is required.

“Criminal activity” means intellectual property infringement in the vast majority of cases.

Of those 948 suspended names, 839 were suspended after complaints from the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit. Another 102 were yanked following notices from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency. The remaining 7 complaints came from the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau.

Nominet hires venture capitalist as new CEO

Kevin Murphy, October 29, 2014, Domain Registries

Nominet has named Lesley Cowley’s replacement as CEO as Russell Haworth, a Thomson Reuters alum who’s spent much of 2014 working as a venture capitalist.

Russell was previously managing director of Thomson Reuters’ Middle East & Africa division.

Since January, he’s been a co-founder and partner at Saya Ventures, an investment company focused on early-stage technology companies.

“Russell will lead the organisation as it develops its core registry business, explores the potential of new technologies, and delivers on its commitment to ensuring the internet is a force for good,” Nominet said.

He’s set to join the .uk registry in January 2015.

He replaces Cowley, who resigned in May and earlier this month revealed several new jobs.