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Tuesday, 14 November, 2000, 22:00 GMT
Cyber-squatting fears grow
china internet users
The internet is catching on fast in China
A change allowing internet domain names to appear in Asian languages has sparked fears about a possible new wave of cyber-squatting.

For the first time, domain names are being accepted by internet registrars in which everything to the left of the ".com" can appear in Chinese, Japanese or Korean.


The lack of internationalised domain names is creating a class of people who are information have-nots

Multilingual International Names Consortium
Asia is the region that is adopting internet usage faster than anywhere else in the world, and experts predict that by 2004, the Asia-Pacific area will be the new e-commerce hotspot, overtaking Europe.

Countries such as China, Japan, Vietnam and Korea represent a largely untapped market, with millions of potential surfers.

Internationalised domain names

Until recently, the addresses used to find specific web pages had been limited to numbers and Roman characters.

That proved confusing to many Asians, who found it easier to name popular websites after memorable number combinations.

delivery rider
A delivery rider for a Chinese net shopping site
For example, one of China's most popular sites is an eBay-type auction site called 8848.net.

8848 is a play on the height of Mount Everest in metres and the lucky number eight, which sounds like prosperity in Chinese.

Now that domain names are available in Chinese, Japanese and Korean, according to the companies that specialise in selling them, there has already been a strong uptake.

Register.com, a US-based firm, said it had received thousands of applications, both from Asia and the United States.

And VeriSign (formerly Network Solutions, which used to have a monopoly on the handing out of domain names) also announced last week that it was independently creating a test-bed for registering domain names with international characters.

Cyber critics

But not everyone is in favour. At a meeting on Monday of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the net's naming authority, the change was criticised for being technically premature and encouraging a new wave of cyber-squatting.

Cyber-squatting is where individuals seek to profit by registering someone else's trademarked name.

The head of the semi-governmental body that oversees internet addresses in China ending in ".cn" has also jumped into the fray, criticising the move as unfortunate.

"Too many technologies are confusing. It could cause a big mess," said Qian Hualin, deputy director of the China Network Information Centre (CNNIC).

CNNIC has launched a similar service, allowing people to register sites in Chinese which in effect offers a competing system.

The Internet Society, a non-profit, non-governmental organisation based in the US also has concerns about the change, saying domain names have been "complicated".

What's at stake are millions of dollars in revenue from the increasingly lucrative business of signing up websites.

Many celebrities, such as the Hollywood actress, Julia Roberts and the family of the rock star, Jimi Hendrix, have won the right back to their domain names.

However, British singer Sting lost his case on the grounds that Sting is a commonly English word.

Although ICANN has recently introduced new arbitration rules which aim to make it easier to settle cybersquatting arguments. They can now be referred to the World Intellectual Property Organisation, based in Geneva.

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See also:

10 Nov 00 | Sci/Tech
Domain names go global
17 Oct 00 | Entertainment
Madonna wins cyber fight
09 Aug 00 | Europe
UN gets tough with cybersquatters
04 Aug 00 | Sci/Tech
Paying for the net name
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