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Friday, 12 October, 2001, 13:15 GMT 14:15 UK
New net domain 'fiasco'
The new dot.info suffix is causing controversy
The new .info domain is having a troubled birth
Up to a quarter of the early registrations for the new .info domain name could be bogus.

A study of 11,000 registrations has shown a failure of the steps taken to stop people winning control of domains they do not have the right to run.

Legal experts have called the whole process a fiasco, and said the company administering the .info domain could face legal challenges from those denied a chance to apply for some generic .info domains.

But Afilias, the .info administrator, has defended its handling of the registration process, and said it was planning to mount its own challenge against bogus domain holders.

False applications

From 25 July to 27 August, Afilias ran its "sunrise" period to let trademark holders apply for control of the .info domain bearing the name they owned the rights to use.

The sunrise registration period was closed to the general public. Only those who could demonstrate proof that they owned a trademark were supposed to apply.

However, a study of over 11,000 sunrise registrations by University of Minnesota Professor Robert Connor has shown that some people have won control of many generic .info names by entering false or misleading information into the boxes on the electronic application form.

Mr Connor found that applicants used a variety of methods to fool Afilias. Some used a single trademark number for many different domains, some made up trademark numbers, and some supplied dates that implied they were awarded their trademark in 2040.

Most worrying, said Professor Connor, was the fact that many people who supplied no information about the trademarks they purportedly owned still gained control of the .info websites they applied for.

Legal advice

Now, British schoolteacher Richard Henderson has set up a website called The Internet Challenge, to document the abuse of .info, and to lobby Afilias to make amends. He said Afilias had showed "appalling disregard" for ordinary customers.

Possibly bogus .info domain application
Some .info applications look suspicious
His analysis has revealed that some speculators have registered hundreds, and in one case thousands, of domain names with the hope of selling them for a profit later on. Some supposedly trademarked names are already being offered for sale.

Mr Henderson said net co-ordinating body Icann should step in and sort out the mess.

Nick Lockett, an associate at law firm Stanbrook and Hooper, said Afilias deserved nothing but criticism for the way it has handled the sunrise process.

"It is very clear that they did not do their job," he said. "Afilias needs to go back through the generic registrations and country registrations and check every single trademark."

"It is an incredibly incompetent sunrise process," he said. "Even the very basic anti-fraud steps, in common use, were not implemented."

Name challenge


It has quickly become evident that some people are not providing accurate information

Roland LaPlante, Afilias
His comments were echoed by Adrian Barkey, managing director of net registrar Domain Network, who said Afilias must look at the generic .info domains that have been registered. He said the system Afilias had put in place to help people challenge speculators also needed reform.

But Roland LaPlante, chief marketing officer at Afilias, defended its handling of the sunrise process. He said the problems of checking trademarks meant it was only ever going to be able to act after people had made applications.

"We never intended to verify the individual data components," said Mr LaPlante.

"We checked to make sure there was data in the field, and relied on the testimony of the registrant that the information was correct," he said. "But it has quickly become evident that some people are not providing accurate information."

He said the fact that there was no global trademark database to check claims against made the job of Afilias much more difficult.

The Visa .info website
Some .info domains are already live
"This is the proof of concept and we are learning the strengths and weaknesses of our system," he said. Afilias is also talking to some of the .info registrars responsible for passing on a lot of questionable applications.

Some registrars have put errors down to software errors or mistakes by their business partners.

Given the evidence of widescale abuse Mr LaPlante said that by the end of the year Afilias would have mounted a "bulk challenge" to bogus domain holders.

Those who cannot provide sufficient proof that they do own the relevant trademark will have the domain taken from them.

But Mr Lockett said waiting until the end of the year could be too late because by that time some domains might have changed hands and been sold on.

See also:

29 Sep 01 | Sci/Tech
Internet ranges in new domains
25 Jul 01 | Sci/Tech
Step up for .info domains
10 Apr 01 | Sci/Tech
Net name chaos grows
25 May 01 | Sci/Tech
Prepare to do .bizness
07 Sep 01 | Sci/Tech
Net body grapples with people power
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