The following is a discussion document, and to cover
myself legally, I want to state that the content of this document is opinion, and
where stated as fact is nonetheless only opinion, as this is a release under construction,
published only for the advice I may receive from individuals who show interest. Furthermore,
if Afilias (who have stated that they monitor this forum) wish to correct or redress
any statements within this press release before it is put into finished form for
news agencies, then I invite them here in this forum, and here only to air their
opinions, advise or recommend. If no advice is received I shall take that as potential
acceptance that the opinions expressed in the following are deemed factually correct.
The purpose of this posting is to express opinion and seek advice. It is to test
my written comments under the scrutiny of others.
PRESS RELEASE (DRAFT)
AT DOT INFO
A massive storm is brewing over the launch of the new .info domain
system, which was promoted as "the next .com". The company administering the new
domain (Afilias) has bungled its opening procedures, resulting in thousands of cases
of fraud, with people stealing high-value names. Worse still, its own Board members
have been caught out at it too.
The company introduced a 'Sunrise' procedure which
was supposed to safeguard Trademarked names for identifiable businesses, and protect
them from cyber-squatters. But Afilias failed to check the details before granting
registrations, and as a result thousands of people just invented Trademark numbers
or gave no numbers at all.
The losers in all this were the honest customers who
had already paid for the chance to get these names in the second phase of the launch,
called the Landrush. It is estimated that they have been cheated of over $1million
in non-refundable payments, as well as the expected market value of the names they
could have got. Afilias have told them that their claim to these names on September
12th is now lost, and the cheated customers have now to hope that Afilias will challenge
a proportion of the false names, so that someone someday might get the name honestly.
this will be no easy task. Thousands of false claims have already been identified,
but the majority remain undiscovered. Many of the Trademark claims are cunningly
masked, using supposed numbers from as far afield as Bulgaria, Bangladesh, Namibia,
Christmas Island and Yemen. Others are so obvious that the most basic of checks would
have stopped them from being accepted. And yet Afilias has registered all comers,
including mass orders with an identical number, and hundreds of ridiculous numbers
- 123456789, 00000000, 11111111111, "none", "don't know" and even the number "1"
for the domain bible.info.
Even more astonishingly than this negligence has been
the participation of Afilias Board members in the fraud, to cheat cutomers out of
the names they had paid to get. Govinder Leopold is not only on the Board of Afilias
but runs the Hawaii-based company 1stDomainNet, and in that second capacity gained
the names HAWAII.info and MAUI.info as a result of the Trademarks being faked. She
also reserved for herself the name GERMAN.info for good measure.
She is not alone.
The Board of Afilias is made up of the executives of some dozen registrar companies
from around the world. Registrars like Hal Lubsen - executive for both Afilias and
the company Domain Bank - in which capacity he firstly accepted $200 a time for around
100 name applications from one individual (even though none of them had a TM number
at all), and then benefitted from granting the registrations in his capacity as an
Afilias Board Member.
This has been repeated thousands of times by different registrars,
amassing a small fortune at around $200 for each Trademark claim, as well as a second
windfall from the honest customers who were told they could expect their own applications
to be processed on September 12th. Mr Lubsen continues (Aug 28)to charge customers
for "available" names at DomainBank, even though his other company has already registered
them to fraud Trademark claimants at Afilias.
So valuable has been this virtual
mandate to print money, that Registrars have chosen not to stop the fraudsters but
rather, in some cases to encourage and assist them. The UK-based Fasthosts company
told cutomers 'anyone' could apply for an early reservation, even if they had no
trademark at all. And the US-based Spy Productions registrar Lars Hindsley not only
faked trademark numbers for his own use, but put in phoney numbers for hundreds of
his customers, telling them the best names would be gone by September and to "do
it with your eyes open". He justified his actions in writing, by saying that so many
others were doing it that his customers would miss out if he didn't do it as well.
History has proved him right. Rival companies opened the doors and let in a landslide.
a situation that has descended into near-farce, Afilias CEO Roland laPlante has lauded
the success of the .info project, while on the other hand derisory members of the
internet community have set up sites like www.theinternetchallenge.com to identify
the chief fraudsters and publicise the full scale of the scam. Others like Associate
Professor Robert Connor have created algorithms and analysed samples of over 10000
names. Their findings confirm the vast scale of the fraud.
But in the close-knit
and mutually-supporting community of registrars, it has been a season of plenty.
Overseen by the benevolent watchdog organisation ICANN, itself made up largely of
registrars, Afilias has been given a free hand, which has led to calls for the US
Congress and other publicly-elected bodies to demand greater controls to create accountability.
is still time left for Afilias to resolve the shambles that .info has become. Workable
solutions have been proposed - allowing September customers a 'reserve' claim in
the event of names being disproved later. But Afilias have, as yet, shown no signs
of resolving the injustice suffered by their customers. They even refuse to delete
names, where the applicant has admitted they are ineligible. They say they will try
to challenge some of these names at a later date.
This does not convince the customers
who have already lost their money. As Rachel Macgregor - who applied for several
names - has put it in weary resignation: "First they didn't stop the cheats. Then
they were caught cheating themselves. To believe that they will pursue these false
claimants is a bit like asking a poacher to catch a poacher. As far as they are concerned,
the money is already in the bank."
It remains to be seen whether the US government
- already sceptical of the internet watchdog ICANN - will put pressure on Afilias
to clean up its act when such clear and culpable cases of fraud have taken place.
Meanwhile prosecutors are studying the charges of negligence on the part of Afilias,
which could result in the .info launch being stopped dead in its tracks, if Afilias
does not step in to protect its own customers.
In the midst of the mayhem there
have been inexplicable and bizarre episodes too: the registrar Signature Domains
got discovered "reserving" the name NUDES.info for itself and keeping it from the
public domain. Another applicant has reserved most of the world's countries, without
a single Trademark. "He was well on the way to world domination," said a victim wearily,
"when someone rumbled him. Someone's making a fortune out of all this, but I've been
cheated and my money's in their bank."
is just a draft. This is just opinions, even if drafted in statement form. This is
not for use or release. This is subject to review and correction. Advice and opinions
are invited, particularly from Afilias, but only through this public forum, so that
all exchanges are accountable, open and honest. This is an evolving working document,
not yet a statement of fact. Thank you for your help.