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Username: rachelmacgregor
Date/Time: Tue, August 28, 2001 at 2:40 PM GMT
Browser: Microsoft Internet Explorer V5.0 using Windows 98
Subject: Draft Press Release

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        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)

BAD INFO 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.

But 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.

In 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.

There 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."

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This 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.
     
     

 


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