Campaign spams .au users

Many Australian businesses operating in the Internet space are being spammed with 'misleading' .au licence renewals.

Domain name holders are increasingly becoming the target of direct marketing campaigns by .com.au domain name resellers, that 'remind' domain holders that their registrations are due for renewal.

However, the practices of some of these resellers are questionable, according to industry sources and risk investigation under the Trade Practices Act.

A spokesperson from auDA (.au Domain Administration), the self-regulatory body for the .au namespace, agreed there was resentment within the industry towards some of the 500 .com.au resellers.

The auDA spokesperson said some resellers are querying the Aunic 'whois' database (the central database of .au names) to determine what domain names are up for renewal, and using the contact details from the database to issue renewal notices to domain name holders.

"They issue the notice so that it looks like it's actually an official advice, and that [the user] has to renew or lose the domain name," the spokesperson said. "They don't point out that there are actually 499 other companies out there that could renew the domain for the [user]."

The auDA spokesperson said auDA first became aware of reseller problems a couple of months ago. In response, it modified access to the Aunic registry database, to prevent bulk downloads of the database. People wanting to access details about domains and their owners are now required to query the database individually, and are restricted to only 30 queries an hour. Sources that exceed this quota have their access blocked.

In addition, auDA issued a user alert in April, warning domain name holders of resellers who were offering renewal periods in excess of the fixed, two-year .com.au licence. It also issued a voluntary code of practice encouraging the industry not to engage in such practices.

MelbourneIT, the registrar of the .com.au namespace, is also hoping to put an end to the questionable practices of some of its resellers by voluntarily abiding by the auDA interim code of practice issued earlier this month, and requesting its resellers to do the same.

The code of practice addresses "bad faith registrations" and provides that registrars and resellers shouldn't send renewal notices to registrants that "appear to be (or could be construed as) invoices for payment, unless the registrant is their customer".

Domain name reseller Internet Registrations Australia (IRA), has been attracting the ire of some domain holders due to its current 'aggressive' marketing campaign, in which it is offering a free .biz name to .com.au domain holders who register a new name or extend an existing name.

IRA denies that it sourced its direct marketing list from the Aunic database, but instead says obtained it via a database company.

The marketing material consists of a brightly coloured pamphlet and an accompanying invoice-like letter stating that the company's records indicate the recipient is the holder of a particular domain name. Introducing itself as "official channel partners with the administrator of the .com.au namespace authorised to facilitate the registration/renewal of .com.au registrations", the company also outlines the importance of registering and renewing domain names before they expire.

A spokesperson for IRA said that the company had been contacted by some people who had "slightly misunderstood" the literature, but said that most recipients had had no problems. In fact, the spokesperson added that there were many people who "really love" the company's marketing and were grateful that the company had reminded them of the need to renew, as they would have otherwise forgotten.

Just last month, another local reseller, Internet Names Group (ING), was suspended from selling .nz domains after it was accused of improperly using the .nz domain registry database. It was alleged that ING had utilised the directory in 'bad faith', resulting in a guerilla marketing campaign, implying that if domain name holders didn't act immediately, they would lose their domain name.

Besides the actions it has taken so far, auDA is virtually powerless against such activities, according to the spokesperson. Instead it has referred the matter to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, with the aim of having companies investigated for breach of the Trade Practices Act.

The ACCC was not able to comment at the time of publication.

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