DROC – Domain registry of Canada. How many of you have recieved a letter in the mail that looks like this?
I get a few dozen every year as the technical or admin contact for close to 70 domain names. Waste of paper and postage if you ask me but it obviously works to drive sufficient business to DROC each year.
Lets look at what DROC is doing that has led to this lawsuit. The term “domain slammer” was coined from “phone slamming,” the illegal practice conducted by long distance companies to scam consumers into switching their long distance services. It is nothing new and not unique to DROC or the Internet or phone industry. Network Solutions (Verisign) has been sued in the past for doing this exact same thing. According to CIRA the issue is the poor reputation of DROC in the industry as a result of unethical marketing practices that mislead consumers.
From day one CIRA and our Canadian domain .CA regulatory body has been confusing at best and opened the door to DROC’s ability to exploit such confusion in the marketplace. Imagine if every person who bought a .COM or .NET or .ORG name got separate emails from Internic as well as the registrar with login and account details. Consumers are confused who they should deal with in the first place. DROC send out official looking letters with Canadian flag and an official looking form close to renewal time and people feel they must take action out of fear that they do not want to lose ownership of their name.
Many say this is due to the misleading intent of the letter shown above and while the letter is stating it is a transfer request and it is a solicitation for services, people can and do misinterpret it and do not understand the implications of transferring their domain name to DROC. People are in a hurry and may fail to read or interpret the wording on the letter. They see something that resembles an invoice so they pay it. It is interesting how people and companies pay bills without even reading them or verifying what they are for.
It is all very clever and deceptive. The form being mailed in and of itself is not illegal and uses publicly available information to generate their mailing list. The fine and even not so fine print states this is an offer to transfer your domain name. Is the intent of the letter to get people to switch registrars regardless of the implications of doing so and regardless of the risks and costs of doing so. YOU BET!
I hope that CIRA has done it’s homework and they are basing their decision on clearly documented consumer complaints. If it is documented that DROC has been successfully gaining business by tricking people into switching domain providers and those people have lodged formal complaints to CIRA and the consumer and competitive bureau of Canada, AND it has been proven that these complaints continue to come in year after year in spite of past warnings, then yes, DROC should lose their right to be an official registrar. To simply state that DROC is not playing ethically does not hold water at all which is why DROC is suing.
If DROC has a record of poor reputation in the industry that is backed up with actual and ongoing consumer and legitimate business complaints then go ahead and deal with them as you would with any company with poor consumer reputation. CIRA is within it’s rights to deny a reseller who is creating problems within the .CA domain registry. DROC is within it’s rights to sue and obviously is exercising that right. We do NOT want this to become a lawsuit focused on what the letter says or should say. It is about deceptive marketing techniques.
This lawsuit will be precedent setting no matter which side wins. The one thing I urge consumers and the Canadian public to beware in the weeks and months ahead is how we would approach legislation aimed at sales and marketing letters. There is a lot of change happening in the US with laws governing what we can say on websites, what we can write in marketing letters, and say in emails. I applaud anything that can put a dent in crime and scamming but it is a fine line we tread between legislation and censorship. Once we go down a path to regulate what we can say we cannot go back.
For the rest of us all I can say is read the fine print, make sure you know what you are paying for, and make a point of knowing who you currently do business with. To the existing registrars, ISP’s, website designers and so on who reserve domain names. Be sure you educate your clients so it is explicitly clear what they need to know regarding their website domain names. My clients know to contact me for any questions they have on domain letters or issues. If you have a client who loses their domain to DROC from one you reserved for them then it is your own fault for not educating that client.
You can blame as much as you want but if we all pay attention to what really matters and ignore the foolishness, the fools eventually will go away on their own