ACCC takes domain name reseller to court

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has instituted Federal Court action against domain name reseller Internet Name Group (ING), alleging misleading and deceptive conduct.

Internet Name Protection, trading as ING could face fines of up to $1.1 million and ING director, Mark Spektor could be fined a further $220,000 if found guilty for breaches of part five of the Trade Practices act.

The ACCC, which has received almost 500 complaints over the past two years from competitors and consumers, accuses ING of making false or misleading representations regarding the registration and renewal of domain names. Certain conduct the consumer watchdog objects to includes the practice of sending unsolicited faxes and letters to businesses who own domain names, which urge them to renew their domain name registration using ING.

Complaints also accused ING of implying to prospective customers that they had a pre-existing relationship with the company, and offering to renew domain names for up to 10 years, when they can only be renewed with the .au registry for two years. The ACCC said ING claims to have "sponsorship, approval, affiliation, or authority that it does not have".

In particular, the ACCC seeks to prevent ING from telling prospective customers it required their secret 'registry key' before a registration of a domain name can be renewed.

A domain name registry key works like a password or pin number which is used to control access to the management of a domain name and verify identity when changing resellers; the keys were introduced to combat pilfering practices by some resellers.

"ING was alleging that once they got hold of a key, they were able to change the registration details of the customer. The issue is they could take control of the management of the domain name. The company wasn't disclosing what it was doing with the registry key," an ACCC spokesperson said.

If consumers have been affected and had their domain name changed against their wishes, they have to contact the reseller or management company they would like to manage their domain name. The ACCC is seeking refunds for affected consumers, she added.

Last month, complaints stirred domain name registrar, auDA to issue an alert urging consumers to be wary of requests for registry. AuDA warned some companies are sending out unsolicited 'renewal advice' notices incorrectly implying that the registry key is required to renew a domain name.

At that time Spektor defended the practice of obtaining the registry key as a service to help registrants.

"If you randomly ring registrants, the majority don't know what their registry key is, how to get it and store it. The situation is registrants don't know where to start to get their keys, so we offer that service to provide it to the clients," he said.

In its alert, auDA issued a policy clarification, which states that provisionally accredited domain name registrars must abide by the interim code of practice if they are to use their provisional accreditation in promotional material. The code of practice bans misleading renewal letters.

However, Spektor told Computerworld at the time the alert was issued, ING, a provisionally accredited domain registrar, doesn't abide by the interim code of practice because it is "unworkable".

Spektor was not available for comment at time of publication.

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