With a million unwanted .uk domains expiring this week, Nominet again sends punters pushy emails to pay up

No one wants them – including all of Britain’s top brands

66 Reg comments Got Tips?

Nominet is at it again: the .uk registry operator has emailed owners of .co.uk domain names to panic them into renewing .uk domains they never wanted in the first place.

Despite being caught in June pushing for the renewal of domain names that were foisted on netizens, the company that oversees the UK’s top-level domain has again contacted people and stated their domains are "due for renewal."

The strong-arm tactic has again caused confusion, with one punter neatly summarizing the situation to Nominet: “You've now sent me a bunch of emails telling me my domain names (which aren't due for renewal until 2021) are about to be deleted. There's something gone wrong with your system.”

But nothing had gone wrong. Nominet is fully aware that the .uk names it is pushing were never ordered by people in the first place. When dot-uk was opened up several years ago so that you could register things like mycompany.uk as well as mycompany.co.uk, domain registrars had a brainwave: if a customer owned, say, blablahblah.co.uk, blablahblah.uk would be registered automatically for them. Now those freebie domains are expiring, and no one's renewing them – because people didn't want them in the first place, hence this latest pressure campaign.

Nominet is also well aware no one wants the new names. It spent years and millions of pounds marketing the idea of .uk yet the facts speak louder. Of the top ten British brands – Cadbury, Aston Martin, BBC, Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Land Rover, Marks & Spencer, Twinings and Mini – not a single one even uses their .uk domain name.

Two (Rolls-Royce and Bentley) automatically redirect their .uk names to their main sites (.coms), and another two (Cadbury and BBC) own their .uk name yet don’t use them (a visit to bbc.uk goes nowhere). The remainder don’t even have their own name in the .uk space, such is the lack of interest.

Told you so

That reality is exactly what critics of the .uk plan told Nominet at the time when it decided it was necessary to open up the second-level address space as a way to respond to growing competition in the domain name market. The registry operator simply ignored them. Even registrars whose business is to sell co.uk, org.uk, and so on, pushed back on the plan. Eventually, the industry reached a compromise where the current owner of any .co.uk domain would get first rights to their .uk name and could register it – for free – for several years.

That compromise has created the current problem. Registrars were keen to sell more domains but existing domain holders by and large didn't want to pay for them: why pay double? So registrars simply added those .uk domain names to people’s accounts without asking them in hope it would be renewed later on for a fee. It cost the registrars nothing to do this because Nominet had made it all free, and registrars creatively interpreted Nominet’s rules to allow them to do so automatically, daring the .uk overlord to tell them otherwise.

Nominet turned a blind eye to the practice. And then, when the free period ran out, Nominet again turned a blind eye when registrars started pressuring customers to renew names that many of them didn’t even know were on the account. People reading the messages might think their .co.uk was suddenly expiring, not their .uk, and renew it.

In the worst cases, registrars automatically invoiced customers for the unwanted names. When we ran a story exposing the behavior, the companies – some of whose representatives sit on the Nominet board – claimed it was a mistake. And then a few months later, they started doing it all over again. Each time Nominet did nothing.

Then, in June, Nominet itself started pushing the names that had been dropped by registrars, emailing people directly to say their domains were due to expire and had to be renewed – domains that, again, people had never asked for, and don’t want.

Money talks

The sheer scale of indifference to .uk names will become apparent this month when another one million unwanted .uk domain names will lapse and with it Nominet’s registration figures and income.

And it is the money that explains how and why the company that is supposed to be overseeing the .uk registry as a public trust has failed to clamp down on dodgy behavior by those it is supposed to oversee and why it is pushing unwanted names itself: because it needs or wants the cash.

Since January 2015, Nominet has been run by a former acquisitions and ventures specialist who has pushed the non-profit member organization into behaving more like a for-profit company, using the UK internet registry as a cash cow to fund a series of failed entries into commercial markets.

The company is burning through money, prompting Nominet to increase .uk prices and shut down its charitable arm, the Nominet Trust, and pull the roughly £5m it gave in excess revenue to the trust in-house. With Nominet’s commercial efforts continuing to lose money, the organization has repeatedly milked more dosh from the registry, while continuing to pay inflation-busting raises and bonuses to the executive team and board.

Most recently, Nominet proposed taking over the most profitable part of the .uk registry; the aftermarket sales of expired .co.uk names – a move that would have given it several millions of pounds a year in additional income. It was forced to backtrack after a member rebellion.

Now Nominet has found itself in the position of turning the screws on its own domain name holders by sending them emails telling them to renew domains they never ordered and don’t want, because it needs that £4 a domain revenue to keep the whole sorry show on the road. ®

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR WEEKLY TECH NEWSLETTER


Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2020