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Nominet puts the squeeze on rude members

Scammers, speculators warned

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Nominet, which runs the .uk domain registry, has proposed a new code of conduct that would ban unprofessional behaviour by its members.

The new draft Members' Code would enable the organisation to strip members of their privileges if they're caught scamming customers or being rude to Nominet staff.

It would also force its members to notify Nominet if they have financial links to other members, to help prevent votes being captured by front organisations.

Nominet CEO Lesley Cowley told El Reg today that the decision to create the new rules now was not in response to any specific recent incidents.

"During all my time at Nominet, I can think of only two or three cases where it would have been appropriate," she said. "This is about the industry being seen to be responsible."

She cited a case in which a Nominet member was scamming internet users a few years ago. Nominet took the member to court but had no mechanism to revoke its membership.

Cowley had stern words for domain name speculators – many of whom are also Nominet members and registrars – in August 2010, when she complained about abusive behaviour and told them to "grow up", but today she said that this is no longer a big problem.

The rules would only apply to Nominet's paid-up voting members – mainly consumer-facing domain name registrars and domain speculators – not to everyday punters who merely own .co.uk addresses.

The code would also have no impact on the contract that all registrars must agree to, Cowley said.

Registrars can get wholesale discounts on .uk domains if they are also members, and the code does not currently envisage stripping them of these rights, she said.

Because Nominet would be able to publish details of membership suspensions, the possibility of public embarrassment could ensure adherence to the code.

The code also envisages forcing members to tell Nominet about their affiliations with other members.

According to Matt Mansell, CEO of DomainMonster, some Nominet members use multiple identities in order to game the system and increase their chances of catching desirable expiring domains.

Forcing members to disclose their interests in other members could help prevent this, he said.

"Nominet remains a very open and easy participation organisation," Mansell said. "That’s good for consumers by keeping the marketplace competitive and good for registrars to encourage innovation.

However, it does and will continue to attract less scrupulous business models or technically less competent registrars as a result of being so accessible."

Becoming a member of Nominet costs £400, with an annual £100 fee. For this price, members get to vote in elections and can buy domains for the wholesale fee of £5.

Nominet has published its draft Members' Code for comment until 23 February, after which it may be amended one or more times before it is approved.

Nominet reformed itself in 2009 after coming in for criticisms from the UK government over the perception that the organisation was being captured by speculators. Cowley said that today's move is unrelated to that reform, however. ®

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