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auDA misuse of power?


I registered OptusPoo.com.au about a year ago ,to create an online community of people annoyed with Optus. The same time that a number of others got fed up with Optus and created BadOptus etc, to be followed by other bad Optus sites. I’d had shocking service from Optus (the guy told me “yeah I know how to fix it but I’m not going to tell you”) and was in the mood to shine some social media spotlight on to poor customer service in Australia.

There is no Optus branding, my site aggregates all discussions re: Optus on social networking sites. It auto updates with tweets from Twitter, blog posts, Facebook, whatevers. Good, bad, indifferent – all can be seen and discussed on OptusPoo. Later I added other companies just to be fair.

Thanks to the people who Tweeted me that they had hours of fun on the site. That was it’s intention…

auDA’s warning to me

Anyway, last week I get this letter from Vanessa Stanford at auDA,our domain name registrar in Australia:

auda 100593 Registrant – Notify Complaint (1)

Now while I agree that brandjacking domain names for illegal phishing (pretending to be Commonwealth Bank) or monetizing typing errors should be stopped, do you see what they are doing here? They are blocking all attempts by consumers who want to “talk back” about poor service and issues with companies. If we accept auDA’s premise, then Australians may not follow the rest of the world and have a voice against bad behaviour by Brands:

  • DellHell will become TheComputerStartingWithADHell. I wonder what Jeff Jarvis, author of What Would Google Do and journalist with The Guardian would think of auDA blocking BrandComplaint sites: after all he initiated s the DellHell backlash communities?
  • IHateIkea.com becomes IHateSwedishCompaniesWithPackFurniture
  • IhateStarbucks becomes IHateCoffeeFromThatCompanyFromSeattle.com
  • IhateMicrosoft becomes …?
  • Walmart Blows becomes … Ok, it would be Coles here no doubt.

Only it wouldn’t be Coles here. because auDA hide behind “no phishing, no typo” rulings to stamp out aggressively any anti-sentiment in play in the social spaces online.

My response to auDA

OptusPoo is a play on OptusZoo – no doubt about that – but not for the purposes for monetizing or even diverting traffic from OptusZoo. It is a straight out anti-branding site.  Which is how I responded to the PDF above:

Hi Vanessa,
OptusPoo.com.au is a satirical site gently poking fun at Optus by collating ALL tweets, blogs and social media mentions (good and bad) about Optus in one place. It is really clearly not an Optus site – it’s not even branded with an optus look and feel – and has so far provided hours (ok minutes 🙂 ) of amusement for my friends and followers on Twitter.

I would consider the removal of my site as an infringement of civil liberties and freedom of speech and therefore ask that you leave it in situ.
Cheers
Laurel

The challenge for companies is that if auDA doesn’t allow these discussions, they become a) harder to find for the company, b) hijacked by anti-branding forums and anti customer service sites that will charge the company to interact and c) offer no chance of turning the situation around like Dell did with DellHell (it’s now a collaborative site).

The Response from auDA

And here is Vanessa from auDA email response:

If you can’t be bothered reading the whole thing (including the “Dear BLANK”), it’s a proforma letter that hasn’t been filled in.  Which means I can ignore the Important To auDA Notice – the intended recipient isn’t actually named cos they couldn’t be arsed filling in my name or Reasons or anything else.

Prohibition of Misspelling Policy

Anyway I had a look at their Prohibition of Misspelling Policy:

3. POLICY PRINCIPLES

3.1 auDA’s objective in enforcing a prohibition on misspellings is to preserve the integrity of the .au domain space by discouraging “typosquatting”, whereby a person deliberately registers a misspelling of a popular domain name in order to divert trade or traffic.

NOPE. OptusPoo is simply a satirical reference to Optus poor service

4. SCOPE OF PROHIBITION

4.1 The prohibition on misspellings applies where:

a) the domain name is a misspelling of an entity, personal or brand name that does not belong to the registrant; and

b) the registrant has deliberately registered the misspelling in order to trade on the reputation of the other entity, person or brand.

This section talks about “trade” as monetizing misspellings, I’m assuming through Google Ads. Nope, I make no money from OptusPoo in fact it will probably send me broke. Ok, maybe not broke but I’m in the red.

Have a look at IkeaFans for a brand named but neutral site. I’m guessing that auDA will ignore “positive” brand sites by customers and only enforce those that have the temerity to use the web for marketing against a brand. The web was built for companies to promote stuff, and shout out about their products, not for customers to shout back their experiences, right? Riiiight.

This is a slippery slope. It means that any site deemed anti-brand might end up on Conroy’s filter list. We’ve already been told it’s illegal to discuss Euthanasia online. There’s no way the government will allow discussions naming and shaming Big Names. Cos you know, the only people who complain online about customer service are geeks and nutjobs. Like Jeff Jarvis, lecturer in journalism and author. Steve Wozniak of Apple computer (toyota prius problem). And me.

What do you think? Did auDA abuse it’s power by deliberately confusing satire/anti branding sites with those created for the purpose of phishing and making use of typos? Should we be allowed to say what we want about a brand  (which is actually the definition of “brand” – how the public perceives a company) or do we have to hide the discussions under a non-brand name, thereby diluting the discussion?

Or should I just register IHateOptus.com.au and defy them to turn that into a misspelling?  😛

Laurel Papworth

Named by Forbes™ Magazine in the Top 50 Social Media Influencers globally, named Head of Industry, Social Media (Marketing Magazine™) and in the Power150 Media bloggers (AdAge™). CERT IV Training and Assessment certified trainer (Diplomas and Certificates etc) Adult Education. Laurel has manager Facebook Pages for Junior Masterchef, Idol, Big Brother etc. and have consulted on private online communities for banks Westpac, not for profits UNHCR & governments in SE Asia. Lecturer, social media, University of Sydney for 10 years and Laurel has 11,000 online students. Laurel Papworth personally connects to 6 million followers online and has taught around 100,000 people in the last 10 years how to be social media managers.

41 thoughts on “auDA misuse of power?

    1. oooh. Aren’t you a clever clogs! I hadn’t thought of that 🙂 Not that auDA really believes that it’s a misspelling situation….

  1. “This section talks about “trade” as monetizing misspellings, I’m assuming through Google Ads”

    Regardless of the rest of the post (I’ve been on the other side of the fence too often, having to deal with brandjacking domains etc), I’m not sure I agree with that reading of the point Laurel. Aren’t they using “trade” in that sense as you’re “trading on the brand’s reputation” to increase your exposure?

    1. “3. POLICY PRINCIPLES
      3.1 auDA’s objective in enforcing a prohibition on misspellings is to preserve the integrity of the .au domain space by discouraging “typosquatting”, whereby a person deliberately registers a misspelling of a popular domain name in order to divert trade or traffic.

      I’m not diverting trade or traffic – and I hate squatters too – I’m simply taking the piss. Not allowed to anymore. 🙁
      They clearly mean “trade” as in “Selling Telephone Services”. Which I’m not. As for “trading in on Optus stuff ups to build social media reputation” – the site isn’t branded Laurel or SilkCharm. In fact some of the comments I got on Twitter was “Very funny site, I wondered who was behind it”. So no, it would be tough to claim I was using the site to somehow increase my exposure. Not sure it would be a positive rep anyway – the site is pretty crappy (5 min install), I don’t tend it, it is there as a quick amusing piece, tis all.

      1. Sorry, wasn’t clear when I said “your” exposure… meant it as a “your exposure” as in “the ‘offending’ site”, not your exposure as Laurel or Silkcharm 😉
        The rest of your comment stands obviously, just wanted to clarify that point.

  2. Got to feel sorry for auDA … they must be flat out if they don’t even have time to fill out a proforma letter properly! What with all the watchdog work they do on behalf of big business to protect their brands for them …

    They’ve acted entirely inappropriately in this case, and it wouldn’t be the first time.

    Spread the word – don’t let them get away with it.

  3. Didn’t stephenconroy.com.au have a similar issue? I think there was a lot of talk about the amount of time given for the termination of the domain and they claimed because it was a new domain they didn’t have to give much time compared to a longer standing domain. I think it is meant to be a few weeks.. not a few days!

    Good luck with it all!

  4. I just hate the way Ms Stanford says “we have considered your response” and we don’t like it, you lose.

    Unjust, unfair and yes, a misuse of power.

    Also totally unsurprising. I’m not sure auDA is actually much good for anything.

  5. I would ask *them* what would constitute proof that your site is not “diverting trade or traffic” etc. It’s bloody hard to prove a negative at the best of times. Furthermore, you are being asked to prove your innocence, rather than having a case made against you – not exactly the hallmark of civil liberty.

    Perhaps you should use one of my favourite anti-bureaucratic tricks on them – write them an intense but logical ~30 page letter discussing the legal, sociological, philosophical, or just plain common sense reasons why they are, in other words, full of $h!t.

    If that fails, I’m sure that there is a lawyer somewhere who would take the case pro bono for the publicity alone and, with some PR, the headlines would make Optus and auDA weep for months.

    Now who do we know who could spread a story like that?

    🙂

  6. This is an abuse of power.

    Any wonder people flock to the .com top level domain.

    We live in a nanny state, it would seem.

  7. … Make a site about auDApoo.com.au or call it damnAUDAcity.com.au…. Will they get da pun??

  8. This is an interesting case and one that I will add to my collection of case studies. I think that any outsider would
    agree that you are right and that the anti typo-squatting law is being used to stifle criticism, but the reasons for this are interesting.

    Very often the problem is not the abuse of power by an individual but rather a consequence of the system that perhaps could have been foreseen and avoided. Why did the auDA decide against you? I believe that this is the system problem. First they have created a system where companies can file complaints — the original letter mentions that someone complained about your site — so companies use it. At the same time there is someone in each company or their agency who is responsible for reputation management. This person has to file a complaint to do their job properly. At this point there is no way everyone can win: auDA must judge for the company or you. Look at it then from the point of view of the compliance officer. They have to decide between you and a
    mighty corporation with aggressive lobbyists who can apply pressure in many ways. To keep their jobs the officers will naturally decide in favor of the big guy. It isn’t nice and it isn’t fair but it is a logical consequence of the way the
    system was designed.

    This case illustrates why it is not always a good idea to have laws for everything. Most people would agree that it is good to remove real typo squatters, but by having a law against that means that people use them for other purposes — in this case corporate reputation management.

    What can you do about it? Well one way is to appeal to the management of auDA who would perhaps be ashamed to helm an organization that is so blatantly craven. Another possibility is to organize a quick survey to find out how many users would genuinely be misled by the domain name and then use this data for an appeal. But maybe the simplest is to get in touch with the people who filed the original complaint and ask them to withdraw it. Good luck anyway!

  9. Great post – that blank form letter is hysterical, in a sick-in-the-stomach kind of way… I’ve dropped your link to Crikey and hopefully they can get some more heat on the issue.

  10. I suggest you post about this to the Australian DNS mailing list. The auDA Domain Name News mailing list has been rather boring of late. No flame wars since November last year.

    Being serious, I think it is worth joining the mailing list and posting about this issue. On the mailing list are members of auDA, all the Registrars (companies you register domains with) and people who register domains.

    If you write a polite email complaining about auDA’s conduct you will find that a number of the Registrars will take your side. (People believe that auDA has gotten too big for its boots.)

    I’m not sure if this will solve your problem. But you might be able to get advice about how deal with it. And it will remind people that auDA can be arbitrary.

    polite -> I suppose I don’t mean you can’t be angry. Just do it in a well structured manner. The list can look down on people who write badly. (A problem with the list being full of IT professionals)

  11. If they cant reasonably support the argument that you’re typosquatting, and they cant reasonably say that you’re profitting off their brand, then they must be wanting to own the brand ‘optuspoo’. An interesting proposition.

  12. Hehe, maybe you should take out the domain “ploptus.com” – that sure can’t be seen as confusing and it’s a good take on your “optus poo” message 😉

  13. This stuff doesn’t surprise me – there’s been a few instances of late – (most notably “stephenconroy.com.au”) – where auDA have been “bending” their own rules. As I understand, any complaint about the registration of a particular domain name, the auDA are supposed to allow you TWENTY DAYS to respond and demonstrate your right to continue to hold the domain name. The owner of “stephenconroy.com.au” was given the same (or similar) notice to yourself, but the domain was actually FULLY DEREGISTERED within THREE HOURS. To get around it, they simply registered the business name “stephenconroy”, and thereby fully complied with the .com.au registration rules – perhaps you just need to register the business name “OptusPoo”, and see if that works for you too.

  14. Why don’t you set up a charity organisation call Optus Poo – Councilling Org. for the depressed customers, surely then they can’t say you are profiting from it.

  15. RT @kramesey: Whoops, typo – try again: One reason NOT to register a .au domain: auDA misuse of Power? http://bit.ly/bBP2lB

  16. This is clearly Optus’ dodgy attempt at trying to curb its critics; rather than addressing their problems they use back door methods and interrogation techniques to try and force their way into positive brand perception. What a crock!

    Keep up the great work with Optuspoo Laurel. It’s a valuable tool.

    1. TechWire picked up on the fact that auDA have released http://optuspoo.com.au on their “re-released domains list” or some such thing.
      Anyway, it looks like OptusPoo is back! http://optuspoo.com. And it would seem that google’s webmaster tools or something now point the generic .com site firmly back into Australian cyber-space. yay!

      It would be interesting to know who at Optus authorised the “take down” notice to be sent to auDA. Someone with no social media savvy obviously….

  17. AUDA should review its policies and catch up with the rest of the developed world with regards to domain name rights. We are way behind on broadband speeds and even further behind in developing an economy based around the internet and domain names. Soon we won’t be allowed to buy things over the web if our mega shops have their way. I thought we lived in a free market democracy that encouraged trade, competition and free speech.

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  20. What more would you expect from auDA and big business in Australia ? Can’t handle one little bit of critisism.

  21. Hi Laurel and everyone

    Let me add a dissenting voice to this thread.

    Putting aside the plain stupidity of auDA’s pro forma response:

    I don’t feel the auDA’s claim has much to do with the content of your site (though, yes, the complaint, presumably Optus, would take issue with that). They are making the claim that your domain name is almost exactly the same as that of Optus’ service, and as such might be considered a misspelling. I, like you and the other commenters, feel it’s a bit of a stretch to think people would be mislead by this “misspelling”, and I take your point that you are not profiting from the site. However, ultimately the question of spelling is academic. If we assume the name to be fair with regard to spelling, your eligibility for the domain name remains in question. The main requirements of the auDA’s domain naming policy are that either a) the name be same or an abbreviation of a business name or b) that the domain resolves to a “monetised” site, ie one whose sole purpose is to generate ad revenue, where the ads relate substantially to the meaning of domain name – eg sparkies.com.au listing paid ads for different electricians.

    In your case, I assume you do not have a registered business name “Optus Poo”. Nor, as you said, are you generating revenue from ads placed on the site that relate substantially to “Optus Poo”, and even if you were I believe the non-ad content would disqualify you. As such, misspellings aside, you are not eligible to hold that domain. I think the auDA’s monetisation allowance makes a mockery of the notion of “protecting the integrity of the .au domain space”. But, for now, that’s where we’re at.

    Your options are:

    a) Register a business name “Optus Poo”.

    b) Register a domain name that cannot be construed as a misspelling, eg OptusIsCrap.com.au and:

    i) register the same business name

    ii) devote the site to revenue-generating ads (this obviously defeats your purpose)

    c) Register a plain .com and face no regulation.

    If you try to register a .com.au, I suspect that attempting to register a business name similar to Optus might find you challenged on that front. And there, I agree with everyone – if you want to register a business called OptusIsCrap, fair play – perhaps it wouldn’t attract so much traffic if Optus would just stop being so crap!

    In a nutshell, I think auDA’s policy, whatever its merits or failings, is reasonably straightforward to circumvent if you avoid a domain name that is so similar to an existing business. Or, you can simply register a .com. The real affront to freedom of speech is more likely to come with business name registration.

  22. Hi Laurel and everyone

    Let me add a dissenting voice to this thread.

    Putting aside the plain stupidity of auDA’s pro forma response:

    I don’t feel the auDA’s claim has much to do with the content of your site (though, yes, the complaint, presumably Optus, would take issue with that). They are making the claim that your domain name is almost exactly the same as that of Optus’ service, and as such might be considered a misspelling. I, like you and the other commenters, feel it’s a bit of a stretch to think people would be mislead by this “misspelling”, and I take your point that you are not profiting from the site. However, ultimately the question of spelling is academic. If we assume the name to be fair with regard to spelling, your eligibility for the domain name remains in question. The main requirements of the auDA’s domain naming policy are that either a) the name be same or an abbreviation of a business name or b) that the domain resolves to a “monetised” site, ie one whose sole purpose is to generate ad revenue, where the ads relate substantially to the meaning of domain name – eg sparkies.com.au listing paid ads for different electricians.

    In your case, I assume you do not have a registered business name “Optus Poo”. Nor, as you said, are you generating revenue from ads placed on the site that relate substantially to “Optus Poo”, and even if you were I believe the non-ad content would disqualify you. As such, misspellings aside, you are not eligible to hold that domain. I think the auDA’s monetisation allowance makes a mockery of the notion of “protecting the integrity of the .au domain space”. But, for now, that’s where we’re at.

    Your options are:

    a) Register a business name “Optus Poo”.

    b) Register a domain name that cannot be construed as a misspelling, eg OptusIsCrap.com.au and:

    i) register the same business name

    ii) devote the site to revenue-generating ads (this obviously defeats your purpose)

    c) Register a plain .com and face no regulation.

    If you try to register a .com.au, I suspect that attempting to register a business name similar to Optus might find you challenged on that front. And there, I agree with everyone – if you want to register a business called OptusIsCrap, fair play – perhaps it wouldn’t attract so much traffic if Optus would just stop being so crap!

    In a nutshell, I think auDA’s policy, whatever its merits or failings, is reasonably straightforward to circumvent if you avoid a domain name that is so similar to an existing business. Or, you can simply register a .com. The real affront to freedom of speech is more likely to come with business name registration.

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