More than a bit.ly of a risk?

It appears to me that John Borthwick, CEO of URL shortening service BIT.LY, on which a vast number of Twitter users and others rely daily, quoted recently on shortformblog is being rather disingenuous, when he says that for an international company relying on a domain name registered in the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya is no problem at all.

A domain name is one of the most inexpensive (in terms of the annual fees) yet is the most important and fundamental asset that an e-commerce business can ever have.

A domain is, quite literally, the organisation’s identity and brand. It is also your shop window and warehouse. If a domain name or URL is unreachable, then the organisation has got a big issue to deal with.

Now BIT.LY is a Libyan name. (The big clue is in the LY country code!)

This means it exists under Libyan law. Libyan rules and Libyan Terms and Conditions apply between registry and registrar — even if the registrant is using a US or European registrar.

Mr Borthwick says that “Of the five root nameservers for the .ly TLD: two are based in Oregon, one is in the Netherlands and two are in Libya.”.

Leaving aside the question of how sufficient this is (and it probably is just about adequate although there are obvious improvements could be made to the nameserver configuration in order to protect then against cyberattacks), the risk here is not whether suddenly all five authoritative servers might not work because of the unrest, but that administrative or military action could adversely affect the operation of .LY.

(There at least one ccTLD manager who, in the midst of political unrest has already had the very unpleasant experience of men in uniform with guns barging into the Registry’s offices and starting to issue orders.)

Kim Davies has it right. But then, given his particular responsibilty for keeping all of the Internet working, I would be extremely surprised if he didn’t know what he was talking about. (Disclosure: Kim’s a friend).

The BIT.LY domain doesn’t even have to disappear for there to be a serious problem

For example, if they needed to make an important change its technical configuration (the ‘delegation‘ of BIT.LY in the jargon), but were unable to do so because of an insurrection in the country, or even email not reaching Libya that could almost amount to as much of a difficulty as the domain disappearing.

Therefore the rule has to be, for anyone considering tying the economic future of your corporation or other organisation to an unfamiliar web extension that represents a country code (there can be good marketing reasons — perhaps because of some nice linguistic domain hack like feest.je) you should only do this if you are sure that the country or territory concerned has a stable government, where the Rule of Law operates, and which has a legal system which you are not prevented from using for practical reasons (such as distance, long delays, etc).

If all this weren’t enough to convince a prudent board of directors that there was a higher level of risk in dealing with an extraterritorial domain and a jurisdiction such as Libya, we should remind ourselves that the domain VB.LY has already been taken down for alleged violation of Libyan law.

In fact, take this one stage further, this is exactly why really, you should prefer use your local ccTLD registry — as you will be practically able to enforce your rights locally, in the event of any dispute arising.

Take the example of the British company that I came across a few months ago.

They were using a .COM domain, which was registered through a registrar in China becuase it was five pounds a year cheaper. That is daft. It’s just asking for trouble.

They should have used a .CO.UK domain registered through a UK-based registrar, or at the very least, if they want to be a .COM, they should register it through a British or Irish ICANN registrar such as BBOnline or Blacknight.

And how many Los Angeles based businesses have .LA domains, without realising that it is really the Registry for the South-East Asian country of Laos? At what stage does this sort of marketing cease being clever, and becomes deceptive? I’m not sure.

Back to Mr Borthwick.

The most important evidence that he is wrong is to be found here

Either John Borthwick has amnesia conveniens, or is he is ignorant of the history. The very difficulty that he states cannot happen to .LY has already happened, in 2004.

Nonetheless, Mr Borthwick thinks there is no problem.

In the words of Mandy Rice-Davies: ‘He would say that, wouldn’t he?

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3 Responses to More than a bit.ly of a risk?

  1. Monica Friday, 6 May 2011 at 0932 #

    If a domain name or URL is unreachable, then the organisation has got a big issue to deal with

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