Companies need to be aware that the launch of the new .eu domain is giving others the chance to hi-jack their identities, says Simon Burgess
The insurance market has made huge advances on the back of the internet and its associated technologies. However, many firms have failed to protect themselves against some of the most basic - but harmful - abuses that are perpetrated across its digital connections.
What many firms still struggle to deal with is the very real nature of the internet. In the same way that firms protect their office premises, they should protect their online property, those that do not will find the exercise a time-consuming and, quite possibly, costly one.
The issue has most recently come to light following the creation of the .eu domain name and the huge success it has enjoyed. In December last year the suffix was made available to public bodies and those with prior rights, such as trademarks. In April the registration process was extended to anyone within the European Union and there has been a real scramble to secure the domains.
It is no surprise that addresses such as sex.eu and hotel.eu received the most requests and were snapped up in moments. However, many firms are only now waking up to the fact that their own name has been registered by another company, denying them access to what they should have registered for themselves.
For firms who find themselves in this predicament there are a number of things to consider. If the name they wish to use is a registered trademark then there is a good chance they will be able to secure its use in the future.
However, there could be problems if the name has already been registered with a firm that uses the same trademark, but operates in an entirely different sector. Where there are various claims to the same domain name then the case will have to be considered from a legal perspective, although there is something chilling in the reminder that ownership so often proves to be nine tenths of the law.
Where a firm will have real chances of securing the return of their domain name is if another firm has registered it inappropriately. This could happen in the case of a small brokerage that buys the name of one of the global players and uses it to direct traffic to its own site. The smaller firm is clearly seeking to trade on the back of the bigger firm's name and reputation and such actions are not allowed.
In the biggest instances this sort of thing is discovered very quickly, but how many firms that have not registered their .eu name know what it is being used for? If a firm does business on a trans-European basis, then it is not unreasonable to expect clients to use a .eu suffix when searching for them on the internet.
Out of control
If firms do not own the .eu domain name then it becomes impossible for them to control what existing and potential clients see when they visit the site. Whether they are directed to a competitor's home page or find something totally unrelated is almost immaterial. The fact that they cannot find what they are looking for is what matters and is so damaging.
Many brokers may feel this is scare-mongering, but given the personal experience that British Insurance has had in trying to secure its domain names and those of its associated businesses, little could be further from the truth.
Indeed it was only last month that EURid, the organisation tasked with the administration of the .eu domain, suspended 74,000 .eu addresses. The administrator found that a number of its registrars were abusing their positions and has sued 400 of them for breach of contract. EURid says it believed that three firms - Ovidio Ltd, Fausto Ltd and Gabino Ltd - were acting as a front for a number of registrars, and that the firms and the registrars concerned could be regarded as one in the same. In essence EURid believes this constitutes what it referred to as warehousing and in seeking to sell the names on at a higher price, it believed there had been a clear breach of the registrar contract. What the outcome of this will be remains to be seen.
It is particularly interesting to note that www.insurancetimes.eu has been registered by Ovidio Ltd. Something is clearly amiss.
A tool of the trade
The internet is an incredibly important business tool. Even if they do not use it to actually transact business, companies should be looking to use it as a way of dragging clients to their front door. It is inexpensive to design and run a website and this is especially the case if firms are using it as an information-only tool that directs clients to the firm through other channels.
However, the stark contrast is that firms failing to take control of their online presence will find others doing it for them and costing them very dear indeed. It may be that the damage is reputational or that in fighting over a domain name a firm sucks itself dry of time and resources. It may simply be that the company ends up having to use an unrelated domain name because other businesses with valid claims to the domain have been better prepared and quicker to act.
In the modern age in which we operate, where brand image and communication is so important, failing to be in charge of our online presence is a real mistake. For any firm looking to check the ownership of a domain they should visit www.eurid.eu. If the name they want has not been registered, they should waste no time in securing it for themselves. When there is so much to worry about anyway, taking care of potential problems where they can be identified should be a real priority. IT
' Simon Burgess is managing director of Britishinsurance.com