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Guest comment: Direct .uk domain names – a new online home for British businesses?

Eleanor Bradley, Director of Operations for Nominet, the non-profit organisation responsible for managing the .uk domain space, explains a current proposal to launch direct.uk domains and how you can have your say on the future of the internet for British businesses

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It’s no surprise to say that the internet is of huge significance to the UK economy, contributing an estimated £121 billion. The figure grows larger every year, and as the internet becomes more important for British businesses, so too does the need to ensure high standards of security and consumer trust. Cybercrime – whether sophisticated malware attack, simple selling of counterfeit goods or anything in between – undermines the strength of the UK’s internet economy. And with the global domain space set to have a major shake-up next year with the launch of potentially hundreds of new top-level domains, we’ve decided to see how businesses and internet stakeholders feel about a proposal to introduce a new type of .uk domain for businesses. These domains, with additional layers of security to guard against cybercrime, would end in just .uk – as opposed to .co.uk, org.uk or any other second-level domain.

The proposal, which can be read here, would represent a significant change for British businesses online. Imagine, for instance, visiting www.amazon.uk rather than www.amazon.co.uk. The domain names, which would be available as an alternative to .co.uk or .org.uk, would be shorter and arguably more memorable, but are also proposed to have a number of additional measures designed to boost security and safeguard consumer confidence and trust.

To protect against infection from malware and viruses that can in turn infect visitors to a website, we’re proposing routine monitoring of all direct .uk domains. If any infection was found, the registrant would be notified immediately and be given guidance on how to rectify the problem. This would enable domain owners to fix problems quickly, minimising downtime, damage to consumer trust and the negative impact on search engine rankings that infections can have. Supporting this measure would be a security protocol called DNSSEC which essentially adds a ‘digital signature’ to a domain and greatly reduces the risk of a domain being hijacked, and traffic diverted somewhere else.

Besides these technical features, we’re also proposing measures specifically aimed at consumer confidence and trust. Research we commissioned last year showed that most British consumers prefer to use .uk domains when shopping online, and that they would expect any .uk site to conform to UK consumer laws. To reinforce consumer trust in the domain as a whole, we would verify that registrants can provide active UK contact details so that people using any site can be reassured that they can contact them. We’re also considering creating a dedicated trust mark for exclusive use by direct .uk domains. By displaying it, websites would signal all the above security measures to their visitors and give them confidence in the site’s safety. It’s hoped that such a trust mark could reduce instances where online shopping carts are abandoned due to security fears.

We’re also reviewing how, if the proposal goes ahead, we would release these domains to the market. As a domain for new and existing registrants, and with a number of different rights holders in existence, we recognise that there will be challenges here – but we want to ensure that new domain names are made available in an orderly, well managed way. We are proposing to do this in stages with applications from registered trademarks holders considered in the first phase, followed by those with an established brand or name but not a formal trademark. Users of existing .co.uk, .org.uk or other existing .uk domains would be included in the second phase under our proposed plans.

Over the years we’ve been asked many times about direct, second level registrations, and with the proposed security measures we think direct .uk domains will be appreciated by and of great benefit to businesses. Research we commissioned recently found that more than 60% of businesses surveyed liked the idea of a new product offering extra features such as identity verification and 79% of those surveyed who intended to buy a domain name liked the idea of a new secure product. But feedback from businesses is hugely important to shape the proposal and determine whether or not a direct .uk domain product should be released. We’re looking to hear views on all aspects of the proposal, from the suggested security measures to how trademarks and IP would be protected.

The proposal is significant for any UK business operating online. If you’d like to contribute to the consultation, or provide any thoughts or feedback, there are a number of ways to do so - either from our website or in person at a number of upcoming events.

The consultation will run until January, so if you’d like to help shape the future of the .uk internet, please get involved.

By Eleanor Bradley
Director of Operations

Nominet

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