Thanks to everyone who knew what was going on behind the scenes for your support. Especially all the in confidence advice. You know who you are. This has been a very challenging and costly few weeks.
I attended the public forums held by auDA on the 14th of Feb in Melbourne. After that I began my campaign to stop the introduction of .AU direct registrations until auDA produced a business case for them. On the 20th of February a complaint was lodged against our domain name stewartmedia.com.au . Rumours abound of who it was but it doesn’t matter. Whilst it may have been a vindictive act, they did nothing wrong. I stuffed up. Their complaint followed policy, auDA did not.
On the 15th of March I was told by the auDA CEO that my domain would be deleted. He had completed his “Internal Review” (a right of appeal) of the decision from his team and upheld it. Our problem was we had the wrong company details against our domain. A stupid clerical oversight but it turns out a serious one, made by me and me alone. They claimed we did not have rights to the domain so we offered to sign statutory declarations proving we did as they said our other paperwork was insufficient. They did not avail themselves of this offer.
This meant auDA would not only be deleting my web presence but also 20 years worth of emailing. It is our Brand. When this happens you have no control over anything connected with the domain. You can’t redirect anything. This would also mean we’d lose access to logins, updates, billing, subscriptions, invoicing etc. Not too mention that a hostile business may end up with the domain if we were unable to reregister it. This would mean they could reset all our passwords and have access to all our accounts and those of our clients. Potentially. I explained this to auDA. I explained we had 25 employees and their families that could be affected very badly by their actions.
For a moment and only a moment it crossed my mind that this could destroy us. It certainly would any other business that did not have the same knowledge and skills at their disposal as we did. It was a very dark day. My wife looked at me and said “You know you’ve pissed them off. They’re going to take it. Prepare for the worst”. She was right. I texted our head of Dev straight away and we started the ball rolling.
The following day I marshalled the troops. I told them this was our darkest hour but we would get through it and we would be the stronger for it. They rallied and made me proud. Hundreds of logins changed, backups checked, passwords reset and suppliers contacted.
We dedicated over 250 hours over the course of a week to getting our house in order. Our GM, Liz (special mention) and Nick were putting in the most hours but it affected us all. I spent most of my time lobbying politicians and getting a lawyer, which I should have done in the first place (thanks to Antoine & Alida at Gadens) . In my naiveté I believed I had provided enough information. It turned out I was not the only one.
I didn’t care about our web presence as odd as that may sound. My only concern was security. Fortunately we were able to switch our email across to stewartmedia.biz. They could not touch that domain. That meant changing all our primary Google accounts to this domain and then having to explain it to our clients. When we got the email changes in place, then we emailed our clients.
The support we got was amazing. They are all business owners and they understood, they were one of the reasons I was fighting this fight. They knew they would have to deal with a direct AU decision down the track that would affect their business without any benefit. It makes life easier when you get to work with great people.
We were ready with 48 hours to spare. We got our application into the Registrants Review Panel (RRP) our last avenue of appeal, just in time. Even then there were some last minute, stomach sinking moments when it looked like they would refuse our application based on another technicality. The deadline was 2pm Friday 23rd of March and we were only told hours before that we had received a stay of execution whilst it was with the RRP.
Then at 2pm we started getting Pingdom alerts indicating our site was down. I extricated myself from the sales meeting I was in and the team went into full alert mode. We kept checking the whois database but nothing about our domain had changed, yet the alerts kept coming. We had prepared to have a “Death of the domain” party that afternoon as it looked like the axe would fall. Someone had bought streamer poppers and we decided to do an early beer o’clock. I went to the studio as planned, to go live on Facebook and Youtube to tell the world why our site was down. We had an embargoed press release that was going to be sent out to press and politicians with links to the live event. I was about to press the button. I kept yelling from the studio “I’M ABOUT TO GO LIVE I NEED CONFIRMATION”. Then it came, it was a coincidental unrelated network issue out of Singapore. We stood down.
Since then we have been waiting for the decision of the Registrants Review Panel (RRP), our last avenue of appeal. On the 23rd of April the RRP found that the auDA CEO had erred and we had supplied “sufficient documentary evidence” to prove we owned the domain name. It turns out that ours was the first case that had applied to the RRP since the rules commenced in 2012. As such they had a number of recommended changes to policy because of this case. I’m not sure why we were the first case. Presumably all others had been resolved before they got to this point? It must be a costly exercise to pay the RRP members.
I leave my domains on auto renew. Which is great as I don’t have to worry about them, however it meant I wasn’t checking them and had forgotten to update them. It’s a tedious process as many of you will know and one I should have had better organised. I own less than 40 but I had not trained someone else to to manage these internally, which meant they weren’t being checked and I didn’t make it a priority. I should have. This experience has made me put new processes in the business so this does not happen again. If you haven’t yet done so, check the details on your domains and make sure they are up to date, otherwise this could happen to you.
auDA recently shelved plans to implement direct registrations until at least the second half of 2019. In the meantime the Government has issued a report recommending reforms for auDA, which looks to solve a lot of the problems that have occurred under it’s current administration. Direct AU is symptomatic of the lack consultation with members and the broader Australian Internet Community that the reforms seek to address. Direct AU is just one of the reasons we recently called an SGM. auDA’s lawyers have filed an urgent application in Court to stop Members having a legitimate meeting under the Corporations Act. This meeting seeks a vote of no confidence in the CEO, and the sacking of the 3 independent Directors. These four people earn significant money from auDA – unlike the member elected Directors. Seems like a conflict of interest to me when these same people get auDA’s lawyers to spend Members funds to try and delay this meeting until October or November of this year. It’s easy to calculate how much they personally stand to gain if the delay is granted. We want the Government reforms implemented with the right Leadership team. auDA needs to grow and be a more diverse organisation representing all sectors of the Australian Internet Community. Let’s do it right and create an open and transparent auDA.