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Russia: Controversy as Cyrillic Domains Hit the Open Market

This post is part of our special coverage Languages and the Internet.

.rf Controversy, illustration by Alexey Sidorenko

.rf Controversy, illustration by Alexey Sidorenko

On November 11, 2010, registration for Internet domains in Cyrillic script, the writing system used by Russian and other Eastern European and Asian languages, went on the open market. Prior to this, Cyrillic domains could be registered only by firms that provided the trade mark certificate. This move comes a year and some after the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) approved the use of internationalized domain names (IDNs), or domain names written in local language characters.

Within 24 hours almost 200,000 domains (now 470 thousand) had been registered – a level of popularity even Russian officials didn't anticipate. The opening of the market has also led to a number of controversies involving the top-level domain (TLD) regulator, top registrars and major companies, leaving many end users confused.

1. Cybersquatting and unfair auctioning practices

Nic.ru, Russia's most popular registrar, which registered 26 percent [RUS] of all Cyrillic domains, found itself at the centre of a scandal. Blogger Ahkln noted [RUS] that certain lucrative domains (e.g. подгузники.рф (diapers.rf)) were registered by Nic.ru right at the beginning of the registration period, then put up for auction shortly afterwards at auction.nic.ru. The blogger wondered how such practices were ever allowed by the TLD regulator.

In addition, users were allowed to place orders for domains several weeks prior to the beginning of the open sales period. For domains that received more than order an auction was introduced. Habrahabr-user Darbin noted [RUS] that bids on the most popular domains reached tens thousands dollars:

бизнес.рф (business.rf) — $67006
билеты.рф (tickets.rf) — $25000
аптека.рф (pharmacy.rf) — $15005
сайт.рф (site.rf) — $10410

But that wasn't the greatest violation of which nic.ru was accused. Even worse was the fact that some users believed [RUS] the company was faking auctions by artificially raising bids, then deleting the bid-bot from the system so that the real user would end up paying more for the domain than he/she should.

Blogger ZiNTeR posted a video explaining the mechanism, claiming that by using it Nic.ru was violating the law:

2. Technical issues with major platforms

User TolTol pointed out [RUS] that none of major Google applications (e.g. Gmail, Google Apps, Analytics) was working properly with the Russian-language domains, a problem that appeared not to be limited to Google's services. User DenisO reported [RUS] similar problems with the webmaster application of Russian search engine Yandex, though company representatives said they're working on a fix.

3. Blacklisted domains = censorship?

The most humorous, though also disturbing, aspect of the story was the list of forbidden names for the Cyrillic domains [RUS], which comprised 4027 items. Besides standard expletives and notorious slang expressions, it included several unimaginable (and quite vulgar) hybrid forms of usage. Bloggers wondered [RUS] how come people at the Coordination Center for TLD RU (the body responsible for Cyrillic .рф domain allocation) knew so many pejorative terms. Roman Leibov, the Russian Internet analyst, later discovered that the strange words and combinations had been copied from the “Dictionary of Russian Curses” [RUS], an anonymous online dictionary compiling Russian expletives and their explanations.

The fact that the TLD coordinator took it upon themselves to decide which words to censor was labelled “censorship.рф.”

Verdict (.рф)?

User Darbin asked [RUS]:

By the way, how we should call our domain zone now: RufNet or RefNet?

Apart from a few joke responses, the question remained unanswered. One reason for the lack of reaction might be that Russian users consider Cyrillic domains a SEO-tool and marketing device, rather than a game-changer. The overall reaction of bloggers was sceptical, even disdainful.

The following conversation captures the ambivalent attitude among users towards .rf domains:

crea7or:

Ничего в.рф регистрировать не буду — из принципа. Стыд и срам какой-то.

I'm not going to regiser anything in .rf – on principle. What a shame!

medin:

стыд.рф и срам.рф уже зареганы и принцип.рф кстати тоже

shame.rf is already registered and principle.rf, by the way, is registered as well

Ar2r:

сарказм.рф тоже занят.

sarkasm.rf – registered, too.

This post is part of our special coverage Languages and the Internet.

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