Domain names in the name of democracy
The countdown to 19 September and election day is on. A digital battleground looms for all the parties as they jostle to capture the nation’s post COVID-19 lockdown attention.
Candidates better be quick to register their slogans and sites—the New Zealand domain name system runs on a first come, first served basis. Any variant of a candidate’s fave domain name not registered by them might get snapped up by someone else. Has crushercollins.nz or jacindamania.nz been nabbed?
For our ill prepared politicians, they might also find someone has typosquatted on their preferred domain name. Shock horror if they find name variants linked to a variety of things like phishing, brand impersonation, or parody sites.
Where people find themselves in an online pickle they can turn to .nz’s alternative dispute resolution service to settle .nz domain name disputes through free mediation or paid for expert determination.
So this election time can we expect some online shenanigans to rival real world antics?
We’ve started off like many other years with new parties launching but forgetting to secure their domain name. Remember the day that the Coalition party launched its campaign efforts and comedian Tim Batt registered the domain name and used it as an opportunity to redirect the public’s attention to LGBTI issues. Yeah, Brian and Hannah Tamaki's new political party Coalition New Zealand had to find another domain name and another party name. The party is now called Vision NZ.
Did you follow what happened in June, when the website associated with the domain name national.nz was redirected to the New Zealand labour party? The redirection caught the attention of a number of Twitter users and prompted one to register nzfirst.org and redirect the website associated with that domain name to a petition on the Greenpeace website. Whoopsie.
Is this what we come to expect in the .nz domain name space? You betcha.
Take a trip down election memory lane, and tech jokers and provokers have been at it for years. In 2005, destinychurch.co.nz was linked to a parody site. In 2013 Murray Chong used a .com in his run for local council. However, someone else registered the .co.nz version of his name. Sorry, Murray.
Perhaps one of the only things different about this election cycle is we are seeing a number of new domains being registered around key election-related issues such as the end of life and cannabis referendums. Hopefully, pranksters won’t mess with these topics but in terms of free speech most things are fair game.
So how as a savvy online community should we navigate some of this mischief?
If you’re a member of the public and want to see who is behind a website linked to a domain name, check the WHOIS on the domain name. Where election-themed domain names have registrant details hidden, ask yourself how accountable is the person or organisation for what is being said online, if they are not being transparent with their domain name registration. Anything suss, report it to us at [email protected].
For candidates or a party getting online there are three easy steps to follow when it comes to domain name street smarts.
- Enable 2-factor authentication—nowadays most domain registrars set up people online with Google Authenticator, Authy, or alternatives like the YubiKey 2FA key-generator device. This will help stop someone stealing a candidate’s online thunder.
- Ensure contact information is up to date. Candidates will need correct details if there is ever a time their website linked to a domain name gets hacked or redirected and they want to wrestle back control.
- Make a note of domain name licence expiry dates. Domain license periods range from one month to ten years. D’uh, candidates shouldn’t lose an active domain name because they forget to renew it. While we’re at it with expiring names here’s a bonus tip. Let the traffic to any website linked to an expiring domain name fall away to zero before cancelling it. Why? It makes it just that little bit less attractive to scammers and opportunists.
What next you ask? Hopefully we’re all a little more domain name savvy in the lead up to this next election. We should also appreciate the online Kiwi sense of humour. And we can all be thankful that this sort of online behaviour only comes around once every three years.
Folks, let the 53rd online election Hunger Games begin—and may the odds be ever in your favor.