Want a .cn domain for your business in China? Think again

The recent crackdown on dot cn domain names in China calls for a further thinking as to the use of a .cn domain name for your China-related business or website in general.

For a quick review, the CNNIC, the organization in charge of the administration of the .cn registry, issued a notice restricting Chinese domain names registration to registered businesses, with a pending period when the application should send back an application with their corporate seal on it (I am surprised they didn’t require the seal to be in red…), a copy of the business license (should be a photo scan, not a faxed version), a copy of the ID card (Chinese) or passport (foreigner) of the applicant. This decision was in line with the ongoing measures taken by the government to “clean up” the Internet in China. According to the CNNIC, these changes were needed to prevent .cn to be used for spamming. At the time, the CNNIC has assured that these changes would not affect domain names previously registered with their registrars.

Yet sure enough now we are in January, and a new notice has been issued by the CNNIC informing .cn domain holders to go through an “audit”. Basically domain owners need to submit either their ID card/passport scan, or business license copy, generally through the registrar through which they have registered the domain name. The deadline for submitting the documents was January 31st, which makes it technically impossible for the millions of domain names to be “audited” by passing the relevant documents through their few respective registrars. Furthermore, although most registrars have done their best to inform their clients by email, how many legitimate domain owners have not been informed of this rather unexpected requirement for various reasons. In case they disable the non-audited domains by February 1st as planned, it is reasonable to expect tens of thousands of websites going down.

It is interesting how the strategy of the CNNIC had quickly changed, from encouraging the expansion of the .cn registry with an aggressive marketing strategy and low prices for years (as low as one yuan at registrar levels), resulting in .cn domains becoming the second largest domain extension worldwide, to make it very difficult to even register for these domains.

Now, as a business owner, how do you feel about . I mean, there is no assurance some bureaucrat would not issue a notice that would basically shut down your site or take the domain you have taken years to build away from you. In this digital era domain names have become one of the most important assets of business organizations, although not reflected on balance sheets. It makes all the sense to make sure to select a registry where one has some type of basic assurance of not losing this asset.

Then there is the issue of privacy. Who can guarantee that the hundreds of passports copies that have been collected in this “audit” would not fall into unwanted hands. How secure are the databases of the CNNIC? The CNNIC after all is a Chinese government organization. In China where everything is about guangxis, there is no way that these valuable information would not be transferred to third parties if some cash is involved.

Some would say that it should be easy for a legitimate domain holder to comply, but with the many other extensions available, really, why go through the hassle? And when even companies like Google are at risk of losing their domains (google.cn), what kind of guarantee a small business has to retain ownership over its domain in case of new decisions or any issue with the Chinese government or another Chinese company?

Despite all the misconceptions, most businesses in China use .com domains, not .cn or .com.cn. Foreign companies are the ones with the greatest interest in dot cn to be more “Chinese”, which is understandable and is what they do in most cases in countries they have a presence in. However, given the realities of the Chinese internet industry, for new businesses or companies without actual operations in China, I would recommend to stick to the general extensions from the time being or use a sub-domain (such as cn.maindomain.com or china.maindomain.com).

Other extensions that are worth considering are as usual the .net, but also Hong Kong domain names (.hk, .com.hk if company is also registered in HK) or the fast growing .asia extension.

With their low price strategy, the CNNIC should have understood that it was making the .cn very attractive for for spammers. The other extension with low prices, the .info, is a proof of that.