On being trapped by your technology provider – 1

There are lots of special risks when using technology. You need to identify and manage them.  A new one that I have just started to appreciate is the danger of being trapped by your technology provider.  Be careful of how your technology provider could trip you up.  I have three illustrations.

Illustration 1 – who owns your domain name?

Many tech providers provide a valuable service by getting a domain name for you to help set up your web-based service.  An example is the company I used when first setting up a web site for my CPA firm.  It was one of several outfits that specialize in helping CPAs.  For a very reasonable fee, they provided a good web site.  The setup included getting the domain name I chose.  Again, for a reasonable annual fee, they let me use the domain name for years.  Worked great.  When my plans for the web site outgrew their format, I transferred the domain name to one of the largest domain name registrars.  The transfer process was technical, but the transition was very smooth.

The question is who owns the domain name?  Today, I own it and it is under my control.  While my web site was hosted at this other provider, they owned the domain name I was using.

The risk is what would have happened if they requested some outrageous fee to transfer the name?  What if I had been in a nasty dispute with them and they decided not to transfer the name in order to have leverage in the dispute?  There is nothing I could have done to force them to transfer the name.  Oh, perhaps a lawsuit and tons of legal fees might have pried loose the name, but even that is not certain.

How can this leave you trapped?  I am aware of a difficult situation that illustrates the risk.  Let’s say they are company XYZ.  They had another organization providing their website at a very reasonable fee.  Let’s call them WebProvider.  Included in the package is the website hosting, content for the web site, and a domain name.  Everything was fine.  XYZ had their web site, great content, and a good domain name, xyz.com.

Then something happened.  Some sort of disagreement arose.  I don’t know how things went sour and it does not matter.  Like many things in life, it makes no difference whether the “blame” is split 90/10, 50/50, or 10/90.  For whatever reason, XYZ decided to move their website to another provider.  WebProvider refused to release the xyz.com domain name.  Why?  I don’t know and, again, it doesn’t matter.

Now XYZ sets up their new website, which is doing whatever cool stuff they want it to do.  Unfortunately, they are now doing it with domain name variationofxyz.com.  The practical impact is they have lost all their links and all their internet search results.  When I searched for “xyz” on the internet, all the results pointed to pages on the old xyz.com website.  Clicked on those links and went to the home page of WebProvider, not to XYZ’s site.  It will take quite some time for XYZ to build up traffic to variationofxyz.com and capture their old traffic.  In the meantime, it will be difficult for the XYZ audience to find them on the net.

Did WebProvider do anything wrong or illegal?  You may not like the answer (especially if you work at XYZ), but in my humble opinion, the legal, moral and ethical answer is No, they did nothing wrong.  They owned the name xyz.com and it is theirs to do with as they wish.  It is their property.

And that is the risk for you.  If your technology provider owns your domain name, it isn’t yours.  It would be wise to get ownership of your domain name while the relationship is smooth.

The same question applies to other things.  Who owns the content of your website?  You had better read the terms of service to see if it is really yours.  Could be that all the material you spent so much time writing really belongs to the hosting outfit.  Who owns your logo?  Who owns the content on your social media platforms?

Check to see if you lack ownership of something that is really important to you.  Get control over it while the sky is clear.  When storm clouds roll in to your relationship, you might not be able to get control back.

See part 2 of this discussion here.

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