How Tucows feels they can unilaterally take your domains.
So, it’s been a while since I last posted, and much has happened in NotoriousLand. Here’s a little synopsis:
- I was “reorganized” out of Butterscotch.com/Tucows (Oct 2010).
- Started work on munchMuch.com (Oct 2010).
- Rented a place in Delray Beach, Florida for two months. (Feb/Mar 2011)
- Diligently working around beach, pool and spring training visits: almost done munchMuch. (Mar 2011)
- Will return to T.O. in early April.
OK, you’re pretty much caught up.
Now gather round and I’ll tell you how Tucows, the third largest ICANN-accredited registrar in the world, feels they can unilaterally trash your domains, for no good reason. (Tucows used to be the number one largest ICANN-accredited registrar in the world. But, through the hard work of their crack management team, they clawed themselves into third place. You can bet that makes the shareholders real happy.)
Tucows is composed of a number of divisions; among them: Butterscotch.com (which I used to work for), Hover (which registers domain names on a retail basis), and OpenSRS (which empowers domain name resellers with some kickass technology). As an employee, I made it my business to try out and use Tucows’ services and technology where I could. So I had both a Hover account, and an OpenSRS account. We were encouraged to do so with special incentives: a very generous discount code at Hover, and free setup on OpenSRS (normally $99, which is better than eNom‘s $195).
Now, it was my understanding, based on emails from aforementioned management, as well as various speeches by our CEO, that this discount code was for our use, and we could share it with friends and family. As I consider myself a “friend and family” of Tucows (yes, even after I was unceremoniously turfed on my ass), I continued to use the very generous discount code I’d been provided for Hover. In fact, the plan, which I’d shared with anyone who’d listen (and this included top management at Tucows), was to use OpenSRS technology to sell domains to restaurateurs in support of munchMuch’s restaurant-centric CMS. (Yes, I know: it’s a brilliant idea, and I’ll sell dozens of domains.) So, believe me when I tell you, I felt no animosity towards Tucows. (Well, very little, anyhow. Though the whole trying-to-get-me-to-quit-so-they-wouldn’t-have-to-pay-severance was pretty offputting.) They were, after all, funding my R&D for munchMuch.
Speaking of munchMuch: I was having problems with the server it was hosted on. So, after looking around for a host I decided to go with a VPS (Virtual Private Server). Now the problem with VPS’s is they give you a virgin install of the Linux distribution of your choice, and you’re then on your own to install and configure every package and service you want. This is not my bag. I’m a developer, not a sysadmin. So I hired a contract sysadmin. He got everything organized in about 3 hrs! It might have taken me 3 weeks to do a much poorer job.
As the SA was doing the setup, he needed access to my Hover account to modify the DNS (Domain Name Service) entries. I didn’t want to give him my password as it stood: I needed to change it. So I went looking for how to change my Hover account password on their labyrinthine website. Uh-uh, no dice, no way. Couldn’t find the password page for love nor money; I ended up doing the DNS changes myself as the SA looked over my shoulder via Skype’s desktop sharing feature.
The next day I called Hover’s customer service call center. So, I should point out here that their call center is, most days, a joy to deal with. They have a no waiting answer policy: you will not be put on hold listening to inane muzak and “your call is important to us” bullshit. Their CSR’s are knowledgeable, friendly and helpful. They send you feedback with notes about your call via email. In short, they do a whole bunch of things right.
So here I am calling the call center. And I find out they do have a password change mechanism, and it’s right there under the Billing tab. Excuse me, what? Under the Billing tab, sir. You click on the Billing tab and there’s a nice big blue button that says “Change Password”. Clear as day. Except no one goes to the freaking “Billing tab” if they want to change their freaking password! They look for things like “My Account” or “Profile”.
This, I says to meself, is stupidity up with which I will not put. So I tweeted about it. As a customer it’s my right and responsibility to engage the company with any problems I may have with their service.
Imagine my surprise when I received this epistle from Ross Rader, Hover’s general manager, not two days later:
to alfred ayache
cc Andy Walker
date Sat, Mar 19, 2011 at 7:31 AM
subject Your Hover Account
I am surprised to learn that you are still using the staff discount code to register domain names through Hover – i.e. organiq.ca
Order ID: 508792
User Order ID: xyzzy-aa404ee158dd-20110208131224
Order Date: 2011-02-08 08:12:24
Order Action: renew
Order Status: Completed
Billing Name: alfred ayache
Account Name: alfred ayache
Billing Country: CA (Canada)
GeoIP Country: US (United States)
User Email: xyzzy (1)
User Domains: 19
User: xyzzy (19)
User Password: xyzzy (1)
User Created: 2009-01-19 03:10:35
IP Address: 188.8.131.52 (1)
Credit Card Suffix: xyzzy
Gateway Transaction ID: xyzzy
Promotional Code: xyzzy
Captured Amount: $33.90 (includes HST of 3.90)
Refunded Amount: $0.00
Placed By Admin: No
Fraud Score: 10 Help
Just on this one transaction alone, you took $30 that you are not entitled to.
This disappoints me.
I am closing your Hover account effective Friday March 26, 2011. Please make arrangements to transfer your domains somewhere else prior to that. Anything left in the account at the end of next week will be moved into our delete process and dealt with accordingly.
Do not use that staff discount code again, under any circumstances. As you know, it is strictly for employee use and its existence is proprietary Tucows information. Your use of it is likely a violation of the employment and termination contracts have entered into with the company. I don’t want to make a further issue out of this, but I will seek recovery of all outstanding fees and damages if I learn that you have used or shared this discount any further.
If you have any questions, please let me know.
OK, what? You’re disappointed so you’re closing my account and tossing my domains? Domains I paid you for? Domains you accepted my money for? Domains I rely on for my livelihood? Those domains, you’re throwing in the bitbucket, because you’re disappointed?
In fact, I didn’t know the discount code was “strictly for employee use”. I spent a very uncomfortable weekend mulling all this over. I contacted a lawyer friend of mine and reviewed the situation with him. I also started looking around for alternative accommodations for my domains. Turns out I would have to add an additional year of registration to each domain. I was calculating over $400 including the reseller registration at eNom. No way I wanted to put out that much money right at the moment. Also, there was no reason to. I’d already paid for my registrations; I shouldn’t have to pay again, simply because Ross was disappointed.
I contacted John Moffat, Manager of Customer Service at Hover, and explained the situation. He assured me he could transfer my domains to my OpenSRS account, free of charge, within an hour. I was extremely grateful. A weight was starting to lift from my shoulders. The knot was coming undone in my stomach. That John, what a mensch!
But two hours later, my domains had not been transferred. Nor were they three hours later, or the next morning. I left messages and emails for John, but no replies. It was starting to look like John had fucked me over. Lied to my face. Not so mensch-like after all, that Moffat.
So I called customer service again. This time I spoke to Adam, and he once again assured me my domains would be transferred within a couple of hours. But he did have to run it by John. The sinking feeling had returned. When I called Adam two hours later to check on the status of the transfer, he informed me John had said “Leave it with me; I’ll take care of it.” Yeah, it was official: I was being stonewalled.
I sat down and wrote a reply to Ross’s original email:
to Ross Rader
cc John Moffat
Le Quan Truong
date Tue, Mar 22, 2011 at 12:33 PM
subject Re: Your Hover Account
I am writing in response to your email to me of March 19, 2011.
When I registered domain names through Hover I used a discount code which was provided to me for use with ‘friends and family’. I was never advised that use of the discount code was limited to staff of Tucows, or was restricted to use during the period of my employment. If you have any evidence that this is communicated to employees of Tucows, please show it to me. I used the discount code in good faith, and with the understanding that I am entitled to use it.
If it is your position that use of the code is only permitted for existing employees, at worst I used the code in error and would consider reimbursing Tucows for the error in using the code. Your conduct in unilaterally deleting my account and deleting my registrations is a violation of my service agreement with Hover and will result in substantial additional cost to me. I reserve my right to look to your Company for compensation.
But this isn’t about a discount code. It’s about the tweet where I called out @hover for outrageously poor UX (https://twitter.com/#!/NotrsWebmaster/status/48411751062052865). We’ve had this discussion before. The only difference here is that it was in a public forum. Is this in keeping with Tucows’ claim of embracing social media? Rather than addressing the legitimate complaint, you choose to slap down your customer and “fire” him.
Also, I’m astonished you shared your email with Andy Walker. My association with Tucows is now strictly as a customer. Sharing the content of your email with Andy is a breach of my privacy rights. Especially considering you published my password and other information, sent over an unsecured email channel, which could facilitate the hijacking of my Hover account and all domains within. (Reminiscent of this: https://twitter.com/#!/MikeRudy/status/48869819319201792)
Finally, I’m astounded you’d even consider such draconian measures to handle a pedestrian “transgression”. It does not speak well of Tucows’ respect for the sanctity of their customers’ relationship to their domains. To be threatened with the removal of your livelihood, even temporarily, is probably not what you want Hover, and Tucows, to be known for.
Your handling of this affair needlessly alienates an active member of the Internet community in Toronto, and beyond. I’m crestfallen to see what poor judgment you’ve exhibited here.
Please have my domains transferred to my OpenSRS account. John Moffat had promised to do this for me, but is now no longer returning my calls or emails. Talk about disappointment.
A. Alfred Ayache
No reply… Until I tweeted this. Then this exchange:
one or two. sorry.
Move them to OpenSRS, and I’ll xfer them out as finances permit.
From: Andy Walker
Date: March 17, 2010
To: Andy Walker
Subject: xx% off Hover
Just wanted to extend the in-house domain registration discount coupon to everyone on the butterscotch team as well as contractors and friends for Hover.com
use code: xxx
It gets you a xx% discount on all hover.com services including if you move your domains to hover.
Please do not publish anywhere – for personal use only.
I’m not preventing you from moving these anywhere. I’m also not asking someone to move these for you. I believe you have access to all of the auth codes, etc. necessary to make the transfer happen. If you don’t, please let me know.
Ross had been blocking my transfer all along. Sure, I could go to OpenSRS, but I’d have to use public channels and pay additional fees to Tucows. And all for what? I found the email that proves I used the discount code in the correct manner. This was sheer harassment and persecution. He was driving me into the arms of Bob Parsons, CEO ofGoDaddy. This is more evidence of that brilliant managerial acumen. Way to go guys! Trash all the hard works the worker bees are doing; send your business to the competition. You should write a book.
I’m told Ross sent out an email the next day to the entire company explaining that these codes are for employees only. For an Internet company, they’re not as good at communication as you’d expect. But do you think he wrote me to apologize for his heavy-handed, ham-fisted blunder? Nah.
In the end, I moved 8 of my 19 domains to GoDaddy. I’m leaving the rest in my Hover account. I’m a customer in good standing, after all. There’s no reason for the expense and agro. (Besides, there is no such day as “Friday March 26, 2011”.)