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Held Hostage by Your Web Services Provider

Back when the internet was a little younger and more mysterious, many companies decided to contract a web designer or web host to do everything for them in regards to their domain and website. Held-hostage-by-web-service-provioderWhen a small business couldn’t put a webmaster on the payroll, they found a 3rd party who would provide any service they wanted on an as-needed basis. Some of the more unscrupulous web hosts would record their own information when ordering the domain through the registrar, charge you a fee for the registration, and renew it for you when it was about to expire. None of this seemed suspicious at the time.

Now in 2013, many of the confusing aspects of the internet have been demystified and anybody with a credit card can purchase a domain name or hosting space.The important thing to keep in mind is that your domain name is your identity on the internet. Without your domain, your customers cannot find your business online. It is therefore paramount that you are the registered owner of your domain name. Since so much of your online presence hinges on that domain name, it should never be registered in the name of your 3rd party-no matter how good of a deal they are offering. Always purchase your name directly from a reputable registrar.

Unfortunately, when some companies decided to hire these web service providers, they went all in with all the services offered such as:

  • domain name registration

  • website hosting space

  • email hosting

  • website design

Although it was convenient to have only one point of contact for all these web services, trying to move away from them now can quickly become a nightmare.

Some companies have found themselves being held hostage by their web hosts when trying to direct their DNS records to other service providers. The web hosts refuse to let go of the clients’ files and claim copyright for the website design. They argue that they own the template and layout, even if the website content belongs to the client.

These web hosts sometimes even claim that as soon as the domain name is no longer in their control and pointed to their nameservers, all other services are void and your data (such as your entire website or email history) will be deleted permanently.

Several companies have decided to make the transition from their web host’s email systems to Google Apps for Business. Their web hosts, realizing they are losing a customer, don’t cooperate and become very hard to reach. They know it’s only a matter of time before their services are no longer needed. These web hosts recognize that they built their business on a specialized knowledge that has now become just a Google search away. Their leverage comes from their ability to delete any data from their systems as soon as you stop paying them. Now that they have your data and name hostage, they stall as long as they can, essentially making an exorbitant ransom demand.

no-contractMany of these web hosts had minimal contracts with the companies who bought their services, which means there’s nothing to outline the ownership of the content, the layout, the domain names, the email data. There’s also nothing that states how long the web services provider can hold onto data after services have been dropped. They have little to no privacy policy, content ownership policy, or terms of service accessible on their website. This leaves companies in the sticky situation of trying to accumulate all of their data before its deleted.  Either that, or paying unnecessarily high fees to transfer data or ownership of something that they rightfully already own. Never let your company fall into this trap.

Moral of the story: It’s important to set expectations right at the beginning of a project, even before any contracts are signed. You should have complete ownership of your data, your name, and any information related to your company. While usernames and passwords may be needed by a 3rd party partner to change settings for you, those accounts still remain yours and in your name. When you authorize us to purchase a domain, hosting space, or internet service on your behalf, you should be recorded as the owner and technical contact.

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Originally published on August 15, 2013

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