September 10, 2018
The answer is yes, but only under certain conditions - so you don't need to worry about a registrar grabbing an au name you've shown interest in.
We touched on the topic of what's called "front-running" back in 2010, whereby a registrar could potentially monitor domain name search activity being carried out on its site and then dive in to register those names for their own use or other purposes.
Engaging in such an activity would be bad form on a number of fronts and something that could destroy a registrar's reputation quite quickly if it became public knowledge, so it's really in no-one's interest. Thankfully, instances of front-running by Australian registrars appear to be non-existent.
Aside from the ethics of the practice, rules governing registrars in Australia expressly forbid it. A related policy document from auDA, the policy authority and industry self-regulatory body for the .au domain space, states:
“[The Registrar must not] be involved in any activity which involves the acquisition or accumulation of Domain Names which are not connected to the provision of Registrar Services under [the Registrar Agreement], for the purposes of removing them from the availability of others, transferring them for a direct or indirect, immediate or deferred gain or profit or for any other reason which can be considered to be done in bad faith”.
However, they can register domain names for themselves in some limited circumstances. For example:
"registrars are allowed to register domain names on their own behalf which are connected to the provision of registrar services."
auDA may also permit a registrar to register names related to the provision of services such as web hosting, website design, email and ISP services, IT hardware and software.
Having rules in place such as these help to further protect the good name that the .au namespace enjoys and maintains confidence among registrants.
As to the prevalence of front-running generally and not just in relation to .au domains, it does appear it's somewhat of a non-issue. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) commissioned a study in 2009 to assess the occurrence of domain name front running after concerns were raised about it. More than 600 tests yielded no evidence of the practice, and there's been little to suggest it has occurred since.
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How to register a name: Enter your choice in the search tool and click 'GO'. If after the check the domain names search results show your choice is available, you will then have the option to proceed to purchase registration; which is a very quick and easy process - start a search and find your ideal website address now.