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Universal Acceptance studies: good progress in browsers, major challenges in social media

Universal Acceptance is a cornerstone of a digitally inclusive Internet by ensuring all domain names and email addresses (IDNs) - in any language, script, or character - are accepted equally by all Internet-based applications, devices and systems.

ICANN Universal Acceptance Steering Group (UASG) 2021

At the ICANN meeting in October 2021, Oxford Information Labs presented the outcomes of two studies undertaken during 2021 on behalf of the Universal Acceptance Steering Group (UASG): the first was an update on the Universal Acceptance readiness of Browsers; and the other was the first study on Social Media Applications.

The first study was based on a previous study conducted in 2017 on Universal Acceptance readiness in browsers and included a new item for testing on the handling of favourites and bookmarking. The OXIL research team tested 12 of the most popular browsers. 19 URLs made up of IDNs were tested containing different scripts/languages on each browser. Overall, browsers showed good results in terms of the readiness of Universal Acceptance when pasting URLs into the browser.

Browsers & bookmarks

Despite the overall good results for browsers, the addition of testing the validity of saving favourites and bookmarks highlighted some challenges. The results showed that although bookmarks could be saved successfully, they did not always display as an end-user would expect.

Social media platforms and Universal Acceptance

The second study, on the universal acceptance of social media applications, tested 16 of the most popular social media applications worldwide to evaluate the registration, logging in and posting of IDN email addresses and URLs. Overall, the results of the social media application tests show poor Universal Acceptance for authentication using internationalised non-Latin non-ASCII email addresses without exception. No social media application was able to facilitate registration onto the social media application, and therefore log in using an IDN email address.

Once authenticated it gets better

Conversely, once authenticated using a valid Latin ASCII email address or telephone number, the vast majority of the networks tested showed strong readiness for UA when posting internationalised email addresses and fully qualified internationalised URLs using built in posting and private messaging functions with accurate display of these items as pasted and in many cases (as platform policy allowed) accurate conversion to clickable links.

Problems with email routing persists

The study shows that there is currently very poor support for the sending and routing of internationalised email addresses by popular mail clients and relaying servers. The evaluation is that this lack of support may provide some explanation and context to the decision of social media vendors to either block non-Latin non-ASCII email addresses at the point of registration or opt to use a telephone number based authentication system which essentially sidesteps this issue.

Although progress is slow in this area with big players still failing to support reliable routing of internationalised email addresses there is growing robust support being provided in particular by the large cloud-based webmail providers so it would be hoped as this support grows, that the social media vendors will eventually be able to relax their policy without a concern for escalating support issues and cost.

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