The ICANN Universal Acceptance Steering Group (UASG) has released an evaluation of 1000 websites, assessing the way that they handle a variety of email addresses in different scripts. The test compared acceptance rates of Latin script email addresses – for example ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’ – against those of non-Latin addresses – for example, ‘广场@ua-test19.com’ or عنوان@يو-اي-اختبار.شبكة.
For Universal Acceptance to be achieved, it is essential that websites including popular online platforms are able to recognise internationalised email addresses, for example as user identifiers for login.
The study found that whereas email addresses with ASCII only (or predominantly ascii) characters are accepted in 70%-100% of cases. In contrast, an average of only 10% of websites accepted email addresses comprising non-Latin characters. Both pure Arabic and Chinese email addresses were only accepted in 4%-20% of the sites. Combinations of Chinese characters with ASCII characters had a greater acceptance rate, but email addresses with non-ASCII characters before the ‘@’ sign have a much lower chance of being accepted. Until sites are able to accept IDNs in the same way, and at the same rate as ASCII addresses, they will not be able to provide consistent user experiences for all Internet users.
A comparison of the 2020 results with earlier tests in 2017 and 2019 indicates that acceptance rates of non-ASCII email addresses are increasing slowly, but there is still a long way to go to improve universal acceptance. The UASG have concluded that one of the biggest remaining challenges to universal acceptance appears to be blanket rejections of non-ASCII characters in email addresses.
These difficulties demonstrate that even if Internet users from countries that use Chinese or Arabic scripts are able to register their identities with IDN email addresses, they are still not able to make effective use of their address on the majority of sites.
Emily Taylor is the CEO of Oxford Information Labs. She is an Associate Fellow of Chatham House and is the Editor of the Journal of Cyber Policy and co-founder of ICANN accredited registrar, Oxford Information Labs.
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