Domain squatting for fun and profit

I just got off the phone with MarkMonitor, a company that according to the fellow I spoke with is hired by multi-national corporations to register and squat on domain names in the interest of brand security. I was calling them to inquire about a specific domain name that they had registered -- a domain that was simply an ad page. I was hoping to use that domain for a little project, but I was told that in order

I just got off the phone with MarkMonitor, a company that according to the fellow I spoke with is hired by multi-national corporations to register and squat on domain names in the interest of brand security. I was calling them to inquire about a specific domain name that they had registered -- a domain that was simply an ad page. I was hoping to use that domain for a little project, but I was told that in order to even inquire about the potential availability of the domain, I would have to have my attorney contact them directly, and then go through a process that might take a few months before finding out if I might have the privilege to buy the domain on their terms. I asked him if he saw any problem with this, and he went on a brief tirade about protecting brand identity, and then roughly slammed the phone down, hanging up on me. Great sales tactic, no?

In some cases, the practice of registering domains that aren't intended for use is legitimate -- someone registering dell.org, delll.com, and putting anti-Dell information there -- or worse, a copy of Dell's website -- could be potentially damaging to Dell, and they have a right to protect themselves in those instances. They are also protecting against someone registering a domain that's close to theirs and essentially blackmailing them into buying it for lots of money. This is what MarkMonitor.com supposedly does, but since I was yelled at and hung up on by their own sales staff, I never got the full details.

The domain that I was inquiring about had no relation to any ad campaigns, corporations, or otherwise. It didn't redirect to a legitimate site, or offer anything useful -- it's simply parked on an ad page. It was being squatted on by a company in the hopes that someone would come along and buy it for some ridiculous price -- essentially exactly what companies like MarkMonitor.com claim to protect against. Variations on the name using hyphens and other small changes produced similar parking pages, but squatted by different companies.

Thus, instead of a domain that could be used to host useful tools or interesting information, it holds nothing of value to anyone. It doesn't infringe on any trademarks, it's essentially been relegated to the trash bin -- of no use to anyone. This isn't brand protection, it's glorified ticket scalping.

I do find it rather amusing that the company running the parking page has a website that hits a Drupal "Database Error" page as of this writing (www.firstlook.com).

Although ICANN has backed plans to reduce domain tasting or the practice of registering hundreds of domains, then returning all but the few that get the most hits (hits to parked ad pages), it's still a big problem. Network Solutions has been under fire for this, but in a more insidious way -- if you use their site to query about the availability of a domain name that isn't registered, they would instantly register it, and then offer to sell it back to you. If you didn't pay for it, they would release it and not pay any fees. The evidence suggests that Network Solutions is the crooked grocer of the digital age, but they have a bigger thumb on the scale, and it's automated.

All of this comes down to right and wrong for me. Is it right that a company can register domain names that are directly related to their own brand in order to protect themselves? Yes. Is it right that a company can register thousands and thousands of domain names that they will never use for anything other than parking pages, simply to be able to bilk someone out of more money when they actually want to use the name? Not in my book.

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The more time that passes since the Web was born, the further and further it drifts from the core ideals that formed its foundation. That's an allegory if I ever saw one.

UPDATE:

In response to some of the comments:

I understand the domain industry. I registered my first domain almost fifteen years ago. I understand the economics, and the shady nature of domain squatters. I reject the argument that it's like buying land, subdividing it, and selling it. To me, this practice is more in line with someone standing at the entrance to a parking lot, misrepresenting themselves as the owner, and charging five times the actual price for a parking spot -- essentially engaging in extortion by misdirection. There are nuances here, like domain tasting, but the simple fact remains that domain squatting is a parasitic practice.

Yes, we pay for goods and services, but this is like having someone walk around the supermarket right in front of you, scooping up everything you want to buy and then offering to sell back it to you at an inflated price.

I reject the "that's America" argument, because the Internet isn't limited to America. Neither, unfortunately, is this problem.

A domain name might be "an appreciable marketing asset" but only after the content or function has proven worthy or has a real-world reference like vodka.com. If Google wasn't Google, google.com would probably be parked on an ad page. These ad pages are only marketable in that they generate revenue by misdirection -- typos and the like. Any way you cut it, it's distasteful.

UPDATE:

This was too good not to post. I'm still looking for a domain name that's even tangentially related to the content of the site I want to build. I'm hitting parking pages everywhere... including one with this obviously automatically generated tagline:

"For resources and information on Done swimwear and Colonoscopy Done"

Priceless.

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