TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Editorial: ICANN Needs to Stop Domain Name Abuse

Editorial: ICANN Needs to Stop Domain Name Abuse

Doug Isenberg (
Wed, 21 Jun 2006 14:05:19 -0500

ICANN needs to clamp down on domain name abuse

By Doug Isenberg

While Congress continues to consider the merits of so-called Net
neutrality, an even more soporific but vital Internet legal issue
looms, with ramifications for every business online and every user of
the World Wide Web: What is the purpose of the database that contains
information on every domain name registrant? This question is being
quietly debated by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and
Numbers (ICANN) -- the Net's keeper of the all-important addressing
system -- which is meeting June 26-30 in Marrakech, Morocco.

This database, known as "Whois," contains names, contact information
and some technical data for every registrant of a domain name. Under
ICANN's current structure, all accredited registrars -- the companies
approved to provide domain name registration services -- are required
to collect this data and make it publicly available through the Whois

Unrestricted access to Whois is essential for companies fighting to
protect their brands -- as well as their consumers -- from
cybersquatters, spammers, phishers and other bad actors on the
Internet. Without the ability to identify who is responsible for these
online frauds, businesses would be unable to assert their legal rights
or, at least be unable to do so without expending an exponentially
greater amount of time and money by resorting to expensive and slow
investigations and legal processes.

But some believe that domain name registrants should be able to hide
from the law, that they should not have to disclose themselves in the
Whois database. They argue that the purpose of Whois should be limited
to resolving technical, not legal, issues related to domain names and
the Web sites associated with them. In response to an ICANN task
force's request for comments earlier this year, some argued that the
Whois database creates privacy risks by unnecessarily publicly
publishing personal information. This despite the tradition of
publishing this data for as long as there's been a World Wide Web; the
analogies to and prevalence of similar databases such as those for
trademarks and real estate; and the popularity of existing Whois
privacy-protection services.

Today, cybersquatters have rebranded themselves as "domainers." In any
event, the current Whois system and domain name abuses are bad enough;
ICANN surely should do nothing to make them worse. Already, it is
common for domain name registrants to provide false contact
information when registering domain names, and little is done to stop
this fraudulent practice. The cybersquatter in one reported decision
under ICANN's popular domain name dispute procedure was listed as,
literally, "Sdf fdgg" -- an obvious random typing of keys. Others often
identify themselves only as "DOMAIN FOR SALE." And in one recent case
that would be funny if it wasn't important to Morgan Stanley, the
registrant of was listed as, simply,
"Meow" and submitted a response that it was a cat -- leading the
arbitrator to write that the registrant "has undoubtedly attempted to
mislead this panel and has provided incorrect Whois information. Such
behavior is indicative of bad faith."

Domain name registrants who provide such false information clearly
have an illegitimate reason to hide, not a legitimate concern for
protecting their privacy. Their reasons are clearly understandable, as
domain name speculation and cybersquatting have become one of the
Web's most popular, and profitable, activities. The practice is no
longer limited to finding a few good names. (Still, apparently there
is good money to be made in such generically used domains as, which reportedly sold for $7.5 million last month, the
same price as the legendary sale of in 1999 by a man who
has since co-founded a company known as Internet REIT, which boasts a
portfolio of more than 400,000 domain names.)

Today, cybersquatters have rebranded themselves as "domainers."
Popular blogs and news sites track their activities. Industry
conferences have sprouted to serve them. And "monetization
services" -- which quickly let domain name registrants turn otherwise
unused, or parked, Web pages into money via affiliate links that often
trade on the goodwill established by well-known brand owners -- are
finding a large and growing customer base of hungry and often shrewd
domain name registrants.

All of these practices are costing honest businesses untold sums. The
World Intellectual Property Organization reported earlier this year
that the number of cybersquatting cases it handled rose 20 percent in
2005, and the disputes have involved most of the 100 largest
international brands by value. Pharmaceutical, hospitality and
telecommunications companies -- all of which have a large number of
customers who are harmed by online scams perpetrated by domain name
registrants -- are among the most aggressive enforcers of intellectual
property online. Identifying, prioritizing and pursuing bad Web site
owners already is a resource-consuming task for these companies; any
new restrictions on the Whois system would only cost them and,
therefore, their customers more.

The Whois problem is exacerbated by another flaw in the domain name
system, a practice labeled "domain kiting" by Bob Parsons, the
outspoken CEO and founder of, the largest ICANN-accredited
domain name registrar. The practice (euphemistically referred to as
"domain tasting" by those who engage in it) exploits an ICANN loophole
by allowing sophisticated speculators to register a domain name
without charge for five days. During this window, a registrant can
post a monetized parking page and see whether any traffic results. If
it does, the registrant may keep the domain name; if it doesn't, he'll
let it go.

The problem is that these domain names, which typically contain
variations of companies' well-known trademarks, are being registered
in such great numbers for such short periods of time that they make it
difficult for trademark owners to pursue them or to distinguish them
from even more problematic Web sites. According to Parsons, more than
93 percent of the 35 million domain names registered in April were a
part of this slick practice.

Who is going to stop these online shenanigans? Apparently not ICANN,
which has never revoked the accreditation of a single registrar, even
though some of them are among the most popular registrants of domain
names. To its credit, ICANN has sought to hire a Compliance Program
Specialist, recognizing that violations by registrars "can cause
serious detriment to consumers and to the Internet community both
directly, and indirectly, by damaging the competitive process that is
crucial to a dynamic and healthy market." Yet the role has remained
unfilled for more than a year.

Nothing less than the integrity of the Net is at stake here, and on
these important domain name issues ICANN, innocent businesses and
concerned Internet users alike should not remain neutral.

Copyright 1995-2006 CNET Networks, Inc.

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[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: The 'integrity of the net' ... ha ha,
what a laugh that is! And for the folks counting on ICANN and its
principal spokespersons Vint Cerf and Esther Dyson to take a stand
at correcting the wholesale thievery of domain names, they better
think again. PAT]

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