CitizenHawk: Pulling the Sheets Off a “Typosquatting Recovery Firm”
Wednesday, April 7th, 2010
New site watches a watchdog.
One of the more controversial domain name companies is CitizenHawk. The company was founded in 2007 to help brands recover typos of their domain names.
On behalf of clients, the company sends demand letters to registrants of typos and files UDRPs as well. When it recovers a domain, it has an agreement with the client that CitizenHawk may monetize the domain for a period of time. This is usually done through the client’s affiliate program. According to several sources, CitizenHawk typically gets to monetize domains for two years before control of the domain is supposed to be handed back over to its client.
But does the company have some of its own dirt to hide, much like the typosquatters it goes after? I wrote previously about how it used trademarks in its meta tags, which didn’t look good for a trademark-defending company. A new site sheds even more light on the company’s operations.
At HawkNest, you can peer into the company’s activities. Using publicly available information, the site shows CitizenHawk’s biggest clients, newest clients, and number of domains under management. But there are a lot of other surprising facts.
First, most of the domains the company has “recovered” for clients recently have been new registrations. Instead of sending out a cease & desist letters, the company is registering expired domain names that include clients’ typos. Sometimes it even registers typos that have never been registered before. That’s a great business model — speculatively register typos for two years with the blessing of the trademark holder. Take a look at many of the hand registrations for one of its newest clients, LawDepot.com. If CitizenHawk’s agreement with LawDepot lets it monetize the domains for two years, that’s a good deal for an $8 registration.
Second, if the typical duration that CitizenHawk is allowed to monetize a domain name after obtaining it is 2 years, it isn’t always handing control of the domains over after that period. Many of them are still being monetized by CitizenHawk well after two years. Someone is dropping the ball.