Panel discusses ethical questions for brokering domain names.
This morning at NamesCon Online, domain broker Tessa Holcomb led a panel of domain name industry professionals in a discussion of domain brokerage ethics.
Participants included Bill Sweetman of Name Ninja, Jeremiah Johnston of Sedo, Clara Wade of Escrow.com, and Daniel Adamson of GoDaddy (previously with Uniregistry).
Some of the panelists discussed situations in which a client made them uncomfortable and they had to push back. Sweetman, who primarily represents domain buyers, explained a situation in which a domain buyer wanted him to threaten the domain owner in order to get the desired price. Sweetman fired the client.
Wade, who is an account manager at Escrow.com, said a broker wanted to send her bitcoin as a token of appreciation for her help. She politely declined because it wouldn’t be appropriate as a neutral third-party in transactions. It could have led to a perception issue or a request for a quid pro quo down the road.
Holcomb asked the panelists about a recent question that popped up on twitter: is it reasonable to ask your domain broker to send the email communication they had with the potential buyer/seller?
Johnston explained that this could make the broker uncomfortable. In a lot of cases, the broker has a relationship with the other party and might be discussing other things with that party that wouldn’t be appropriate to share.
The panelists seemed to agree that it comes down to trust. If you’re asking your broker for a copy of the email communications, then there’s probably an underlying trust issue at play that should be addressed. Are you concerned they are doing something unethical or not in your best interests? If so, you might need to find a new broker.
The session also covered stolen domains. Wade explained some of the red flags they look for to determine if a domain is stolen. Some include the party refusing to sign a purchase or sale agreement, and she also cautioned against parties that decline to use an escrow service. She discussed one situation in which picking up the phone and calling the party helped unravel fictitious information.
Johnston noted that it’s a lot harder to do ownership history research than it used to be because of GDPR and private Whois records. It’s not as simple as real estate, in which there are definitive records of ownership. Sometimes, he said, you do your best due diligence but still have to take a risk on a transaction.
The panel did not delve into some of the seedier things that domain brokers do. I’ve heard about domain brokers telling another broker that they have a buyer for a domain the broker is representing, and then turning around and pitching the domain to their clients. They are frontrunning domain sales, trying to find a buyer before sending funds for a purchase.
There are also, sadly, domain brokers with criminal records or histories that should give domain owners pause. And, if your broker says he or she will act as escrow, you should probably find a new broker.