Using (mostly) bad examples, advocacy group asks domain industry to implement some broad solution.
Advocacy group Digital Citizens Alliance has issued a report “Domains of Danger” (pdf) that criticizes domain registrars and domain investors.
Digital Citizens Group is backed by pharmaceutical companies, health companies and online safety/security groups. One of its advisory board members is Garth Bruen of Knujon, a controversial figure to the domain name business. ICANN criticized Knujon for “not verifying the facts” in 2010.
The report brings up some valid points but falls into the traps of scaremongering, gotchas, and other issues that render it similar to other criticisms of the domain name industry. It’s also devoid of any reasonable solutions.
Let’s start with the report’s valid point.
The report blasts domainers for buying Covid-related domains to profit from the pandemic. It even includes a screenshot of a forum post in which someone brags about snapping up Covid-related domains to offer them for sale.
I agree that this is sleazy. Digital Citizens even got a Domain Agents broker to gloss over its odd statements about wanting to sell a fake coronavirus vaccine, hence its interest in buying a domain. Gotcha!
What the report doesn’t mention is that many domain name marketplaces have worked to rid themselves of these domains. Yes, there are some idiots out there trying to sell these domains, just like people try to profit off of other disasters. I don’t love it, but the majority of the industry frowns upon these activities.
The report then shifts to the sex trafficking bogeyman. Digital Citizens says it easily registered these domains:
It even blasts Google for offering “suggestions on the best way to ensure the domain isn’t misunderstood”:
It’s as if the authors pictured someone at Google receiving a request to register the domain and manually typing, “Hey, great domain, it’s spelled correctly!”
But the dumber part is the domains it chose. And don’t take my word for it. The report states:
It should go without saying that it’s unlikely that a sex trafficker would register a domain as blatant as the ones Digital Citizens acquired, but if these names prompt no scrutiny, imagine what savvy and unscrupulous sex traffickers can do?
Yes, it does go without saying, which is why it makes little sense to base an argument off of these domains. It’s like me saying how easy it would be for me to pull off a terrorist attack because no one’s watching out for me, ignoring the fact that no one’s watching out for me because there are no warning signs that I’m going to commit such an act.
So, yes, someone could register Jailbaitmarket .biz to set up a sex trafficking site. (By the way, this plays into the false notion that there’s a sophisticated syndicate of people snatching women and selling them on marketplaces.) And perhaps a registrar could block this domain from being registered…but, people are unlikely to use these obvious words.
Two of these domains Digital Citizens registered would actually be quite useful for an NGO that is fighting human trafficking.
The authors did find another nice gotcha — that daterapedrug .com is listed for sale through AfternicDLS, which gave Namecheap a bad look. But again, it’s an overlooked exception, not the rule.
A common suggestion is for registrars to block words from being registered. Blocking words is tricky, though. Stop people from registering domains with ‘rapist’ in them, and you’re also blocking therapists from registering domains for their businesses.
Like many reports designed to shock, this one doesn’t have an answer. It says:
Domain name industry participants, government and other stakeholders should come together to craft solutions to these problems. Because just as any domain name can be registered, doesn’t mean it should be, or that registrars have to do it.
The authors generally suggest putting holds on domains that could be used in bad ways.
OK domain industry, you figure it out.