The Practical Mac

Who Stole My Domain?

- 2002.03.12 - Tip Jar

According to the latest statistics (Dec. 2001), the number of domain name registrations expiring is 2,250,000 per month.

What happens to these domains when their registration expires? They go back into the pool of available names and are available for registration to anyone willing to pay the fee (typically no more than $35 per year, and sometimes less than $10). The vast majority of these domains are allowed to expire for a good reason (they are worthless) and are never registered again.

However, occasionally an active domain is accidentally allowed to expire because renewal slipped through the cracks, the underlying business folds, etc. These domains retain some value for something called "link equity," i.e. existing links (on other Web sites) to the expired domain.

These domains become the target of some shady companies known as "traffic aggregators." Most of the aggregators which have sprung up are located in former Soviet Republics. They buy existing sites which may have some value in link equity and then redirect the incoming Web traffic to other domains, usually gambling or porno sites.

Organizations as diverse as the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and the government of Holland have seen their expired domain names appropriated by traffic aggregators. Some abandoned Mac sites have also fallen prey to the aggregators. Visited the Conflict Compendium, Mac OS Gamer, or UpgradeStuff lately? You probably don't want to anymore. They are now, how shall I say this, not exactly what you would expect.

Among the agencies that have received email from irate surfers complaining about links to web sites that have "gone bad" are the United Nations and the U.S. Department of Education.

Currently, a domain is available to be registered by anyone as early as the day after it expires, or, in some cases, after a 5-day hold. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has proposed a 30-day hold on expired domain names prior to resale. The theory is that if someone neglects to renew their domain and does not notice that their Web site fails to resolve for 30 days, they probably don't want it that badly. This 30-day waiting period should eliminate most of the expirations which are due to oversight.

Protect Your Domain

The legal waters in these cases are murky, to say the least. Although some legal precedent exists stating that companies, organizations, and individuals do have some protection against having their names and/or registered trademarks registered by those who would try to profit from it. This practice is called "cyber-squatting."

However, it is a different story when it comes to a domain name which was registered and has expired. How the courts would rule in such a case is anyone's guess. Pay attention to those "domain expiration" notices and make sure your email address is current with your domain registrar.

Just how big a problem is this? It has been addressed twice in the last week on Applelinks (Dead Mac Sites Spawn Porno Portals and Expired Domains Grabbed by Porn Sites). It was also a front-page story in the March 4, 2002, issue of Network World (Lurid Links). LEM


Editor's Note: If you find such a link on Low End Mac, please contact < >. Be sure to include the redirected domain name and the address of our page linking to that site so we can correct or remove the link. Thanks!

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Steve Watkins is the Vice President for Information Technology for a mid-sized bank, an attorney, and an Army Reserve JAG on extended active duty. He has been a Mac user for about 12 years. He has owned some PCs along the way - but always came back to the Mac. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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