For quite some time now, I have had a suspicious feeling that one of my increasingly frequent observations was far beyond a matter of coincidence. Have you ever performed a whois lookup to check on the availability of a domain name, confirmed that it was available, but delayed registration of the domain until a later time? Sometimes it seems reasonable to presume that a domain name might be so obscure and highly personalized that there would be no chance that anyone else might consider registering that same name for years, if ever. Well, it turns out that this would be a bad presumption because in far too many instances that domain name would be lost moments later. You will have been the victim of a practice known as Domain Tasting or Domain Front Running.
I had a small business owner call me on May 24, 2010. She said that her son was interested in having a website built for his construction business. She said that a friend had checked and that the domain was available on May 20, 2010. It was an obscure, three-word domain name. I double-checked by performing a new whois lookup, and I discovered that the domain had been registered on May 20, 2010 … apparantly moments after the original whois availability search. What is happening? More importantly, how and why is it happening?
It turns out that the practice is not new. A post by the Daily Domainer back in February of 2007 generated 191 responses, most of which pointed an accusatory finger at GoDaddy. Other blog posts have singled out Network Solutions for engaging in this practice. Together, these are two of the biggest names in the domain name registration industry.
Here is how it works: It seems that many unscrupulous registrars who provide whois lookup services (which are, in fact, provided by virtually every registrar) are selling the domain search data to domain tasting outfits which, in turn, register the domain name with the registrar. Over the next few days, they test (or “taste”) the domain to see if it generates any significant amount of traffic. If it does generate traffic, they will make money from clicks on their bogus landing page. If the new domain does not generate traffic, it might be turned in for a refund under the 5 day “grace” policy of some registrars. Everybody wins, except you lose.
In the old days, Cybersquatting was a common practice, where unsavory characters would register domain names based upon legitimate small business names or product names, with the intention of then selling the names at an enormous profit margin. Domain tasters, on the other hand, cannot be bothered with selling domain names because they are more interested in earning millions of dollars, a nickel or a dime at a time. The Washington Post published an exposé of this practice, titled “Entrepreneurs Profit From Free Web Names” back in 2007. If you are not familiar with the practice, old news is still news.
How to you protect yourself?
- Do not perform a whois query – anywhere – unless you are immediately prepared to register the domain name. This cannot be overemphasized.
- Do not ever “search” for domain availability using Address Bar Guessing. There are ISP’s (Internet Service Providers) who have been found to engage in the practice of selling Non-eXistent Domain (NXD) Data to domainers.
- If you have just “lost” a domain name that you failed to register, go back to look for it in 5 days.
This post was written by Peter Pelland