Top Level Spectrum has been accused today of running the gTLD .feedback in a “fraudulent and deceptive” manner.
Over a dozen famous brands, corralled by corporate registrar MarkMonitor, today formally complained to ICANN that .feedback is a “complete sham”.
They reckon that the majority of .feedback domains belong to entities connected to the registry, violate trademarks, and have been stuffed with bogus and plagiarized reviews.
TLS denies any involvement.
MarkMonitor clients Adobe, American Apparel, Best Buy, Facebook, Levi and Verizon are among those that today filed a Public Interest Commitments Dispute Resolution Policy complaint with ICANN.
PICDRP is the mechanism third parties can use to complain about new gTLD registries they believe are in breach of the Public Interest Commitments found in their registry contracts.
The 50-page complaint (pdf), which comes with hundreds of pages of supporting documentation spread over 36 exhibits, purports to show TLS engaging in an “escalating pattern of discriminatory, fraudulent and deceptive registry misconduct”.
While the allegations of wrongdoing are fairly broad, the most interesting appears to be the claim that TLS quietly registered thousands of .feedback names matching trademarks to itself and then filled them with reviews either ripped off from Yelp! or supplied by overseas freelancers working for pennies.
TLS denies that it did any of this.
The .feedback registry is closely tied to the affiliated entity Feedback SAAS, which offers a hosted social platform for product/company reviews. Pricing for .feedback domains is dependent on whether registrants use this service or not.
The complaint states:
the overwhelming majority of domain names registered and activated within the .FEEDBACK TLD — over seventy percent (70%) — are currently owned and operated by Respondent [TLS], and parties working in concert with Respondent
Respondent has solicited and paid numerous third parties, including professional freelance writers who offer to post a set number of words for a fee, to write fabricated reviews regarding Complainants’ products and services.
These ostensibly independent reviews from ordinary consumers are intended to give the appearance of legitimate commentary within .FEEDBACK sites, when, in fact, the reviews are a complete sham.
An investigation carried out by MarkMonitor (pdf) showed that of the 2,787 .feedback domains registered up to July 31, 73% were registered to just five registrants.
The top registrant, Liberty Domains LLC of Las Vegas, owned 47% of these domains.
MarkMonitor believes this company (which it said does not show up in Nevada company records) and fourth-biggest registrant Core Domains LLC (based at the same Vegas mail forwarding service) are merely fronts for TLS, though it has no smoking gun proving this connection.
TLS CEO Jay Westerdal denies the company is affiliated with Liberty.
The MarkMonitor investigation counted 27,573 reviews on these sites, but 22% of them purported have been written prior to the date the domain was registered, in some cases by years.
The company reckons hundreds of reviews can be traced to five freelance writers who responded to February job ads looking for people who could write and post 10 150-word reviews per hour.
Other reviews appear to have been copied wholesale from Yelp! (this can be easily verified by visiting almost any .feedback site and searching for exact-match content on Google).
Westerdal told DI last week that registrants can use an API to import reviews.
The brands’ complaint goes on to criticize TLS for its Free.feedback offering, a very odd, bare-bones web site which seems to offer free .feedback domains.
When you type a domain or email address into the form on Free.feedback, it offers to give you the equivalent .feedback domain for free, automatically populating a second form with the Whois record of the original domain.
According to the complaint, after somebody registers a free .feedback domain, Feedback SAAS starts contacting the person listed in the Whois about their “free trial registration” regardless of whether they were actually the person who signed up the the domain. The complaint states:
Complainants and multiple other trademark owners who received such email notifications from Feedback SAAS and TLS registrars never visited the FREE.FEEDBACK website, and they never requested a free trial registration in the .FEEDBACK TLD
I’ve been unable to fully replicate this experience in attempts to test Free.feedback.
The complaint alleges multiple breaches of the PICs in the .feedback ICANN Registry Agreement.
The brands want ICANN Compliance to conduct a thorough investigation of .feedback, for all Free.feedback domains with phony Whois to be terminated, and for affected trademark owners to get refunds. They also want their legal costs paid by TLS.
ICANN does not typically publish the outcome of PICDRP complaints. Indeed, this is only the second one I’m aware of. It’s difficult to judge what MarkMonitor’s posse’s chances of success are.