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Was Facebok.com really stolen?

Kevin Murphy, April 26, 2011, 14:31:40 (UTC), Domain Policy

The domain name’s strange history raises questions.

The typo domain facebok.com is currently at the center of an unusual legal battle that has put a respected domain name registrar’s ICANN accreditation at risk.

EuroDNS, as I reported last week, has been handed an ICANN breach notice for failing to transfer the domain to Facebook, which won it in a slam-dunk UDRP complaint last September.

If it does not hand over the domain by May 11, it stands to lose its ability to sell domain names.

But the registrar says it is a defendant in a lawsuit, filed in its native Luxembourg, which has put a jurisdictional question mark over its ability to legally transfer the domain.

According to EuroDNS, the suit was filed by a company calling itself “Facebok.com Inc”, on September 24 last year, just one week after the UDRP case was decided.

This suspiciously named company alleges that the domain is its rightful property, and that it was stolen by the respondent in the UDRP case, one Franz Bauer of Munich, Germany.

The suit names Bauer, Facebook and EuroDNS as defendants.

A review of historical Whois records shows that Bauer has been associated with the domain facebok.com since August 2009, after it emerged from a few years behind a Whois privacy shield.

The address in the Whois, then and now, seems to be a hotel in Munich.

However, on September 21, 2010, a few days after WIPO informed Bauer he had lost the UDRP, the contact information in the Whois changed to a Hushmail email address and:

Company: FACEBOK.COM, INC.
Name: Facebok Domains Facebok Admininstrator
Address: IPASA Building, 3rd Floor, 41 Street Off Balboa Avenue, Bella Vista District
City: Panama City
Country: PANAMA
Postal Code: 83256

That address is shared by Panama Offshore Legal Services, a company that offers corporate formation services to individuals outside of Panama, with the promise of “global asset protection, privacy, investment diversification, tax minimization, affordability and convenience.”

Facebok.com Inc, which is suing EuroDNS, Facebook and Bauer, therefore appears to be an offshore shell company. The question is: who’s behind it?

At the time the domain’s Whois changed from Bauer to Facebok.com Inc, it was in ClientTransferProhibited status, meaning it could not be transferred to another registrar, but that the registrant was free to change his contact information at will.

By early October, the Whois record had reverted back to Bauer.

The domain facebok.com currently directs fat-fingered web surfers to a variety of affiliate scams, depending on where they live, that rely upon users completing spurious surveys and not reading the fine print when they sign up for pricey mobile phone messaging services.

With 500 million Facebook users, many of whom will be youngsters, silver surfers, or may not use ASCII as their primary script, the site is likely to be getting a fair bit of traffic.

Compete.com estimates it received roughly 4,000 to 8,000 visits per month last year. Alexa gives the site a rank of roughly 154,000. Both sites show a huge traffic spike in March.

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Comments (7)

  1. Batfan says:

    “suggests raises questions”??

  2. theo says:

    Good story Kevin.
    Never the less seems Eurodns is caught between 2 fires.

    I really can’t imagine ICANN terminating their contract over this though.

    • Kevin Murphy says:

      No, I don’t think that will happen either.

      I reckon EuroDNS would probably take its chances with the Luxembourg court sooner than ICANN.

  3. theo says:

    That i am not sure off Kevin.

    I have no clue what is gonna impact their business more. When i look at how many .coms they register it is a small percentage of what they have total. So i assume that their strength is ccTLD’s. That is following your statement business wise.

    My opinion is that ICANN will just not terminate their contract even if they are not going to comply to ICANN.

    If ICANN does enforce this and yet leave so many of their regulations that are being violated without punishiment.. Well this will not look good for ICANN for sure (again i might add)

    This is a hot potatoe for ICANN and we will see how it plays out.

  4. Good point about the teenagers hitting the typo domain – this will happen more and more as we move to mobile… and as teens get fatter fingers from being less mobile 🙂

  5. […] ownership via offshore shell companies is a common tactic for people cybersquatting high-profile […]

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