Rightside’s .ninja appears to be the victim of a broad, highly effective affiliate marketing scam that targets Indians and exploits Facebook’s trademark.
Today, 11 of the top 12 most-visited .ninja domains are linked to the same attack. Each has an Alexa ranking of under 15,000. They’re all in the top 40 new gTLD domain names by traffic, according to Alexa.
The domains are com-news.ninja, com-finance-news.ninja, com-important-finance-update.ninja, com-important-finance-news.ninja, com-important-update.ninja, com-important-news.ninja, com-important-news-update.ninja, com-finance-now.ninja, com-finance.ninja, com-news-now.ninja and com-personal-finance.ninja.
The domains do not directly infringe any trademarks and appear innocuous enough when visited — they merely redirect to the genuine facebook.com.
However, adding “facebook” at the third level leads users to pages such as this one, which contains a “work at home” scam.
Indian visitors are told that that Facebook will pay them the rupee equivalent of about $250 per day just for posting links to Facebook, under some kind of deal between Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.
It’s all nonsense of course. The page is filled with faked social media quotes and borrowed stock photos.
Not only that, but it uses Facebook’s logo and look-and-feel to make it appear, vaguely, like it’s a genuine Facebook site.
The links in the page all lead to an affiliate marketing campaign that appears, right now, to be misconfigured.
Infringing trademarks at the third level in order to spoof brands is not a new tactic — it’s commonly used in phishing attacks — but this is the first time I’ve seen it deployed so successfully in the new gTLD space.
It would be tricky, maybe impossible, for Facebook to seize the domains using UDRP or have them suspended using URS, given that the second-level domains are clean.
But it seems very probable that the domains are in violation of more than one element of Rightside’s anti-abuse policy, which among other things forbids trademark infringement and impersonation.
Jiangsu Bangning Science & Technology, the .top registry, is blaming a typo for a Facebook executive’s claim that it wanted $30,000 or more for facebook.top.
Information provided to the ICANN GNSO Council by Facebook domain manager Susan Kawaguchi yesterday showed that .top wanted RMB 180,000 (currently $29,000) for a trademarked name that previously had been blocked due to ICANN’s name collisions policy.
But Mason Zhang, manager of the registry’s overseas channel division, told DI today that the price is actually RMB 18,000 ($2,900):
We were shocked when seeing that our register price for TMCH protected names like Facebook during Exclusive Registration Period is changed from “eighteen thousand” into what is written, the “one hundred and eighty thousand”.
I think that might be a type mistake from our side, and we checked and we are certain that the price is CNY EIGHTEEN THOUSAND.
The 18,000-yuan sunrise fee is published on the registry’s official web site, as I noted yesterday.
The registry email sent to Facebook is reproduced in this PDF.
I wondered yesterday whether a breakdown in communication may to be blame. Perhaps I was correct.
While $3,000 is still rather high for a defensive registration, it doesn’t stink of extortion quite as badly as $30,000.
Still, it’s moderately good news for Facebook and any other company worried they were going to have to shell out record-breaking prices to defensively register their brands.
More Chinese weirdness, or just plain old trademark owner extortion?
The registry for the new gTLD .top is asking Facebook to cough up $35,000 in order to defensively register one of its trademarks as a .top domain — probably facebook.top — according to a Facebook executive.
The registry’s demand — which some are cautiously likening to “extortion” — is linked to the release of name collision domains in .top, which is due to start happening today.
Nanjing, China-based registry Jiangsu Bangning Science & Technology runs the .top gTLD.
It has been in general availability since November 18 and currently has just shy of 40,000 names in its zone file, making it the 16th-largest new gTLD.
I haven’t checked whether they’re all legitimate buyer registrations, but given the shape the new gTLD industry is in right now I have my doubts.
From today, Jiangsu Bangning is running a month-long “Exclusive Registration Period”, according to ICANN records.
But Facebook domain manager Susan Kawaguchi today complained on an ICANN GNSO Council call that the registry had asked for $4,500 for a Sunrise period registration and now wants an extra RMB 180,000 ($30,000) because the desired domain is on its collisions block-list.
UPDATE: The registry says the price is just RMB 18,000. It blames a typo for the error.
I don’t know for sure what domain Facebook wants — I’ve reached out to Kawaguchi for clarification — but I rather suspect it’s facebook.top, which appeared on the list of 30,205 name collisions that Jiangsu Bangning was obliged by ICANN to block.
Name collisions are domains that were already receiving traffic prior to the launch of the new gTLD program. ICANN forces registries to block them for a minimum of 90 days in order to mitigate potential security risks.
According to the registry’s web site, Sunrise registrations cost RMB 18,000 per name per year. That’s about $3,000 a year for a defensive registration, a ridiculously high sum when compared to most new gTLDs.
There’s no mention on its site that I can find of the additional RMB 180,000 collision release fee, but Kawaguchi forwarded an email to the GNSO Council that strongly suggests that trademark owners with brands on the .top collisions list face the inexplicable extra $30,000.
Sunrise prices, just like regular general availability prices, are not controlled by ICANN in new gTLDs.
There are no rules I’m aware of governing pricing for collision names, nor am I aware of any registry costs that could justify a $30,000 fee to register one. A premium generic string may be worth that much, but asking that amount for a trademark smacks of extortion.
So, assuming this isn’t just a breakdown of communication, is the registry trying to screw Facebook in a targeted fashion, knowing it has deep pockets and a cybersquatting target painted on its back, or is it applying a $30,000 fee to every domain coming off its collisions list this week?
Facebook isn’t the only big tech company with its primary trademark on the list — Microsoft, Google, Twitter and Amazon also appear on it, along with many other famous brands.
Kawaguchi said she’s taken her complaint to ICANN Compliance.
The corporate brand protection registrar MarkMonitor was reportedly hacked yesterday by the group calling itself the Syrian Electronic Army, in an unsuccessful attempt to take out Facebook.
While MarkMonitor refused to confirm or deny the claims, the SEA, which has been conducting a campaign against high-profile western web sites for the last couple of years, tweeted several revealing screenshots.
One was a screen capture of a DomainTools Whois lookup for facebook.com, which does not appear to have been cached by DomainTools.
— SyrianElectronicArmy (@Official_SEA16) February 5, 2014
Another purported to be a cap of Facebook’s control panel at the registrar.
— SyrianElectronicArmy (@Official_SEA16) February 6, 2014
The SEA tweeted more caps purporting to show it had access to domains belonging to Amazon and Yahoo!.
In response to an inquiry, MarkMonitor rather amusingly told DI “we do not comment on our clients — including neither confirming nor denying whether or not a company is a client.”
This despite the fact that the company publishes a searchable database of its clients on its web site.
The attackers were unable to take down Facebook itself because the company has rather wisely chosen to set its domain to use Verisign’s Registry Lock anti-hijacking service.
Registry Lock prevents domains’ DNS settings being changed automatically via registrar control panels. Instead, registrants need to provide a security pass phrase over the phone.
Facebook has become the first company to win a Uniform Rapid Suspension complaint.
The case, which dealt with the domain facebok.pw, took 37 days from start to finish.
This is what the suspended site now looks like:
The URS was designed for new gTLDs, but .PW Registry decided to adopt it too, to help it deal with some of the abuse it started to experience when it launched earlier this year.
Facebook was the first to file a complaint, on August 21. According to the decision, the case commenced about three weeks later, September 11, and was decided September 26.
I don’t know when the decision was published, but World Trademark Review appears to have been the first to spot it.
It was pretty much a slam-dunk, uncontroversial decision, as you might imagine given the domain. The standard is “clear and convincing evidence”, a heavier burden than UDRP.
The registrant did not respond to the complaint, but Facebook provided evidence showing he was a serial cybersquatter.
The decision was made by the National Arbitration Forum’s Darryl Wilson, who has over 100 UDRP cases under his belt. Here’s the meat of it:
IDENTICAL OR CONFUSINGLY SIMILAR
The only difference between the Domain Name, facebok.pw, and the Complainant’s FACEBOOK mark is the absence of one letter (“o”) in the Domain Name. In addition, it is well accepted that the top level domain is irrelevant in assessing identity or confusing similarity, thus the “.pw” is of no consequence here. The Examiner finds that the Domain Name is confusingly similar to Complainant’s FACEBOOK mark.
NO RIGHTS OR LEGITIMATE INTERESTS
To the best of the Complainant’s knowledge, the Respondent does not have any rights in the name FACEBOOK or “facebok” nor is the Respondent commonly known by either name. Complainant has not authorized Respondent’s use of its mark and has no affiliation with Respondent. The Domain Name points to a web page listing links for popular search topics which Respondent appears to use to generate click through fees for Respondent’s personal financial gain. Such use does not constitute a bona fide offering of goods or services and wrongfully misappropriates Complainant’s mark’s goodwill. The Examiner finds that the Respondent has established no rights or legitimate interests in the Domain Name.
BAD FAITH REGISTRATION AND USE
The Domain Name was registered and is being used in bad faith.
The Domain Name was registered on or about March 26, 2013, nine years after the Complainant’s FACEBOOK marks were first used and began gaining global notoriety.
The Examiner finds that the Respondent has engaged in a pattern of illegitimate domain name registrations (See Complainant’s exhibit URS Site Screenshot) whereby Respondent has either altered letters in, or added new letters to, well-known trademarks. Such behavior supports a conclusion of Respondent’s bad faith registration and use. Furthermore, the Complainant submits that the Respondent is using the Domain Name in order to attract for commercial gain Internet users to its parking website by creating a likelihood of confusion as to the source, sponsorship or affiliation of the website. The Examiner finds such behavior to further evidence Respondent’s bad faith registration and use.
The only remedy for URS is suspension of the domain. According to Whois, it still belongs to the respondent.
Read the decision in full here.