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More on my Twitter.sucks reg

Kevin Murphy, December 21, 2015, Domain Registries

If you were reading on Friday, you’ll know that I brought about the registration of the domain twitter.sucks and took charge of a web site hosted at that address.

I hinted that there was a little more to the story, but couldn’t get into it.

The first part of the story is here.

What I didn’t mention was that twitter.sucks was in my This.sucks account for probably less than 10 minutes before I removed it.

I have no beef with Twitter and no particular desire to moderate a .sucks discussion forum.

After removing twitter.sucks from my account, I noticed that This.sucks again gave me the option to “register” a free .sucks domain.

So I experimentally “registered” thisdotsucks.sucks too.

Again, the domain started resolving, showed up in Whois, and the associated WordPress site went live within seconds.

At this point, I discovered that I had admin privileges for both twitter.sucks and thisdotsucks.sucks sites simultaneously.

Suspecting that I may have found a bug that would allow anyone to register an essentially unlimited number of free and potentially trademark-matching .sucks domains, I informed This.sucks of my findings in the interest of responsible bug disclosure and ended my blog post prematurely.

Late Friday, This.sucks spokesperson Phil Armstrong told me that it wasn’t a bug after all.

He said that the company allows one “do-over”. So if you register a name for free, then delete it, you get another one for free.

He also said that WordPress admin privileges for domains removed from user accounts expire after a period (I had admin rights for the twitter.sucks web site for roughly 48 hours after I deleted it from my account.)

Right now, the domain twitter.sucks still exists, registered to This.sucks as before, as does the associated web site. I have no idea if another user has taken over its administration or if it’s in some kind of limbo state.

All I know is that it’s nothing to do with me any more.

How I just registered Twitter.sucks for free in just five clicks

Kevin Murphy, December 18, 2015, Domain Registries

This morning, I caused the registration of and was given control of a web site at twitter.sucks.

I didn’t pay a thing, though I did — by checking a box linked to hidden terms and conditions — promise to pay $10,000 if I was later determined to be working for Twitter.

Ordinarily, registering a .sucks domain would have cost me over $200.

The controversial This.sucks service (which may share ownership with .sucks registry Vox Populi) has gone live and is giving out 10,000 .sucks web sites for free.

Users, who can sign up merely by connecting their Facebook or LinkedIn accounts, are able to cause This.sucks to register names on their behalf.

They are then immediately given limited control over a WordPress blog hosted at that domain, though not to the associated name servers or Whois records.

It’s actually quite a slick, streamlined service, that could quite easily dramatically increase the number of active .sucks site overnight.

But it’s going to cause no end of headaches for trademark owners.

Earlier this week, you may recall DI reporting that This.sucks seemed to have registered the .sucks names matching the brands of Twitter, Adobe, Goldman Sachs and Justin Timberlake.

It seems that this may have been a test of the This.sucks service, as I was tipped off last night that twitter.sucks was no longer registered.

Here’s how I got control over the twitter.sucks web site in just FIVE clicks.

This.sucks has a domain availability query box, just like a regular registrar. I looked up “twitter”:

This.sucks 1

Seeing that the domain was available, I went through the two-click process of allowing This.sucks to use my Facebook login credentials.

This.sucks 2

Obviously, while I used a genuine Facebook account, I see no reason why I couldn’t have used a fake one.

After connecting, I was bounced back to This.sucks and was given the ability to register twitter.sucks in a single click.

This.sucks 3

I also had to check a box confirming:

I’m a free-thinking individual, not a corporate yes-man. I agree to the terms and conditions and any penalties which may apply.

Clicking either of the T&C links, or hovering over the question mark, will introduce you to the concept of a $10,000 penalty.

This.sucks 4

That’s right — by causing This.sucks to register a .sucks domain, you agree to pay $10,000 if the company decides, in its “sole discretion” that you are affiliated with the matching trademark owner. The terms state:

Site Runners on this.sucks must be individuals who have no affiliation with the subject matter of the Site. You can’t be running the Site on behalf of a company, entity or anyone who is the subject of the Site.

As a Site Runner you agree that if you are found by this.sucks, in our sole discretion, to be in violation of this principal, that a $10,000 USD payment to This.sucks will immediately become due and payable. You will also no longer be a Site Runner with us. Your Site may also be given to a different Site Runner to run.

If you think a Site is being run by someone acting on behalf of the subject of the Site, please email us at whistleblower@this.sucks

Given that Twitter’s lawyers are probably going to hate me for doing this, I felt pretty confident in accepting this risk.

In addition, at this point This.sucks has not asked me for any payment information. If they want $10,000 off of me, they can take a hike, I figure.

So I clicked the “Register Now” button.

Bam! In under 10 seconds the domain name twitter.sucks existed in DNS, in Whois, and there was a simple WordPress web site there that I, to a significant extent, controlled.

The domain is registered to This.sucks, which makes it clear on its web site FAQ that its users — or “Site Runners” — do not actually own the domains they cause to be registered.

This.sucks 6

As administrator of the WordPress site, I am able to create and update blog posts as well as change the appearance by switching between a limited selection of themes. I can also edit and delete comments and manage registered users.

There’s a little bit more to my story — which I cannot get into for now.

For the moment, it must suffice to say that this is a whole new world for famous brand owners.

They can either pay the roughly $2,000 required to defensively register their brand in .sucks, or they can try to sneak through a free (or $0.99 per month) registration at This.sucks at the risk of being billed $10,000 if they get rumbled.

Twitter and Justin Timberlake targeted by This.sucks

Kevin Murphy, December 15, 2015, Domain Registries

This.sucks, a company with close ties to .sucks registry Vox Populi, has started registering domain names matching famous brands to itself.

Twitter, along with singer Justin Timberlake, software maker Adobe and investment bank Goldman Sachs all saw their matching .sucks domains registered by This.sucks on Friday, according to the .sucks zone file and Whois queries.

The domains twitter.sucks, goldmansachs.sucks, justintimberlake.sucks and adobe.sucks currently resolve in browsers, but only to a password-protected web site.

New York-based This.sucks says its service is in beta. It plans to give 10,000 .sucks domains away for free, and to sell them for as little as $12 per year. Its business model has not been revealed.

That’s a deep discount from their regular $250 suggested retail price, which rises to $2,500 for domains matching famous brands.

Technically, the company should have just paid around $10,000 for the four brand-matching domains it has just registered.

But it is broadly suspected that This.sucks shares ownership with Vox Populi, the .sucks registry operator, which would make this a case of the right hand paying the left.

As we uncovered in October, Vox Populi originally hosted This.sucks’ web sites and the CEO of Momentous, which founded Vox Pop, paid for its web site to be developed.

The two companies also share a physical address and a Cayman Islands lawyer.

Vox Pop has denied any involvement in This.sucks, saying it’s just another customer.

It will be interesting to see how long it takes for one of the four affected brands to file a UDRP or URS complaint on these new domains.

As far as I can tell, the .sucks namespace currently has an unblemished UDRP record.

Unlike rival Top Level Spectrum, which runs .feedback, neither Vox Pop nor This.sucks has revealed any plans to use brands belonging to third parties as part of their services.

TLS has said it plans to sell 5,000 branded .feedback domains to a third party after its sunrise period ends next month.

It has already registered fox.feedback to itself as one of its special 100-domain pre-sunrise registry allowance.

Since we last reported on .feedback a month ago, the registry appears to have also registered the names of all the current US presidential candidates — such as donaldtrump.feedback and hillaryclinton.feedback — to itself.

The sites are all live, as is santaclaus.feedback, which seeks commentary on the “fictional” character.

Vox Pop denies links to free .sucks company

Kevin Murphy, October 10, 2015, Domain Registries

Vox Populi, the .sucks gTLD registry, has told DI that it is not involved with This.sucks, the company offering free .sucks domains, after evidence to the contrary was discovered.

Meanwhile, the president of ICANN’s intellectual property constituency says he’s concerned that the registry may be using This.sucks to try to misrepresent its prices.

This.sucks, as reported yesterday, is currently in pre-launch. It has said it plans to give away up to 10,000 .sucks domains to customers who want to run blog/forum sites commenting on companies, products and other general issues.

Its standard pricing would be $1 per month, a massive discount on the regular $200+ annual registry fee, which would require it to make substantial additional revenue to cover its costs.

That’s assuming it is really an independent company, of course.

Some people think it’s just a front for Vox Pop, and there are compelling reasons to believe they’re correct.

Rob Hall paid for the web site

The most compelling piece of evidence, for me, is that somebody called Robert Hall paid for design of the This.sucks web site.

The one-page launch site was created by a designer responding to an ad on the crowdsourcing web site DesignCrowd.

The title of the solicitation page is “Modern, Bold Web design job. Web brief for Robert Hall, a company in Turks and Caicos Islands”.

Rob Hall is the CEO of Momentous, the company that founded Vox Pop and as far as I know still owns most of it.

He’s the technical contact for .sucks in the IANA database, albeit with a Barbados, rather than Turks and Caicos, address.

The DesignCrowd contest seems to have been submitted around August 26 this year, two days before This.sucks existed as a legal entity in New York state.

Hall seems to have paid $370 for the winning design and $10 to five runners-up.

The site is/was hosted on Vox Pop’s server

Another compelling link between Vox Pop and This.sucks is the server on which their respective domains are hosted — it’s the same box.

According to DomainTools, this.sucks is hosted on a server with just 16 other domains. Four of those — everything.sucks and that.sucks, as well as sister sites this.rocks and that.rocks — belong to This.sucks Inc.

The remaining 12 domains — including buy.sucks, register.sucks, search.sucks — are all .sucks promotional sites owned and operated by Vox Populi.

This.sucks reverse Whois

Berard told DI in an email that Vox Pop has never hosted This.sucks sites:

I suspect that in doing the deal for the premium domain names they wanted, some remained pointed at one of our forwarding servers to which they were first assigned. But, as with the other names they have registered, that will sort itself out over time. We have never hosted their website.

It’s true that DomainTools warns that domains may still be listed for up to two weeks after they have been removed from an IP address.

But I don’t think Vox Pop’s explanation explains how this.rocks and that.rocks wound up listed as hosted on the same IP address as the .sucks domains.

The .rocks gTLD is run by Rightside, not Vox Pop, so I can’t see an obvious reason why they started out pointing to a Vox Pop box.

I asked Berard for clarification on this point but have yet to receive a reply. A This.sucks spokesperson has not responded to an inquiry about the apparently shared hosting.

Caymans link

It also turns out that somebody formed a Cayman Islands company called This.sucks Ltd on August 25 this year, three days before the New York-based This.sucks Inc was registered.

The Cayman company’s registered address is the Georgetown PO Box number for Cayman Law Group Ltd, a boutique law firm with a half-finished web site.

That’s the same address Vox Populi gave ICANN (pdf) when it transferred its Registry Agreement from its original Canadian corporate entity to a Cayman-based one this March.

As far as ICANN is concerned, Vox Pop’s legal address is the same address as the new This.sucks Ltd entity.

The New York entity’s official address is a PO Box at a strip-mall UPS store in small-town New York state.

It might be interesting, but probably not relevant, to note that Cayman Law’s domain name is owned, according to Whois, by a domainer who lost one of the first “-sucks.com” UDRP cases, back in 2003.

I asked Berard if Vox Pop had any links to the Cayman company but have not yet received a reply.

Everything.sucks

This.sucks has the same business model as was proposed by Vox Populi under its “Consumer Advocate Subsidy” program, which it proposed at the start of the year.

The company had planned to find an independent partner that would subsidize .sucks registrations in cases where the registrant was a genuine third-party critic (rather than the company itself).

The price was to be around $10 a year, the domains would be tied to a hosted forum service, and the name of the service would be Everything.sucks.

That domain, as I reported yesterday, now belongs to This.sucks Inc.

But Berard said This.sucks is not the Consumer Advocate Subsidy, for which a partner has not yet been found. He said:

This is not the consumer subsidy program we have hoped to foster with a non-profit, but it certainly is in keeping with the spirit of our effort. An effort, I must note, that continues. Somethings are harder to do than we’d like!

Why does this matter?

Whether This.sucks is a cloaked registry effort is important to intellectual property interests, which have claimed that subsidized .sucks prices are part of a “shakedown scheme” targeting trademark owners.

The IPC has long suspected that Everything.sucks was just going to be a case of Vox Pop hiding a registry service in a supposedly, but not actually, independent third-party company.

Brand owners that want to register their brand.sucks domain often have to pay over $2,000 a year, but the proposed subsidy would bring that price down to $10 as long as the registrant was not the trademark owner.

IPC president Greg Shatan told DI yesterday:

Any inkling that Vox Pop and This.sucks were linked and pretending not to be, and actively denying it, would be of great concern, not just to the IPC but to the ICANN community at large. It’s all highly suspicious. It’s very hard to believe that it is what they are claiming it is.

The concern centers on an apparent attempt to misrepresent their pricing and hide how much Vox Pop is actually being paid by brand owners vs. other registrants for domain registrations.

Any plans to monetize this.sucks sites would also be of considerable interest. The non-commercial nature of “sucks” sites (generically speaking) is often cited in response to cybersquatting concerns. I’m not sure how this would change that equation.

Back in March, as .sucks was getting ready to launch, the IPC wrote to ICANN to say Vox Pop was trying to “conspire with an (alleged) third party to ‘subsidize’ a complaint site should brand owners fail to cooperate in Vox Populi’s shakedown scheme”.

The IPC wrote (pdf):

Through this “subsidy,” Vox Populi effectively shows brand owners that, if they fail to register at an exorbitant price, a third party will be able to register for a pittance. This is an essential element of Vox Populi’s coercive scheme.

The IPC also claimed that the proposed subsidy would count as a “registry service” under the terms of Vox Pop’s contract and would therefore need approval by ICANN.

Berard told DI on Thursday, quite unambiguously, that This.sucks is “not a registry service”.

If This.sucks isn’t being financially supported by Vox Pop, it’s going to have to find a lot of revenue.

With a $199 basic registry fee, a 10,000-domain giveaway would cost almost $2 million.

Given that This.sucks is actively courting registrants of brand names — many of which are likely to appear on Vox Pop’s premium list — the cost could be literally 10 times as much.

Vox Pop has made it clear that it’s a subsidy, not a registry discount.

In a July blog post addressing perceived inaccuracies in the media coverage of .sucks, Berard wrote:

Whether a registration is subsidized, the price to the registrar and registry is unaffected. That is the nature of a subsidy. Neither is the program to be offered by the registry. We are talking to a number of free speech advocates and domain name companies to find the right partner.

When we do, likely sometime in the Fall, we will make sure that the information is clear and available so that, well, you can look it up.

(Thanks to George Kirikos for the tip about the existence of the Cayman company)

Company to offer .sucks domains at .com prices

Kevin Murphy, October 9, 2015, Domain Registries

A new company says it is going to sell .sucks domain names, which usually retail for around $250, for as little as $12 a year.

This.sucks Inc, which says it is not affiliated with the registry, is even planning to give away 10,000 names for free.

That’s a hell of a cost to cover — the .sucks registry fee is $199 for most names or $1,999 for names, including brands, that have been marked as premium.

A 10,000-name giveaway would cost close to $2 million per year, in other words.

But This.sucks isn’t a registrar. Instead, it wants to tie its customers in to its forum and blogging platform, which will be monetized in some way.

Spokesperson Phil Armstrong told us “our plan is to create new revenue streams from different sources, including possibly advertising.” He said:

Our goal is to build a business around giving consumers affordable and easy access to these expressive web addresses, and we’ll work with different registrars to get the best price. We think we can create a large, sustainable community that over time will generate income well above the initial costs of the registrations.

There are good reasons to believe that the company is in fact the “Consumer Advocate Subsidy” provider that .sucks registry Vox Populi promised would be launching in September.

Vox Pop said in March that the subsidizing entity — which would be an unaffiliated company — would offer .sucks domains with attached forum sites for around $10 a year.

The proposed name of the service was “Everything.sucks” — a domain now owned by This.sucks Inc that redirects to this.sucks.

But Vox Pop CEO John Berard said that This.sucks was “just another registrant” and that it was “not a registry service”.

Armstrong said: “We are not related to anything Vox Populi is doing. Not sure what they are up to, but hopefully they’ll be excited about what we are doing.”

The company’s mailing address appears to be a UPS store at a small strip mall in New York state.

The this.sucks service is currently in invitation-only beta testing “for individuals with a passion”.

There’s a sister site with a virtually identical design and mission statement at this.rocks.

In a fact sheet, This.sucks says:

At both This.Rocks and This.Sucks consumers will be able to pick the name of companies, products, people and causes they want to be the focus of the commentary and conversation. With the web address of their choosing, they will be able to moderate a blog or forum to talk about the issues, initiatives and interests that stir their passions.

The goal is to encourage individual consumers to give voice to their points-­of-­view and make it easy for like­‐minded people to join the conversation, much like Reddit for general topics, Slash/Dot for technology, CafePharma in the ethical drug industry, and Glassdoor for job seekers and employers.