A brazen extortion dot-scheme promotes itself as free dot-speech. Where does this foolishness dot-end?
Update: According to the Daily Mail, ICANN “sent a letter on Thursday to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and Canada’s Office of Consumer Affairs to see if the actions of company Vox Populi Registry Ltd. were illegal.” So maybe they’re sorry.
A recent wave of new top-level domains — those Internet extensions that formerly categorized broad spheres of online activity such as commerce (.com), education (.edu), and so forth — continues to slice and dice the Internet in silly and unnecessary ways.
The newest trend, according to NPR, comes by way of TLDs meant to enable negative expression about things, in particular those things that already have a dot-com domain name registered for them:
Several new suffixes seem to invite negative feedback. There’s .gripe and .fail. There’s even .wtf — a colorful variation on “what the heck.” And soon, there will be .sucks.
The coming .sucks domain is the brainchild of Vox Populi Registry, whose website (to which I will not link) presents this scheme, with an entirely straight face, as a boon to free speech:
By building an easy-to-locate, “central town square” available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, dotSucks is designed to help consumers find their voices and allow companies to find the value in criticism. Each dotSucks domain has the potential to become an essential part of every organization’s customer relationship management program.
Of course, if your company would prefer not to see its good name bandied about in this “town square,” Vox Populi will cheerfully let your company register your-brand-name.sucks instead — for $2,500, about a hundred times the rate for .com domain names. And naturally, you would never dream of just sitting on the domain, or using it to redirect to your main site. Heavens no, feigns Vox Populi CEO John Berard:
It’s our belief that if a company choses to register its name in the .sucks domain, that it will cultivate it as a clean well-lighted place for criticism, for better understanding.
But if you don’t want your company to pay $2,500 in the name of better understanding, no hard feelings — Vox Populi will let any activist register your-brand-name.sucks for as little as $10. Feeling motivated yet?
Stunningly, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has fallen for this shakedown scheme hook, line and sinker. Says ICANN Vice President Cyrus Namazi, “There were actually no objections” to Vox Populi’s proposal, adding:
We have to keep in mind that freedom of speech is actually one of the fundamental rules of the United States of America as well as the fundamental rule of what the Internet is supposed to enable.
Never mind that the Internet already enables free speech to an unprecedented degree — via blogs, rating systems such as Yelp and Angie’s List, and the review sections of online retailers such as Amazon.com. Nope, what we really need is a “clean well-lighted place” that does the same thing as all the other clean well-lighted places, only more expensively.
And the more brands you control, the more expensive it gets. Consider Procter and Gamble, whose current brand portfolio numbers into the dozens. If they were to preemptively register the .gripe, .fail, .sucks, and .who-knows-whats-next domains for each brand name in their stable, they could be paying hundreds of thousands per year, money that would be better spent on shareholder dividends, raises for workers, product research, and so on.
But rather than get mad, I think I’ll get in on the action. And so, with kind thanks to the good-natured suckers at ICANN, I welcome you to Irredeemable Sleazebag Domain Registry, offering these and other free-speech enabling TLDs:
- .rapedmydog — Hey, brand managers, how’d you like to wake up one morning to see a website called your-brand.rapedmydog? This TLD is intended for free speech that’s more, shall we say, spirited than what .sucks might host, and we’ll register it for as low as $10, or for your company, $3,000.
- .eatsbabies — In some cultures, baby-eating is highly controversial; happily, in America, we’ll talk about anything. For the low annual fee of $4,000, your company can foster a better understanding of its position vis-a-vis the devouring of infants. Special “activist” discount price: $5 for three years.
- .gavemeaids — Ooh, AIDS is pretty nasty. We really can’t let this one go for less than five grand. Better snap it up now, before we sell it to some high school kids for a nickel.