In February 2015, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) granted Vox Populi Registry Inc. the .sucks TLD. According to Vox Populi’s web site, “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.”
Canadian registrar Domainsatcost.ca features a prominent “YourBrand.sucks”graphic with “Protect Yourself Now”beside it on the login page used by existing customers. The registrar is offering registration to trademark holders for $3,200 (annual renewals are $3,100) until June 1, 2015 after which standard registrations will cost $280 per year to use the domain, or $215 per year, “for those who want to block the availability of this domain. Ideal for brands and businesses who do not want to use the domain.”
At first glance, one may wonder if domain registrars are profiteering, but as it turns out Domainsatcost.ca and Vox Populi are related companies; both are listed as “our companies”on the Momentus Inc. web site. A handful of other registrars are charging similar rates.
According to John Berard, CEO of Vox Populi, “It is ourhope that companies, institutions, even governments and their agencies will see the value is curating their own criticism site. Right now criticism occurs all over the net. Sometimes untrue criticism is hard to run down, let alone correct. By standing up a dotSucks site, there can be a dialog that assures critics they will be heard and companies that they will have a chance to engage.”
In response to questions about pricing, Berard replied, “Until May 29, only registered trademark holders are able to get dotSucks names. We are suggesting a price of $2,499. Some registrars – our sales channel – are charging between $2,024 and $4,000 for those names. Come June 1, the general public will be able to register dotSucks names. We are recommending a price of $249. It is true that there are many other new gTLDs charging less, but we feel based on the potential value of dotSucks names, our suggested prices are properly set.”
Berard also pointed out that criticizing a company on the Internet doesn’t require a domain registration, “Facebook is home to many such ‘this company sucks’ communities. dotSucks names make the most sense for companies who see the value of curating their own site.”
Vox Populi’s real business model is obvious. Many businesses will pay more than $3,000 a year to prevent someone else from registering their name.sucks. A few minutes watching the “recently registered”names scroll across the Vox Populi web site revealed garageband.sucks, koodomobile.sucks, apple.sucks, osx.sucks, windows.sucks, markmonitor.sucks, whatsapp.sucks, taylorswift.sucks, patagonia.sucks, aflac.sucks, wynn.sucks, and others — many registered by brand name management firms.
According to a Microsoft spokesperson, “Microsoft has registered a number of domains in order to protect the company’s brands. We have done this in order to ensure that these domains will not be used and we do not have any intentions of ever using these domains.” Apple and Koodo Mobile did not respond to emails.
Allen Grogan, Chief Contract Compliance Officer at ICANN, the organization that contracts with registrars to operate the new TLDs, explained that ICANN opened the door to new applications and received 1,930 submissions. Of these, 605 have been approved and the TLDs delegated to new registrars, and 765 are still proceeding through the process. Ultimately, there will be 1,300 to 1,400 new TLDs.
“This is not a new issue that just arises with the introduction of .sucks into the domain name space,”Grogan explained. “Companies have struggled with how to address defensive registrations for years. Some companies have just chosen to ignore variations on names that they might find objectionable and others have aggressively tried to register many different variations on names.”
According to Grogan a process was in place to allow objections to be filed, and an ICANN Independent Objector was appointed to represent the interests of the general public. He said that no formal objections were received to the .sucks TLD, but recommendations with regard to cyberbullying were received from their Government Advisory Committee.
According to the registrar, pornography, cyberbullying, and parked web pages will not be allowed in the .sucks TLD. A rapid takedown process is in place.
Registering a domain to criticize a public figure, organization, or government certainly isn’t new. With the growing number of TLDs available, it is seldom difficult to find a domain that includes a name and a derogatory term. But the introduction of the .sucks TLD with pricing ten to twenty times that of most other TLDs is bringing the issue to a head.
Berard makes an interesting argument, but it doesn’t hold water. Businesses aren’t going to register a .sucks domain to solicit and curate feedback on their products and services. No public relations person in their right mind is going to pitch owing using a .sucks domain for customer relations.
It is also unlikely that consumers who feel they are not being heard are going to pay more than $250 per year for a .sucks domain. The TLD might have some potential for fundraising; cancer.sucks might work. But then again, the cost and controversy may keep fundraisers away.
The .sucks TLD will likely serve to extract money from those wishing protect their brand, squatters will register and re-sell domains, and it will likely be leveraged for smear tactics by special interest groups. This new TLD is poised to become a cesspool that serves no public interest, and that sucks.
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