I was as disturbed as the next guy to see our story about how Google ads are indirectly financing adware campaigns. Disturbed, but not entirely surprised. I had already come across another unsavory use of Googles AdSense program.
Its not quite in the same league with malware distribution, but its a problem nonetheless. Have you ever stumbled across an unused Internet domain for sale and the home page had ads on it? Its very common.
Try this domain broker, Sedo. Pick out a domain; dont click on it, but open a new window and view the domain Web page. The ads you see have long, complicated URLs, but you can pick “googlesyndication.com” out of the middle of them.
The cost of acquiring domains has gone down precipitously over the last few years, and the cost of parking has gone down too, but neither are completely free. A profitable domain broker needs to do whatever it can to cover costs. Google AdSense to the rescue.
The ads on some of these sites are clearly more profitable than others, but its not hard to imagine some of them covering the few bucks a year of cost to the owner of the domain warehouse. Any actual domain sales then become pure cream. Ad revenues also become a major input into the calculation of pricing for the domain by the broker. As you can see from the Sedo home page, some of these are expensive.
You have to wonder about the whole business of domain warehousing. One observer I know calls it a tax on small businesses trying to enter the Web markets, and he has a point.
All you have to do is think of a name first, spend a few bucks registering it, and you own it. You dont have to do anything with it.
Of course, ICANN does have policies in place to deal with abuse of domain registration, and Ive written about them before. Imagine, for example, that some broker owns the .com version of my trademarked business name, and has it for sale. I can file a complaint with one of several arbitration services approved by ICANN and, for not a lot of money by the standards of legal proceedings, I can get my domain back within a couple of months, if its a straightforward case.
But not a lot of money is not nothing, and its usually cheaper and more expeditious just to buy off the domain broker. If youre Microsoft or McDonalds or Exxon you can afford not to let these clowns push you around, but for most people paying the broker is just taking the path of least resistance.
Im sure that most people who end up having to pay off a domain warehouse view it as similar to having to pay off the mob just to get your garbage collected.
Its just another way that the Internet is ruled by those who add no value to it or live by threats. Im not sure how the authorities could eliminate domain warehousing, but Im sure it doesnt help for Google to be financing it.
Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.