About a year ago, I wrote an article about ethics in domain investing. That article primarily covered buying and/or registering names that could either be considered trademarks or infringing on a brand or personal brand. I want to expand on that today because I don’t think it did a good enough job discussing ethics as it relates to my domain investing business.
As I mentioned before, I do my best to steer clear of obvious trademarks. I stick to buying generic / descriptive domain names that could be used by many different types of brands. I am sure there are some that one company or another would feel that they should have rights to own, but I can safely say that every domain name owned by my company is very defensible and defendable. In retrospect, domain investing ethics involve more than avoiding trademark or infringing domain names. In light of Sahar Sarid’s arrest, I want to expand on the discussion of ethics in domain investing.
When I buy a domain name, I want to do my best to ensure its monetization will not go against my own moral principles. I would not do something I believe is sketchy to make money. Further, if I find the topic of a domain name is offensive or ethically wrong, I can’t imagine wanting to own it.
Ethics is a different topic than the law. It might be legal to have a certain type of advertisement showing or monetization method, but it could be unethical and I wouldn’t do it. Everyone (should) have their own set of ethics, and I would hope they are guided by them.
A small handful of examples, of which there are many more, that I would personally be opposed to doing with my domain names include:
- Forwarding a non-adult domain name to porn or something sketchy because I know a small business or person let it expire and I hope they will buy it from me.
- Affiliate marketing to sell a health related product that likely has no benefit or could be harmful.
- Monetize traffic that takes advantage of people who face hardships.
- Put adult ads or forward domain names that children will likely visit.
- Knowingly own racist domain names or domain names that might be racially insensitive.
- Zero click landing pages that serve up malware or bloatware that do not benefit the user and are accidentally installed.
This is a very small example of ethically challenging monetization strategies that I could think of off the top of my head. Some of the above examples might be illegal depending on the jurisdiction, but regardless of the legal status, they would make me uncomfortable and I would not want to make money in this manner.
Everyone makes mistakes. People can be blinded by money or not really look at the big picture. It is important to learn from these mistakes and not repeat them. I would rather leave money on the table and operate an ethically sound business than do something I would be embarrassed about.
Some people think owning a portfolio of domain names as investments is unethical. I don’t think that is the case any more than a company that owns real estate as investments. I think this shows that each person’s ethics are guided by their own experiences and background. I think we can all take a look inwards to ensure we are making not only legal business decisions, but ethical ones as well.