The Attorney General’s Office from the State of New York (NYAG) sent a letter to GoDaddy regarding coronavirus domain names being registered for various scams and schemes. The letter, sent on NY Attorney General Letitia James’ letterhead, was sent this past Friday. The letter is posted in a .pdf file on the NYAG’s website.
According to the letter, “The Office of the New York Attorney General (NYAG) is investigating the registration and use of coronavirus-related domains for the purposes of deceptive advertising, phishing schemes and malware dissemination.” Although the letter does not specifically mention that some of these domain names are registered at GoDaddy, I would imagine this is probably the case since GoDaddy is the largest domain registrar in the world.
The NYAG is requesting that GoDaddy contact the NYAG’s office “to discuss how GoDaddy is protecting New Yorkers and others across the country from these scams.” The NYAG suggested some actions it would like to discuss with GoDaddy:
1.The use of automated and human review of domain name registration and traffic patterns to identify fraud;
2. Human review of complaints from the public and law enforcement about fraudulent or illegal use of coronavirus domains, including creating special channels for such complaints; 3. Revising your terms of service to reserve aggressive enforcement for the illegal use of coronavirus domains; and
4. De-registration of the domains cited in the articles identified above that were registered at GoDaddy, and any holds in place on registering new domains related to coronavirus, or similar blockers that prevent rapid registration of coronavirus-related domains.
I reached out to a representative from GoDaddy to see if the company would be able to comment on the letter. A GoDaddy spokesperson provided me with the following statement:
“Prior to the New York Attorney General’s letter, GoDaddy had already removed sites promoting coronavirus scams for violating our terms of service, and we’ll continue to do so. As has been our position for two decades, if at any time someone believes a website may be operating in violation of our terms of service, including scams related to coronavirus, we ask that they submit an abuse report at https://supportcenter.godaddy.com/AbuseReport. GoDaddy has a dedicated team that investigates every abuse claim we receive and takes appropriate action.”
Notably, GoDaddy owns Coronavirus.com, which was acquired as part of its very recent 9 figure acquisition of Uniregistry. The company opted to forward this valuable and presumably high traffic domain name to the World Health Organization website in lieu of selling it or otherwise monetizing it. That seems like a very good decision.
GoDaddy must be relieved that’s all the AG office contacted it about.
The NYAG suggested some actions it would like to discuss with GoDaddy: “The use of automated and human review of domain name registration and traffic patterns to identify fraud;” The last thing we need is ANY review or restrictions at the domain registration level. Go after fraud websites which are engaged in commerce and violating laws. It is crazy to “guess” the intent or reason for registering a domain name which can be huge factor in Free Speech. A close example to this is that there is a lot of frustration with Facebook’s advertising platform restrictions when using their automated review which have plenty of bugs that block your ads. It’s not the domain name it’s the use of the domain that can be illegal fraud and enforcement action can only happen AFTER you break a law.