Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Google – the real profiteer of “typosquatting”

An article in NewScientist.com highlights a report done by two Harvard University Professors entitled “Measuring the Perpetrators and Funders of Typosquatting” which analyzes the profitability of “typosquatting.”

Of course, the not-so-surprising finding from the study is that Google may be earning almost $500 million per year from domain name registrants who engage in so-called “typosquatting” who then post pay-per-click (“PPC”) ads generated by Google.

The report found that nearly 80% of the typosquatting domains showed pay-per-click advertisements that came from ad platforms operated by Google and Yahoo, which leads the authors to make the following suggestion to help with “typosquatting”:

Because ad platforms are the primary or sole source of revenue for these typo domains, we believe ad platforms are well-positioned to substantially reduce typosquatting. Among other responses, ad platforms could select partners more carefully, select only partners with a demonstrated record of avoiding typosquatting, and/or sever ties to partners who are found to engage in typosquatting. Furthermore, ad platforms could require that new partners showing ads on many domains post a bond that is forfeited upon typosquatting, or deduct penalties from payments to any partners found to engage in typosquatting. To the best of our knowledge, ad platforms have taken none of these steps.

The report did disclose that one of the authors of the study is also co-counsel in the pending lawsuit that Vulcan Golf filed against Google back in 2007 arising from Google earning money from typosquatting domains. (A similar report by was highlighed in a October 2008 article on wired.com discussing the pending lawsuit against Google).

And while the report notes Google’s disavowance of any involvement or responsibility over the registration and use of typosquatting domains, the report states the following regarding why search engines such as Google should (and indeed can) take on more responsibility to help alleviate the problem at their end – rather than forcing trademark owners to go after individual domain name registrants of typosquatting domains:

Despite the simplication resulting from ad platforms' preferred approach, we see multiple problems with ad platforms disclaiming all responsibility for the typosquatting they fund. For one, our analysis confirms that payments from ad platforms are the sole force behind most typosquatting registrations. Further- more, ad platforms are least-cost avoiders -- able to prevent typosquatting with less effort than any other party. In particular, thanks to the semantic analysis capabilities and spelling correction skills search engines gained through their principal businesses, ad platforms are well equipped to identify typosquatting registrations. (Consider Google's well-known and strikingly accurate “Did you mean?" function.) Indeed, search engines already receive information about the domains users visit (necessary to target ads accordingly). It would be straightforward to compare these requests to a list of top trademarks, and disallow parking ads from appearing on domains that are misspellings of popular sites.

But what I would really like someone to study is who are the internet browsers who travel to these typosquatting domains filled with PPC advertising after typing in the wrong domain name (and who were purportedly looking for a particular site – after all, how would there be a typo to squat upon) and who click on these PPC links instead of just bringing up one of the major search engines to find the site for which you were looking? The report explains how these sites make money (and Google’s important contribution to the business model) – but what I want to know is in the age of more enlightened understanding regarding navigating cyberspace, why do these sites make money?

1 comment:

philip.eagle said...

Because people who are used to the Web are unaware of just how naive some users are. See this incident where a blog post accidentally became the top Google result for "Facebook login" leading to many people becoming convinced that the post was a new front page for Facebook and leaving outraged comments about the lack of functionality.