The Spam Diaries

News and musings about the fight against spam.
 by Edward Falk

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Today's new vocabulary term: Domain Kiting

Domain Kiting takes advantage of a loophole in ICANN regulations. Many domain registrars give you a five-day grace period after you register a domain, during which you can change your mind and cancel the registration for a full refund. The idea, presumably, is to protect registrants from needing to pay for typos they made when registering the domain, false registrations, and so on.

Domain Kiting involves registering hundreds, thousands, or even more domain names, filling them with advertising content, and then canceling them just before the five-day grace period. Often, the domain names are then registered all over again for another five days, and so on.

According to GoDaddy founder Bob Parsons, who coined the term, in April of this year, 35 million domain names were registered, and 32.7 million of them were not paid for. On the last day of March, approximately 764,672 .COM names were registered, but only 61,169 (less than 10%) were actually retained. DirectNic alone registered 8.4 million domains in April, but only retained 51.4 thousand of them. He estimates that on any given day, 3.5 million domain names are tied up by domain kiters. The process is clearly automated.

Why do they do this? Once the domain names are registered, they're immediately filled with pay-per-click advertising and paid links to other sites. The benefits are several: First, a small portion of users who come to the site by accident will click on a link and generate some revenue. Second, many of the kited domain names belong to legitimate sites which allowed their registration to expire for one reason or another — these domains will retain links from major search engines for a while, bringing in enormous valuable traffic. Third, these domain names may be typos for legitimate businesses and thus bring in a small amount of traffic from users who mis-type an address.

These kited domains will bring in a small amount of revenue from the pay-per-click advertising they carry, and are also used by illegitimate search engine optimizers to increase the Page rank of the linked sites.

The amount of revenue generated by an individual kited domain is very small, but they cost nothing and the domain kiters can register a great number of them.

Further, the same process which automatically registers the domain names and places the advertising also keeps track of which domain names generated the most revenue. In some cases, the domain name may be valuable enough to keep permanently.

How does this hurt the rest of us? In several ways. First, kited domains are a form of search engine spam, and as such, poison the well so to speak by causing the search engines to return less relavent results and more trash to wade through to find the information we're looking for. Secondly, the domain kiters tie up domain names that legitimate business would want to use. Those businesses must then either engage in a costly battle to obtain the domain name, or hope for the name to be dropped and hope they can grab it up in the brief window before it's re-registered.

What can be done about it? First and foremost, the registrars should simply not allow it. They could stop issuing repeated refunds to the same clients. They could set a limit on how many domains any one client can register per day. The registrars may be disinclined to put a stop to this, however, as they do make a small profit themselves from the money the kiters keep on deposit with them.

Parsons' suggestion is even simpler: make the ICANN portion of the registration fee (25¢) non-refundable. This may be harder than it sounds, as ICANN is a concensus organization, and as I said above, many registrars may be disinclined to go along with such a change.

The full text of Bob Parson's articles on the problem may be found at The add/drop scheme. How millions of .COM names are used but never paid for and 35 million names registered in April. 32 million were part of a kiting scheme. A serious problem gets worse.


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