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Should we worry about Donuts Inc.’s push for new domain names?

Sep 25, 20123 mins
CybercrimeData and Information Security

Fraud fighters say something stinks with Donuts Inc. and its campaign to introduce more domain names to the Internet.

An interesting debate is unfolding over one company’s push to launch scores of new domain names.

On one side is the argument that companies doing business online deserve more variety and choice in the domain names they purchase. If you sell shoes, for example, the argument is that a domain name like .shoes or .footware will be more accurate. On the other side are fraud fighters who see a new frontier littered with criminal activity taking hold.

At the center of the story is a company called Donuts Inc. (a play on Domain Nuts). According to TLD Magazine, Donuts Inc. has spent more than $56 million in application fees with ICANN to secure 307 new generic top-level domains (gTLDs). According to its website, Donuts Inc. is all about offering “an online identity that’s meaningful and specific to you, your business, your family, your cause.”

From the website:

It’s getting very hard to find a good identity in the namespace limited to .COM, .NET, .INFO and other “top-level domains,” or TLDs. However, thanks to TLD expansion, Donuts is bringing hundreds of new TLD options to market to help you mark your online territory and tell the world what you do and care about. Donuts is led by Internet industry entrepreneurs with highly successful track records, and is backed by more than $100 million in venture and private equity funding.

Sounds reasonable, yes? Who doesn’t want a wider choice in domain names? But something about Donuts Inc.’s movements make me uneasy.

Admittedly, my views have been influenced by an article in The Washington Post where fraud experts and Internet watchdogs speak warily of this “land rush.” They warn that Donuts has close ties to shady spamming entities. From the article:

Should Donuts come to control hundreds of new domains, including “.doctor,” “.financial” and “.school,” consumers could see a spike in online misbehavior, these critics warn. “If the allegations concerning Donuts turn out to be true, these 300 top-level domains could be the Wild West for fraud and abuse,” said David E. Weslow, a D.C.-based lawyer who represents several major corporations.

Law enforcement authorities in several nations have warned for years that rapid expansion of new domains could unleash a fresh wave of online crimes while making it harder to identify the culprits. The number of what are called “top-level domains” is set to expand from the current 22, including “.com” and “.org,” to potentially more than 1,400 next year.

Donuts Inc. brushed aside the warnings. “We and our very smart investors would not have spent almost $57 million if we had any concerns that we were not eligible,” Jonathon Nevett, a Rockville-based lawyer who is one of four co-founders of Donuts, told The Washington Post.

So where do we go from here?

My sense is that Donuts Inc. will get what it wants. You don’t often spend what they’ve spent without getting your way in the end.

And there will be more fraud. Much more. More domains means a wider battlefield with limitless hiding spaces for the bad guys.

That’ll be the case even if Donuts Inc. takes every possible step to keep things clean.