If you’ve registered even a few domains over the past ten years, you’ve likely received at least a few letters from a company named the Domain Registry of America (DROA).
The DROA is famous for sending snail mail letters out to domain owners, typically around the time one or more of their domains are set to expire, with an offer to “renew” the domain, which was in reality a transfer to them, making them your new domain registrar.
This method of obtaining transfers is commonly referred to as “domain slamming” and it’s made worse by the fact the DROA registration fees were significantly hire than most registrars, currently at $35 for a one-year registration when under $10 is more normal.
However, I recently received word from my good friend and podcast cohost Patrick Okeefe that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the group responsible for the domain name system, has suspended the DROA’s ability to process new registrations (PDF) and may to terminate it completely.
While this doesn’t mean that the DROA is completely out of business, for reasons I’ll explain in a minute, it is a strong blow for webmasters everywhere, even if it raise some serious and uncomfortable questions.
The (Kind of) Suspension of the Domain Registry of America
In a pair of letters dated the 18th of July, 2014, ICANN notified Brandon Gray Intenet Services Inc., commonly known as NameJuice, that they would no longer be able to register new domains or initiate inbound transfers for 90 days. That suspension would begin on July 19, 2014 and end October 17, 2014.
The reason for the suspension was because of various violations of the Registrar Accreditation Agreement (RAA), that ICANN claims to have found. Most of the breaches center on deceptive advertising and the data mining of names and contact information of registrants of domains on other services.
The DROA is a reseller of Brandon Gray Internet Services domains (See note in footer). This means that, when someone buys a domain from the DROA, the DROA is buying it from Brandon Gray and selling it to that customer. This is because only companies that have a direct relationship with ICANN and have been approved by ICANN can actually register domains.
Because of that many, if not most, domain registrars are actually resellers, buying domains from a third party, such as Tucows, and reselling it with a slight markup.
What this means is that DROA has lost its source for domains. Until either Brandon Gray is unsuspended or DROA finds a new partner, they are unable to register new domains or, perhaps more importantly, initiate inbound transfers. This also puts the domains currently registered with the DROA in jeopardy. Since those domains technically registered through Brandon Gray, if Brandon Gray were to permanently lose its license, the fate of those domains (at least in terms of which registrar gets to handle them) could be up in the air.
While things certainly don’t look good for the DROA, this isn’t necessarily the nail in the coffin. Rather, it could be just the latest chapter in a storied saga that has gone on over a decade.
A Decade Plus of Deception
The DROA has been doing business for at least 12 years when Register.com sued them claiming that the company mined their database and sent promotional mailings to their customers tricking many into transferring away.
The DROA tweaked its advertising language but still ran afoul of the ASA again in 2008. In 2010, Brandon Gray lost its ability to sell Canada’s .ca domains. However, it was only last week that ICANN took action.
The reason for that, according to Domain Name Wire, is that in 2013 ICANN updated its RAA to put more burden on registrars to monitor, police and enforce the activities of their resellers. Previously registrars could be more dismissive of many reseller practices but, under the new agreement, registrars can be held responsible for violations such as deceptive advertising.
Still, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the action is the end of the DROA or its campaign. Though the relationship with Brandon Gray has been longstanding, and many believe them to be the same company, the DROA has partnered with other registrars. In the FTC’s announcement of the judgment against the DROA, it listed the company as a reseller for Enom though that relationship, clearly, ended sometime between then and now (Disclosure: I am technically an Enom reseller though I do not offer domain registrations to the public.).
If the DROA can find a new registrar to partner with, they may be able to pack up and move on. However, the newest version of the RAA and the DROA”s notoriety make that a much more difficult task.
Why This is Important
So why cover this on a site that deals with content theft, plagiarism and copyright issues? It’s easy, your domain is your identity online. Losing control of it can be far worse than having all of your content copied.
If you’re worried about your content and the work you’ve put into your site, you need to be worried about your domain too.
Fortunately, keeping control of a domain is, usually, fairly simple. Select a good registrar, renew your names promptly, make sure to use strong passwords and, if possible, use two-factor authentication to deter those who might try to hack into your account.
However, companies like the DROA make this much more difficult.
Not only can you find your domain transferred to a company you didn’t intend, but they might not offer the security or the features you need. Furthermore, they almost certainly don’t offer the same price and, while a $20 per year increase in a single domain may not seem like much, factor it across multiple domains and it can be cost-prohibitive to keep a site going.
In short, as valuable as your content is to your site and your identity online, your domain is still the centerpiece. Companies such as the DROA put you at risk of losing your entire site by, possibly, taking that away from you.
To put companies like the DROA out of business is going to require a concerted effort from all parties involved. However, the fact that ICANN is now involved is a positive sign.
In 2008, ICANN introduced a new policy designed to stop domain tasting, a process by which spammers would register thousands of domains and return underperforming ones within the 5-day grace period for a full refund. By making the ICANN fee, currently $0.18 per year, non-refundable within the grace period, returns during that grace period dropped 99.7% within the first year.
Though ICANN is often very slow to act against problems like this, when they do act they generally get results.
However, this fight is nowhere near over. The DROA is far from “dead” and there are other companies out there doing largely the same thing (though many use email).
Domain slamming and other domain-related scams are very real and, even with ICANN’s help, it’s going to take years before the problem goes away, if it ever does.
In the meantime, your best bet is to be aware that these types of companies exist and be cautious when opening letters and email pertaining to your domains.
After all, your domain is the doorway to all of your great content, so it makes sense to protect it the best that you can.
(Note: There seems to be a great deal of debate as to whether DROA – and related companies – are resellers or just different brands for Brandon Gray. There are some indications they are more than a reseller, including the DROA domain sharing a host and a close IP match with NameJuice, but since I can’t prove it, I’m sticking with calling them resellers.)