There has been quite some negative media coverage of .CM lately. .CM is Cameroon's ccTLD and it is also a common typo of .COM. That is why Kevin Ham from Reinvent Technology has helped Cameroon monetize the traffic to its unregistered domain names by setting up a wild-card that forwards the .CM error traffic to parking pages with relevant ad links. This procedure has caused lots of negative press and deprecative comments from journalists and bloggers. For example, Michael Arrington has a post on his TechCrunch.com blog titled "The .CM Scam":
Business 2.0's Paul Sloan has been digging into the .CM domain name scam.
This is actually one of the cleaner scams occurring in the extremely dirty domain name business.
Michael Arrington is not completely right. The .CM wild-card is no scam just yet. It is disputable but legal, because only unregistered domains are being monetized, as I pointed out in another post on this blog yesterday. By the way, I don't understand how somebody who worked in the domain business for a relatively long time (Michael Arrington worked at Pool.com) can say that the domain business is "extremely dirty". Cybersquatting is a problem, but it's only done by a handful of black sheep. The domain business as a whole is certainly not dirty or a playground for scammers.
Now, why am I writing this if I have already expressed my opinion on .CM in an earlier post on my blog and in comments on other blogs? I'm writing this because I want to point out that there are companies who are earning much more money from domain name typos than Cameroon and Kevin Ham: Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) and Google (NASDAQ: GOOG)! And not only them, the following companies are also in the game of monetizing error type-in traffic: Dell (NASDAQ: DELL), Gateway (NYSE: GTW), Sony (NYSE: SNE) and several others. These companies are the big profiteers of domain name typos.
For example, I have a Dell desktop computer. Dell and Google have a partnership and all Dell computers have software preinstalled that automatically forwards error traffic to a Dell/Google web page with ad links served by Google. So if I accidentally type "loan.xom" instead of "loan.com" I get to a page that looks as follows (click on the image to go to the actual site):
As you will see, the page is filled with targeted ad links. Google is upset that Yahoo is making money from Google.cm (Yahoo serves the ads for the .CM domains), but .CM is only one extension. Google is making money from almost all other possible domain extension typos (.xom, .cpm, etc.) and they get paid for every click on an ad on Yahoo.xom, for instance. It is almost impossible to get rid of Google's spyware. Dell and Google preinstall a little program on every Dell computer which is only very hard to find and remove.
As I said, Gateway, Sony and others are having the same partnership with Google. So Google is actually one of the biggest domain typo profiteers on the planet, although they say they are a "do not evil" company. They do not only monetize generic typos, but they also monetize TM typo traffic (e.g. yahoo.xom, bankofamerica.cpm).
Moreover, Google also forwards you to a parking page if you type in a domain that is not registered or if you want to visit a domain that cannot be reached in that moment. So they have a sort of wild-card on every Dell computer generating millions of dollars in annual revenue from domain name typos.
I don't want to point the finger at Dell only, so here are two screenshots of Google pay-per-click pages designed for Gateway and Sony (again you can click on the image to visit the actual PPC site):
And Google goes even further. They have a partnership with the Firefox web browser, too. So if anybody types in loan.xom in Firefox he or she gets forwarded to a parking page as well.
Microsoft is doing the same with Internet Explorer on computers where Google's typo program is not preinstalled. If you type a wrong URL into the address bar of Internet Explorer you will be served a pay-per-click page, too.
You see, as soon as somebody like Kevin Ham profits from the typos of others, there is lots of bad press. But Microsoft and Google are much bigger players in this game! Let me repeat this: These companies are not doing anything illegal, because it is allowed to serve pay-per-click pages based on a wild-card that sorts out traffic to unregistered domain names. It is not allowed, on the other hand, to register a domain that infringes the trademark of another company. People registering TM domains and TM typos are the black sheep who harm the image of the domain name business. Strictly speaking, Kevin Ham does not belong to this group of people, although I don't support the .CM wildcard and I see where some of the critics are coming from, especially considering that people from Cameroon cannot register their own country's domains because they're too expensive for the average citizen in Cameroon.
However, if people like Michael Arrington say the domain business is an industry full of typosquatters and scammers, what would they call Microsoft and Google then?
Personally, I don't feel good about .CM either, but it is legal and it has been the country's decision to monetize their own ccTLD. Google and Microsoft do not own .XOM, .CPM or any of the other possible domain extension typos, so if they serve pay-per-click ads on error pages that's much worse, in my opinion.
Related blog posts you should read:
* Is Google Pushing Spyware? And If They Do, Is It Of A Better Quality Than Competitors' Spyware?
* Yahoo Outsmarts Google, Google Gets Pissed
* Google turns the page... in a bad way
* Google and Dell Team Up For Evil/Spyware?
* Funding ICANN, "Shawdow TLDs" and the Next Domain Name You Really Want to Buy
* Microsoft Quietly Making Untold Millions