Network Solutions got “outed” on Webmasterworld the other day, for locking every domain name lookup done on its servers for several days, forcing people using their lookup to buy only from Network Solutions, at a price most people would agree is inflated. It has caused outrage in the community and rightly so, but it is not as if companies – big and small – aren’t making money using what I would call underhand tactics left, right and center. Here are 10 of the lowest tactics I have seen. Feel free to add others!
1. DNS providers using deception to steal domains during the renewal process
What you think you are doing: You get a letter in the post saying that your domain name is up for renewal (which it is) and that you can simply fill in your credit card details and send the form back to renew the domain (which you can). You don’t even know you’ve been had!
What you actually did: The form you filled in was not with the company you first bought the domain from, so when you signed the small print you gave the people sending you the letter the legal right to take the domain from your existing domain name registrar. Don’t take my word for it – Google has over 100,000 other opinions on this one.
2. Modifying a web page content based on your IE site history
What you THINK you are doing: This one is REALLY cool, if I do say so myself. You want to compare the cost or services of several competing products. You go to each web site and check the comparative and unbiased price comparison to see who is offering the best deal.
What you are actually doing: When you get to the “dirty trickster” they run a little script on the page that lists all their competitor web sites either on the page or hidden. All the ones you have visited are in a different colour, right? well the web owner can tell the colour and therefore see if you are comparing products and then deliver content that is specifically designed to sound better in some way than the sites you have already visited.
3. Phishing Emails
OK – you all should REALLY know that one. Not going to teach people to suck eggs. If you don’t, then you are not my intended audience… Doesn’t mean we can’t all get caught out though, so it has to be on the list.
4. Packet Sniffing and selling the data
What you think you are doing: You’ve got the usual protection on your machine, privacy settings right and everything. You trust your ISP (it’s one of the big ones) and you surf the net. you are pleased that you have a cheap ISP.
What you are actually doing: Every page you go to gets logged by the ISP, as does those of every other user. This data is then collected and merged and sold to a research company, which also buys the data from other ISPs as well. They then use this data to work out all sorts of user behaviour on the web and sell this data for about £20,000 for buyer per year. The market leader in this just sold to Experian for 240 Million dollars. Their product is great, but when you describe it like that it sounds rather worrying doesn’t it?
5. Changing the price when you blink
What you think you are doing: Going to (for example) the airlines to check out the cheapest way to get from A to B for your boss, then going to chat to your boss to agree an itinerary before you buy.
What you are actually doing: By going away from your browser and checking some details and then coming back, you have indicated your intention to buy. These systems are “live” and based on demand algorithms. Even though nobody has bought a ticket in the interim, some systems will increase the price the second time YOU search, as they know that the second time you search for the same ticket, your intention this time is to buy rather than compare.
6. Hijacking domain names that have expired
What you think you are doing: Using Yahoo directory or DMoz to find a list of sites on a specific topic that have been vetted by humans so that they have some level of quality.
What you are actually doing: When you click on the listing, you get to a site that is now owned by someone else, either appearing to be the original company or simply redirecting you to an entirely new company. What happened was that they original owner did not renew the domain name, so it got bought up by a domain name hoarder within minutes of it expiring and then the domain was 301 redirected to the new site. There is nobody at most of these directories checking the links after the fact. Indeed, Google then updates the directory links as well, giving the domain hoarder an often significant organic SEO boost.
7. Locking a domain name lookup and then increasing the price
What you think you are doing: going and looking for a suitable web domain that is still available for your new venture and collecting a list
What you are actually doing: The domain name register actually claims the domain name as you start searching and then if you do not buy it at that moment then when you are ready to buy, they say that it has already been claimed but that you can own it for an inflated sum. When you go to another domain name provider, they also have to agree that the domain has been claimed, but the other providers don’t have the lock, so you now HAVE to buy the domain name from the scammer if you want to buy it. This is worse than what Network solutions have been accused of… but since they charge so much for domain names anyway, some might argue it is the same dirty trick.
8. Providing an invaluable service for one monthly fee and then totally changing the charging structure
What you think you are doing: Buying a decent service at a decent rate and putting it into your business process – usually with a monthly fee for the service.
What you are actually doing: Setting you business up for being held hostage in the future to dramatic price increases. This happened to our business when a reputable affiliate system changed its pricing from load usage based to percentage of commission based… increasing the charge to us by by 1,000%. Although the affiliates were ours, the affiliate links went through the service provider’s servers, giving us an uncomfortable set of choices to make.
9. Packing third party software into downloads that change your browser setup to make money
What you think you are doing: Downloading a demo of a product that you know of and understand
What you are actually doing: You are ALSO agreeing to have another (third party) product being downloaded onto your computer. A common product is one that starts to underline certain keyword on your browser and insert hyperlinks on the fly. Clicking on these hyperlinks provides the software owner with “pay per click income” from unwitting PPC advertiser, usually going through a third party ad-exchange system (like Adsense or Yahoo search marketing but usually a smaller provider). This technique is not just limited to the small guys though. Try downloading Adobe Acrobat Reader without also installing the Google Toolbar! (Both companies have their HQ in San Jose… you think someone hatched this up over a drink?)
10. Buying up misspellings of your domain name
What you think you are doing: typing in a domain name that you already know into your browser to go to the web site
What you are actually doing: Typing in a common misspelling of the domain name, which has been bought up by someone else, sending you off to another web site entirely. This one will annoy a few of my friends for mentioning, but hey – I’ve already annoyed Hitwise, Google and Adobe so everyone may as well take a hit.