GoDaddy Fights Abuse of COVID-19 Domain Names
As the world reels from the COVID-19 pandemic, GoDaddy is taking steps to protect internet users from abuse and fraud.
GoDaddy Vice President of Public Policy James Bladel announced yesterday that the company is implementing changes to combat illegal activity. Online scammers have tapped into the momentum of the virus to peddle fake COVID-19 test kits, trick users into phishing schemes, and distribute malware.
GoDaddy’s efforts were encouraged by a letter from New York Attorney General Letitia James that expressed concern over the misuse of coronavirus related domain names.
James’ office requested an audience with GoDaddy to discuss protective measures to keep the country safe from scam artists. Suggestions were provided, including:
- Automated and human review of domain registrations and traffic patterns to look for signs of fraud
- Human review of public and law enforcement complaints related to fraud or the illegal use of coronavirus domains
- Revision of GoDaddy’s terms of service to include aggressive enforcement for illegally used domains
- De-registration of domains cited as deceptive or fraudulent with holds on registering new coronavirus domains or similar blockers
GoDaddy issued a public response on its Twitter page that thanked James’ office for fighting online scams. The Tweet stated that GoDaddy has “already removed sites promoting such scams for violating our terms of service, and we’ll continue to do so. We’re in this together.”
A follow up to the first Tweet was posted advising readers to report any suspected coronavirus scam websites to GoDaddy’s support center.
The domain registrar didn’t state that they would ban all coronavirus related names. However, there were rumors that they may begin excluding them regardless of who was registering.
GoDaddy responded to the rumors explaining that no official restrictions have been placed on COVID-19 domains. Customers can continue registering them.
Blocking coronavirus names would pose a difficult task for any company. An effort to prevent all registration would potentially hinder legitimate organizations that want to use the internet to provide information and resources to people who need them.
The Boston Children’s Hospital launched the site CovidNearYou.org to track the spread of the virus. This was registered with GoDaddy on March 15th. A complete ban would have prevented the hospital from getting this beneficial resource into the hands of the general public.
Steps are being taken to limit the risk of fraud and abuse. GoDaddy and its domain marketplaces Auctions and Afternic are no longer allowing listings that utilize coronavirus keywords. That means no domains can be sold or purchased that contain the words COVID or coronavirus. Other domains may be removed at the discretion of GoDaddy.
For the time being, this is likely the most balanced approach GoDaddy can take. They are proactive in preventing the resale of domains and stopping scams that rely on their products or services. However, they are still open to allowing honest entities a place to share information, resources, and support for people affected by coronavirus.
The company currently owns Coronavirus.com, which is likely the most valuable domain related to the pandemic. Instead of monetizing this asset, GoDaddy has used it to forward web traffic to the World Health Organization’s website. It’s the best move a company can make during a time of fear, misinformation, and a global pandemic.