The Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse (CADNA) has conducted a study to measure the extent of identity squatting among the members of the U.S. Congress, their challengers, and presidential candidates for the current election cycle. Identity squatting, a subset of cybersquatting, refers to the act of registering domain names containing famous individuals’ names in bad faith with the intention of profiting off of them. This practice can be extremely damaging to an individual’s reputation and can lead to confusion and distrust on the part of internet users.
We looked at multiple domain name permutations for each of the 438 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, the 100 senators, and the 734 challengers to their seats as well as the Democratic, Republican, Green, and Libertarian party candidates for president, along with their running mates.
Thousands of domain names were scrutinized for the nature of their content.
House and Senate domains in the following formats across TLDs including .com, .org, .republican, .democrat, .gop, .vote, and .sucks were included in the study:
Presidential candidates in the following formats across TLDs including .com, .org, .republican, .democrat, .gop, .vote, and .sucks were included in the study:
- On average, a member of Congress only owns 1.38 of the 21 possible domain name combinations examined in this study, while their challenger owns .86.
- All four presidential candidates registered their FullName.com. 39% of the House of Representatives registered their FullName.com and 52% of the Senate registered their FullName.com. Meanwhile, 34% of challengers for senate seats registered their FullName.com and 22% of challengers for the House of Representatives registered their FullName.com.
- Third parties owned 39% of .org and 27% of .com domains containing presidential candidate names. In the House, 7% of .org and 19% of .com names were owned by a third party, and in the Senate, third parties owned 13% of .com and 5% of .org names.55% of .com and 68% of .org domains containing names of senators were available. Among members of the House, 67% of .org and 31% of .com names were available. Only 11% of .org and 1% of .com domains containing presidential candidate names were available.
- Among the more notable examples of fair use sites that may be potentially misleading or slanderous domains identified in this study were:
- TedCruz.com, which resolves to a photo of Hillary Clinton that reads underneath: “FIRST WOMAN PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA!!!”
- MitchMcConnell.Republican, which resolves to the Planned Parenthood website
- RonJohnson.org, which, paid for by the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, offers a sarcastic, negative appraisal of Johnson’s platform and past activities
- HillaryClinton.Republican, which features sexually-explicit, anti-Clinton content
- PattyMurray.org, which is run by opponent Chris Vance
- The official-sounding ClintonKaine.com, which, contrary to what most internet users might expect to find on the page, compiles a series of anti-Clinton headlines, and is owned by the Donald Trump campaign
- New gTLDs, such as .republican, .gop, and .democrat are now available and would conceivably be attractive domains for official candidates to use, but official registrations in these extensions was quite limited. For instance, we counted only one example of a candidate name in use at .democrat (defined as resolving to a developed website that is neither for sale, nor parked, nor being used for PPC), and it was officially being used by the candidate, Democratic candidate for New York’s 13th congressional district Mike Gallagher.
Politicians are widely affected by cybersquatters, as this study shows, but the harm that emerges from such practices pales in comparison to the risks for consumers posed by cybersquatting on brands. Effective legislative policies that make cybersquatting a riskier endeavor can help keep the practice from remaining lucrative and protect voters, specifically, and internet users, more generally.
While new gTLDs, such as .republican, .gop, and .democrat are now available and would conceivably be attractive domains for official candidates to use, official registrations in these extensions was quite limited. For instance, we counted only one example of a candidate name in use at .democrat (defined as resolving to a developed website that is neither for sale, nor parked, nor being used for PPC), and it was officially being used by the candidate, Democratic candidate for New York’s 13th congressional district Mike Gallagher.
While legitimate fair use of domain names should continue to be protected, bad actors looking to profit off of cybersquatting, which includes identity squatting, should be deterred and prosecuted in order to put an end to these types of practices. The internet is now the essential location for the free exchange of information and ideas and there is a need for trust in internet content to allow for effective communication between politicians and their constituents. If used for nefarious purposes by identity squatters, websites that visitors assumed were endorsed by candidates can lead to potentially harmful misinformation.
Appendix – Selected Website Screen Shots