Is the owner of the .sucks domain extorting brands and celebrities?

One of the most intriguing new top-level domain names to join the ranks of .com, .net, and .org is .sucks. Ever since the Canadian company Vox Populi bought the domain name, businesses and celebrities have anxiously watched to see whether people would try to mock them with .sucks websites.

Vox Populi knows it’s sitting on a gold mine. Companies like Microsoft and Apple, plus celebrities like Taylor Swift and Beyonce, will want to snap up derogatory domain names like apple.sucks, so their haters can’t get there first. And Vox Populi’s pricing scheme anticipates this corporate need: While it only charges regular people $250 for a .sucks domain, brands have to pay $2,500 for a domain under the “Sunrise Premium” plan.

This pricing scheme has attracted the attention of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which coordinates and oversees much of the Internet’s technical architecture, from domain names to IP addresses.

Vox Populi

ICANN sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission on Thursday that asked the FTC to investigate Vox Populi’s pricing scheme. One of ICANN’s subgroups, the Intellectual Property Constituency, asked ICANN’s board to file the complaint, arguing that Vox Populi’s price breakdown amounts to extortion.

“ICANN is concerned about the contentions of illegal actions being expressed,” reads the letter to the FTC and Canada’s consumer-affairs minister, “but notes that ICANN has limited expertise or authority to determine the legality of Vox Populi’s positions, which we believe would fall within your respective regulatory regimes.”

Vox Populi had to bid for the right to own .sucks, and it was ICANN that approved the company’s final bid. The contract between ICANN and domain registrars like Vox Populi allows ICANN to terminate the agreement if a regulator like the FTC finds that the company has behaved illegally.

ICANN also said in its letter that it was “evaluating other remedies available under the registry agreement.”

Vox Populi has not commented on allegations of illegal use of the .sucks domain.

Screengrab via Vox Populi

Eric Geller

Eric Geller

Eric Geller is a politics reporter who focuses on cybersecurity, surveillance, encryption, and privacy. A former staff writer at the Daily Dot, Geller joined Politico in June 2016, where he's focused on policymaking at the White House, the Justice Department, the State Department, and the Commerce Department.