Domain front running is the practice of registering a domain name shortly after someone else has searched for it, with the intention of either selling it to the original searcher at a higher price or using it for malicious purposes.
This is typically experienced when a user checks to see if a certain domain is available to register through a registrar and delays buying it immediately, only to find it has been registered moments later often by the provider they searched the domain through, often for a massively inflated fee.
While this practice is rare, it does sometimes occur and is often attributed to registries offering a service called ‘Added Grace Period (AGP)‘ which allows the registrant to cancel the domain for a full refund within 5 days of registering the domain. This service does have a genuine purpose, such as correcting domains which were accidentally registered in error, such as with a spelling mistake however invites abuse such as ‘Domain Tasting’ where domains are registered in mass and cancelled to study advertising traffic or speculatively front running domain registrations.
One of the best examples of Domain Front Running was web hosting giant Network Solutions caught in 2008 registering ‘.com’ domains searched through its site in a misguided and ironic justification of protecting customers from front running! This was covered in great detail by Domain Name Wire in the article Network Solutions Faces PR Nighmware Over Domain Front Running.
Another common name in unethical front running is GoDaddy. While they religiously deny such claims, there is a concerning number of reports of the practice and potential conflict of interest with domain brokerage service.
I’ve spent a few days trying to prompt GoDaddy to front-run a number of domain’s without any success, however did find their online registration service did list domains as available even when they weren’t. An example of this is trying to register the domain ‘spamosaurus.com‘ which was already registered however offering ‘spamosaurus.com.au‘ as available even though it was also registered.
How Do You Avoid Domain Front Running?
When trying to find the perfect domain for your next project we recommend taking the following precautions:
- Only use a reputable domain registrar. We recommend Namecheap and Porkbun for domain registrations.
- Avoid searching the domain name through social media and search engines
- Be dubious of free tools which generate domain name suggestions
- Do not search the domain through multiple registrars to find the best price, or if you do it with a different domain but same TLD (extension)
- Consider scanning your computer for malware, checking what browser extensions you have running and consider using the private/Incognito mode
What Is Being Done About This?
In response to the domain tasting epidemic where over 60,000,000 domains were being deleted by a few key entities, ICANN revised and implemented the AGP Limits Policy in 2008 removing the provision for registrars to get reimbursed for a disproportionately high number of AGP refunds.
According to ICANN in its ’25 April 2008 GNSO Council Report to the Board’ these policy changes “resulted in a 99.7% decrease in AGP deletes from June 2008 to April 2009“, which is an amazing result.
What Should You Do If Your Domain Has Been Front Run?
If you find your dream domain has been
- Do not search or visit the site. This will only generate more clicks and signal to the owner of the domain someone is interested or a valuable domain
- Check the whois information through the official registry such as ICANN (not a third-party tool) to see what registrar registered the domain, when and what the domains expiry date is.
- Wait 4-5 days and see if the domain becomes available to register again
- Call out the registrar out on social media
Have one of your domains been front run, let us know in the comments below?