Can't choose your typosquatters

The site hotmale.com relies on Internet users to misspell the URL for popular e-mail service hotmail.com.

TEXT OF STORY

SCOTT JAGOW: A misspelling of the website MySpace sold for $30,000. A mistake? Hardly. The domain name was bought by typosquatters. These are people who are just waiting for you to misspell a name so you'll wind up on their websites. Commentator Bill Langworthy shares his thoughts on this new form of capitalism.


BILL LANGWORTHY: Typing a web address is like throwing a hand grenade: even when you miss, you're bound to hit something.

Say you're looking for hotmail.com, but spell it M-A-L-E. You'll find a website, but you will not be able to check e-mail.

Typosquatters get rich off your poor spelling. Corporations resent spending millions on their sites while typosquatters pilfer clicks for the less than $20 it costs to maintain a page. But as in life, you can't choose your neighbors.

Some typosquatting is pragmatic. Sites earn a fraction of a cent for taking shoppers looking for the Gap and redirecting them to other e-tailers.

Some is deceptive, the way misspelling Disney brings you to Mousketrips' travel site. There, you could book your whole vacation oblivious that you were never on Disney.com.

And others are insidious, like John Zuccarini. He used typos for children's pages to send kids to obscene sites. When the Federal Trade Commission charged him, he owned 5,000 domain names and had earned $1.9 million.

You wouldn't think there'd be an industry based on khaki wearers who can't spell JCrew, or investors who set out to buy mutual funds but ended up buying unsolicited pornography.

But typosquatters aren't going away. After all, exploiting technology for personal gain is the essence of the Internet.

We've all found ourselves in unfamiliar online neighborhoods. Perhaps some day the Internet, too, will become gentrified, but for now all we can do is hunt and peck and pray.

JAGOW: Bill Langworthy is a writer in Los Angeles. Share your thoughts with us at Marketplace. org. That's M-A-R. . . well you know how to spell it.

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