For the half-year to 31 December 2014, the IPKat's regular team is supplemented by contributions from guest bloggers Rebecca Gulbul, Lucas Michels and Marie-Andrée Weiss.

Regular round-ups of the previous week's blogposts are kindly compiled by Alberto Bellan.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

It pays to scam, as typosquatters carry on after adverse ruling

This Kat admits to being guilty of the occasional screaming howler of a typographical error (but not in this instance -- as was cheekily suggested by a certain Blogmeister). It is not surprising then that she frowns upon others seeking to take advantage of her typing shortcomings. Indeed, in a practice more commonly known as 'typosquatting', some businesses actually prey on consumers by deliberately misspelling website addresses as a way of making money. Two such companies were dealt with recently by PhonepayPlus, the UK organisation that regulates premium telephone services.

R & D Media Europe and Unavalley BV registered domain names which bore names that were very close to the well-known and trusted online brands Twitter, Wikipedia and YouTube. These domain names included: http://www.twtter.com, http://www.twiter.com, http://www.wikapedia.com, http://www.wikpedia.com, http://www.yootub.com and http://www.yooutube.com. The websites themselves resembled the genuine sites in that they used the same logos, colouring and fonts.

On landing on these squatted websites, users were informed that they had won or could claim a prize, such as an Apple iPad2 or an Apple Mac Book Air. Users were then requested to complete an online survey to ‘receive’ or ‘win’ this prize. However, to ‘receive’ or ‘win’ these products, users were required to enter the service, enter their mobile phone number and a PIN (sent to their handset) and then answer the questions received on their mobile handset. Consumers were charged £1.50 for each question received on their mobile phones as well as £1.50 to answer each question.

The Phonepay Plus Code of Conduct states, in the relevant part:
2.3 Fairness
2.3.1 Consumers of premium rate services must be treated fairly and equitably.
2.3.2 Premium rate services must not mislead or be likely to mislead in any way.
With regard to http://www.twtter.com and http://www.twiter.com, the Phonepay Plus Adjudicator observed that a pop-up appeared which stated, 'Get your iPad Now!', and by clicking on the 'OK' button, a further screen displayed a page which resembled ‘Twitter’, as it contained the same colours and the ‘Twitter’ bird icon. The Adjudicator found that users were likely to believe that this was the genuine http://www.twitter.com website and, based on this assurance, users entered their mobile phone number onto the website and proceeded with the steps to claim the prize.


With regard to both http://www.wikapedia.com/ and http://www.wikpedia.com/, the Adjudicator observed that the first pop-up screen displayed the statement:
'Congratulations Wikipedia User ! You are the London, City of winner for November 3rd Please select a prize and enter your email on the next page to claim.'
At this stage, the service featured the correct spelling of Wikipedia and further displayed the well known Wikipedia icon. The Adjudicator considered that these factors would be likely to mislead consumers into believing that this was an actual Wikipedia prize and therfore enticed the user to proceed to enter his or her mobile phone number onto the website, and to proceed with the steps necessary to claim the prize.


Finally, with regard to http://www.yootube.com/ and http://www.yooutube.com/, the Adjudicator noted that a page contained the heading 'Thank You'. This wording was presented using a similar design to the 'YouTube' branding and appeared to assure users that the service was the genuine http://www.youtube.com/ website. This enticed users to enter their mobile phone number onto the website, and to proceed with the steps to claim the prize.

Accordingly, the Adjudicator found that in these circumstances, users would be likely to be misled.

PhonepayPlus's Tribunal found that that R&D Media Europe and Unavalley BV had seriously breached the Code of Practice as a result of promotions that had misled consumers and that had not provided clear information about pricing. Both companies were fined £100,000 and ordered to refund customers. Both Tribunal decisions are available here.

In a Press Release, Paul Whiteing, PhonepayPlus’ Chief Executive, said:
“These judgments send a clear message to providers that they cannot play on the public’s trust in well-known websites to promote services.”
This Kat notes that, even a fortnight after being ordered to pay such large fines, R&D Media Europe and Unavalley BV still appear to be operating the squatted websites, albiet without using the Twitter, Wikipedia or Youtube logos, colouring and fonts. On landing on these sites, she was still informed that she has won or could win an Apple iPhone or Apple iPad if she provided some contact details, including her mobile number.

The IPKat finds it unusual that this was dealt with by a premium mobile phone regulator. He wonders if Twitter, Wikipedia or Youtube will take further action against R&D Media Europe and Unavalley BV under the WIPO Domain Name Dispute Resolution service to stop these websites once and for all.

Merpel understands that Twitter, Wikipedia and YouTube have not applied for generic top level domain names under the new ICANN proceedure (so far she has only heard whispers concerning Canon and Hitachi) and wonders whether they might change their strategy after this experience

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