[AfrICANN-discuss] More on .cm and wildcards -
annerachel at gmail.com
Sun Jun 17 09:03:15 SAST 2007
Technology: How Cameroon Auctioned Its Internet Namespace
June 16, 2007 11:40 AM
"It's an odd scene to picture: a domainer's reps in a sit-down with
Ephraim Inoni, the prime minister of Cameroon, to discuss the power of
type-in typo traffic and pay-per-click ads." CNN
Early in August 2006, the Internet was awash with reports of a
"typo-squatting" scheme involving Cameroon. According to these
reports, "Internet authorities in in the West African nation that owns
the .cm top level domain (TLD) have been accused of authorizing a DNS
wildcard that has the effect of redirecting all accidental .cm traffic
instead of returning an error."
In layman's terms, Cameroon Internet authorities were redirecting all
misspelled .com addressed (e.g. www.dibussi.cm instead of
www.dibussi.com ) to an advert-based website (agoga.com), where they
were making millions of dollars in pay-per-click advert revenue
(Pay-per-click is an advertising system where advertisers pay an
agreed amount for each click delivered to their site).
While not technically illegal, since the misspelled domain names are
not being registered but simply redirected to another site, these
actions raised serious ethical concerns.
To many observers, it was obvious that this was too creative a scheme
to have been hatched by Cameroonian authorities alone. Some even
believed that the wildcarding of non-registered domains within the .cm
Top Level Domain may have been done without the official consent of
Cameroonian authorities. For months, therefore, attempts to identify
the real faces behind the mask became a veritable whodunit saga.
This week, CNN finally revealed the person behind the .cm mystery in
an article titled "The man who owns the Internet". According to the
article, the brain behind it all is Kevin Ham, described as "the most
powerful dotcom mogul you've never heard of". Based in the Canadian
city of Vancouver, Ham's empire is worth about 300 million dollars.
Even more interesting, the article revealed that Cameroonian
authorities were active participants and partners in the
typo-squatting scheme, and that a cut from the adverts revenue
(estimated by some to be at least three million dollars a year) goes
to "the government of Cameroon" – yeah right!
Here is an excerpt from the CNN story:
"Ham makes money every time someone clicks on an ad -- as does his
partner in this venture, the West African country of Cameroon. Why
Cameroon? It has the unforeseen good fortune of owning .cm as its
country code -- just as Germany runs all names that end with .de. The
difference is that hardly any .cm names are registered, and the
letters are just one keyboard slip away from .com, the mother lode of
all domains. Ham landed connections to the Cameroon government and
flew in his people to reroute the traffic.
Over a series of conversations a few weeks later in Vancouver, Ham
shares some details about a deal that, despite his innate reticence,
he's clearly proud of. About a year ago, he says, he worked his
contacts to gain connections to government officials in Cameroon. Then
he flew several confidantes to Yaoundé, the capital, to make their
pitch. His key programmer went along to handle the technical details.
"Hey," Ham says, flagging his techie down near the office elevator.
"Didn't you meet with the president of Cameroon?"
"Nah," the programmer says. "We met with the prime minister. But we
did see the president's compound."
It's an odd scene to picture: a domainer's reps in a sit-down with
Ephraim Inoni, the prime minister of Cameroon, to discuss the power of
type-in typo traffic and pay-per-click ads. And yet, as with most of
the angles Ham has played, the Cameroon scheme is ingeniously
Ham's people installed a line of software, called a "wildcard," that
reroutes traffic addressed to any .cm domain name that isn't
registered. In the case of Cameroon, a country of 18 million with just
167,000 computers connected to the Internet that means hundreds of
millions of names. Type in "paper.cm" and servers owned by Camtel, the
state-owned company that runs Cameroon's domain registry, redirect the
query to Ham's Agoga.com servers in Vancouver.
The servers fill the page with ads for paper and office-supply
merchants. (Officials at Yahoo confirm that the company serves ads for
Ham's .cm play.) It all happens in a flash, and since Ham doesn't own
or register the names, he's not technically typo-squatting, according
to several lawyers who handle Internet issues.
The method is spelled out in a patent application filed by a Vancouver
businessman named Robert Seeman, who Ham says is his partner in the
venture and who also serves as chief adviser at Reinvent Technology...
Ham won't reveal specifics but says Agoga receives "in the ballpark"
of 8 million unique visitors per month...
Click here to read the complete story
"A disservice to Cameroon"
Like most deals that African government officials sign with business
interests in the West, the typo-squatting deal is not such a sweet one
for Cameroon, even though a handful of individuals might be reaping
As one blogger pointed out back in February, Cameroon could legally
use the .cm error to generate legitimate funds destined for internet
development in the country:
Setting aside the ethical issue with basically typo-squatting the
entire .com domain space, this could be a great way for a poor African
nation to raise some money. However, they could easily boost their
revenue by building customized landing pages for the most frequently
accessed domains. For example, amazon.cm should either redirect to the
Amazon.com affiliate links or a page targeted towards ecommerce. I
can't even imagine how much money they are leaving on the table. The
folks at NameView.com, who appear to be providing the landing pages,
are doing them a huge disservice here.
Even more critical has been Enow Ebot Godwill, a Cameroonian
performance analyst based in Denmark, whose analysis of the Camtel
deal has been widely distributed on the Internet in the past couple of
"If CAMTEL can make money from people mistyping their domains, I'm all
for it. The problem that I have is that the situation has led to a
perverse effect with CAMTEL making NO EFFORT to manage the .CM
registry and promote a real development of the Internet in Cameroon.
The "quick buck" mentality has prevailed once again. Well known
Cameroon-centric websites such as Cameroon-info.net, postnewsline.com,
camerounlink.net, camfoot.com, and dozens of others who are the real
actors of Cameroon's presence on the Internet are priced out of their
own country's .CM which costs a whopping $400 to $800/year while one
can register a .COM name for less than $10 or even get it free with
As a result, the .CM domain is virtually absent in cyberspace, just as
if Cameroon didn't even exist! The reality is that, with CAMTEL making
money from unregistered .CM domains, it has no incentive to increase
the number of registered .CM domain names. The majority of emails
originating and terminating in Cameroon are hosted on .FR, .COM and
other registries because no alternative is being developed in the
country. Again, when you redo the math, the cost in bandwidth to the
country for email traffic hosted outside far outweighs any gain CAMTEL
might have from its .CM shenanigans.
This literally means that the shameless sale of Cameroonian patrimony
has extended to cyberspace the same way other Cameroonian assets are
being often ILLEGALLY disposed of by those in charge of developing
them. In the meantime there is no serious Internet policy in Cameroon
more than 15 years after the creation of the world-wide-web.
Definitely another black eye for Cameroon...
Read Ham's feature on Business 2.0
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