Bots are crawling new domain registrations and namesquatting Twitter handles

Something to be wary of when you’re domain shopping for that perfect .com: bots are watching.

I’m not sure what combination triggers it, but when I was done brainstorming for an app name, I checked Twitter to see if the handle was taken, then registered the domain name. It was quite late and I didn’t want to start fiddling around with email aliases to get the Twitter account, so I decided to leave it since the application is only in early planning and layout stages.

A couple of days later, I decided to grab the account to start playing around with the Twitter API – couldn’t believe it when I discovered the account had been nabbed. No updates, no avatar – just a squatter. It seems obvious in retrospect that someone would be scraping domain registrations and comparing against Twitter handles (there was nothing but the .com taken and I’d never mentioned it anywhere), but it is immensely frustrating. The app is a Twitter-based tool, so having a .com and matching account name is essential.

What’s even more frustrating is that this seems to fall within Twitter’s acceptable usage policy. They have a section on namesquatting, but it states:

“Please note that if an account has had no updates, no profile image, and there is no intent to mislead, it typically means there’s no name-squatting or impersonation.”

You’d be hard-pressed to claim that there is an “intent to mislead” when you’re starting to build something – after all, the fact that you’re only starting to build it means there’s not much to mislead. So I’m back to the drawing board on figuring out a name while I put the app together.

The lesson here, a rather obvious one I suppose, is that Twitter handles are as valuable as the domain for certain classes of applications. If you’re building something that will interface with Twitter, you have to get the Twitter handle at the same time as the domain, or it’ll be swept out from under you.

Edit:
As per Andrew’s comment below, I’ve submitted an impersonation report – hopefully something will come of it.

Update:
Well, it looks like this might be going places, the account in question is now showing as “suspended” – no word from support yet (it’s a weekend, I wasn’t expecting anything until at least Monday) but it’s encouraging!

Update 2011-08-29:
So, received some communication from Twitter today; they will not release the account name to me. This is disappointing, but I will move on.

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17 Comments

  1. Andrew Guenther
    Posted August 20, 2011 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

    Don’t give up! I had the same exact thing happen to me. I contacted Twitter support and the handle was passed over to me in less than 48 hours.

    Submit an impersonation report here: https://support.twitter.com/forms/impersonation

    And explain the exact situation. You bought the domain, and someone is now squatting the handle. I believe the account must be inactive for a month before that will hand it over to you. (Not 100% sure on that)

    Again, don’t give up! Twitter is aware of the squatters problem and I am sure they will be able to help you just like they did us.

  2. Posted August 21, 2011 at 12:01 am | Permalink

    Thanks Andrew, that’s heartening to hear!

    As I haven’t done anything quite so forward as to register a company for this side-project I figured I’d be ignored.

    Glad things worked out for you, I’ll give it a shot!

  3. Shakir
    Posted August 21, 2011 at 12:52 am | Permalink

    Hey,

    I did face the exact issue while i registered a domain with GoDaddy ( March 10, 2010). Instantly after i registered the domain, the (Twitter check function ), told me that the handle was registered.

    I was shocked, and after going through the documentation I went for an alternative
    handle. I thought contacting Twitter may resolve the issue. Twitter in reply said:

    If you’re looking to acquire an inactive username for personal use, please check back in a few months. We’re currently unable to accommodate individual requests for inactive usernames. We may release all inactive usernames in the future, but have not yet set a date for doing so.

    Twitter is only transferring usernames under our trademark policy (http://support.twitter.com/articles/18367). If you are writing on behalf of a trademarked brand, you can file that new ticket for our policy team to review. You can file a new ticket here: http://support.twitter.com/forms/trademark

    And the account is still Dormant, with no avatar, no tweets, no followers.

    Thanks for the solution, ill give it a try again :)

  4. Posted August 21, 2011 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    I have tweet.co.in that i’m willing to lend if you have an interesting app around it .

  5. Sandeep
    Posted August 21, 2011 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    Hi, I faced the same issues however Twitter support team helped me get all thr handles we were looking for and were taken up by inactive Twitter guys.

  6. Posted August 21, 2011 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

    We faced a similar problem – and your case would indicate, that the name leaked out at the domain registrar …

    http://blog.internet-briefing.ch/2011/06/24/how-save-are-the-new-facebook-messages/comment-page-1/

    Unfortunately, we only got a standard answer from Twitter and did NOT get the handle, so had to go for another name http://sort.li – let me know, if you succeed, then we may try it again. The original name may be a better choice …

  7. Posted August 21, 2011 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

    I almost wish Twitter charged a nominal fee for accounts. Do you think that owning the domain name should be justification enough for turning over unused Twitter handles?

  8. Posted August 21, 2011 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

    @Arkay: thanks, but I’m hoping to go for something a little more specific :)

    @Markus: Will do, thanks for the heads up!

    @John: I don’t think it makes sense unilaterally, but in cases where it is clearly an attempted roadblock (or more likely, speculating on an opportunity for future extortion) then it makes sense to me that there would be some sort of help available.

  9. Shakir
    Posted August 29, 2011 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

    @Ross Thanks for this post and @Andrew Guenther for the solution, I finally got the Twitter handle Back.

  10. Posted August 30, 2011 at 12:01 am | Permalink

    Hi Shakir, glad you managed to find a resolution to your problem!

    I received a response from Twitter today and unfortunately, as I suspected, the namesquatting policy does not apply to my situation as far as Twitter are concerned.

    Onwards and upwards.

  11. Shakir
    Posted August 30, 2011 at 1:34 am | Permalink

    @Ross, i understand your concern. The handle i requested was released on terms of “Inactivity”, as the username was still inactive after 12 months. I dont think you can wait to reclaim the handle after few months(depends, if your beta launch is scheduled later) .

    Can this scraping be reported to Twitter to act in the best intentions to avoid squatting ?
    I feel that Domain registrars may have some contribution in it.

  12. Posted September 6, 2011 at 12:09 am | Permalink

    Hey Ross,

    Just out of interest who did you register the domain name with ?

  13. Posted September 6, 2011 at 12:12 am | Permalink

    Hi Keith,

    Registered with Blacknight.

  14. Posted September 7, 2011 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    I had a similar issue before, but I only checked if a domain was free, which it was, went to registered it a day or two later and it was registered the day after I checked !

    I knew you can get ‘recently registered’ lists from some registrars, but Blacknight, have you been on to them ?

    http://www.dailychanges.com/dreamhost.com/

  15. Posted October 17, 2011 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

    Ive registered quite a number of twitter and facebook handles for my clients on the back of domain registrations and I havent as yet come across this.

  16. Posted October 25, 2011 at 1:18 am | Permalink

    I also had the same but after I checked it a day or two it was already registered. Thanks @Andrew Guenther for the solution, really helps.

  17. Posted October 29, 2011 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    Sad to hear you didn’t get the handle, but yeah, namesquatters are here to stay sadly. Grab them while you can.

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