Last week, Facebook introduced “vanity URLs,” where users could address their FB pages with a well-known site name. The result? A bunch of name-squatters:
Nearly 6 million members of the popular social networking Web site have registered a custom name since the feature became available late Friday night…The next step: people hoping to profit with the names. For example, on Assetize, a marketplace for Web domains, Twitter and Web accounts, multiple Facebook vanity URLs have gone up on the auction block, including Facebook.com/Nasa, Facebook.com/iPhones and Facebook.com/HPComputers.
…Many Facebook users found their actual names were unavailable by the time they went to register them…Although the company said it was taking steps to prevent the cybersquatting of popular names and companies, some celebrities such as Snoop Dogg, George Bush, Kanye West, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sergey Brin still found themselves with Facebook doppelgangers.
From the early days of the net, the practice of grabbing domain names in order to sell them to the highest bidder was prevalent, as chronicled in this 1994 Washington Post article:
To reach Jim Cashel on the Internet, just drop him a line at his e-mail address “firstname.lastname@example.org.”
You can’t call him at Esquire magazine, though. He doesn’t work there and never has, according to the company. Try some of his other 17 e-mail addresses, including “hertz.com” and “trump.com,” and you’ll get the same result. He doesn’t work for those companies either, spokesmen said.
But Cashel does own the words they might want to use in their cyberspace addresses.
…The rush by Cashel and others to register potentially valuable names may cost businesses millions. As more companies venture on-line, they may find their name of choice already has been registered by a speculator, a competitor, an employee or even a company in a different industry with a similar name. At stake is corporate identity in the information age.
Some things never change.