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Did Tucows Get Off Easy?

I’ve been thinking about our “Liberty Village Renamed _Toronto’s Porn Alley_”: post. Is it just me or did “Tucows”: get off really easy here?
In the “MSNBC version of the Dateline NBC story”:, it says _(emphasis mine)_:
bq.. We arrive at the address. *It’s a postal drop – just a little mailbox. It seems like a dead end.* But when we go back to our computer we find there’s another Toronto company affiliated with “Spunkfarm.” This one is called “Python,” and there’s even an address. Maybe the porn mailer is there.
We go to the location, not a mail drop. But it certainly doesn’t look like an office. The space was going to be a Middle Eastern restaurant. *Another dead end.*
*There is one place in Toronto that might help us: It’s called Tucows.* That’s the place that registers those Web site names. It’s what led us to Toronto to begin with.
*The receptionist is happy to look up the name “Spunkfarm” for us. We get another address* – this one very nearby.

p. My reading of this story is that Dateline didn’t know what to do after looking at the WHOIS for the site in the story. But when they went to Tucows, the receptionist gave them the _real address of the people involved_. If Tucows hadn’t handed over the information to an undercover reporter this story may never have surfaced.
It seems that “Joey’s post”: nicely deflected the privacy issue by picking on the sensationalistic aspects of the story (which there certainly were). And Tucows CEO Elliot Noss’ “blog” is silent on this (and has been silent all year for that matter).
Had “Steve Rubel”: picked this up like it was a “Kryptonite lock”: they might not be off the hook so fast.
Joey is clearly a nice guy, a smart blogger, and well-loved by most in the blogosphere. It seems that his post diffused what might have been an issue had he not been there. Maybe Joey is a valuable resource for Tucows much as “Scoble”: is for Microsoft in that they both serve as lightning rods for the blogosphere – taking the hit to leave the corporate message intact. And because they were out there ahead of controversy they are more likely not be jumped on like a blogless Kryptonite or clueless Dell.


  1. There wasn’t any privacy violation. We’re domain name wholesalers: we sell domain name registration capability to resellers, who in turn sell domain names to their customers. We wouldn’t have any sales contact info for Spunkfarm, because we never would’ve dealt with the directly — we would only have dealt with the reseller through whom they bought the domain name.
    What probably happened was that our receptionist did a WHOIS on Spunkfarm when Dateline NBC visited and gave them the PUBLICLY listed admin and tech contact info in the WHOIS record. There would be no other way for *anyone* in this company to dig up that address.

  2. Ken Schafer
    Ken Schafer August 11, 2005

    Thanks for the follow-up Joey.
    What you say doesn’t seem to match the Dateline account. They say the WHOIS address was a postal drop and indeed the current address on WHOIS is a Canada Post outlet. They say that your receptionist provided an *alternate* address.
    If the reseller is your customer and you provided their correct street address, that seems like a privacy issue as well.
    Based on what is in the WHOIS right now, I don’t see Tucows listed at all, so I’m not sure how they would end up at your doorstep. Tracking who owns the IP addresses?
    Maybe Tucows information was removed when the domain was updated in May of this year (after the interview but before it aired)?
    If you are the wholesaler, does Tucows show up in the WHOIS or is it the reseller?
    Just curious really. I’m sure you guys take this stuff seriously and even if there was a slip, it was just that, not standard operating procedure.

  3. The most direct way to find out what happened — but one that will have to wait until Monday — is for me to ask the receptionist if she remembers what happened. As Murphy’s Law would have it, she’s got Friday off, probably as a reward for a lot of work on an all-hands, all-day strategic planning staff meeting we had today. I’ll ask her when she gets back and get back to you.
    As for who shows up as the registrar, it’s Tucows. For example, if you do a whois on, the reseller is Domain Direct, but the registrar is Tucows. Because of this, we sometimes get irate phone calls or emails regarding sites registered by our resellers; one example is (cat lovers are a very protective sort). Since about one in ten .com/.org./.net domains is registered via Tucows, it’s likely that Dateline would’ve found a number of porn sites for whom we are listed as the registrar, which would have led them to us. We might have also been the registrar of record for Spunkfarm during the time of Dateline’s visit, which one commenter on my blog says took place sometime between 12 and 18 months ago.
    Keep in mind the exaggeration and sensationalist tone of the article as well as Dateline NBC’s less-than-exemplary journalistic record. If I had to shake hands with someone from that news organization, I’d make sure to count my fingers immediately afterwards.

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