Nov 17

Shocking Update: Yahoo domain registration still sleazy.

They just tried to charge me for a domain they don’t manage again.

Fortunately, this time through I’d erased my debit card number from Yahoo Wallet. (I had to use it to renew my Flickr a couple months ago, but I remembered to erase it again afterwards.) Not having anything to charge, they instead sent me a “Past-Due Payment Notice” demanding $35. For the domain I transferred last year!

(For those who don’t feel like clicking the link, the last time this happened they just charged me without warning, and I had to contest it on PayPal to get the money back – because, since I don’t actually have an account with Yahoo Small Business, Yahoo Small Business customer service won’t talk to me.)

To summarize Yahoo’s domain registration behavior thus far:

1) Yahoo offers a “private registration” option, which allows you to keep your real name and mailing address out of the WHOIS database. It is impossible to transfer one of these private domains to another registrar. Ever. (See my post from last year, or this guy’s post from 2007.)

To effect a transfer, you have to downgrade the domain to a non-private one, thus revealing your personal information. This means that if, for any reason, you’re in a position in which you can’t allow your real name and address to become public – say: you’re being stalked, you’ve expressed certain uncomplimentary ideas about your employer on your blog, you’re a Venezuelan political dissident, you’re an oil industry whistle blower, you’ve converted to Islam or Linux or come to some conclusions about your sexual orientation and your grandmother is an Old Regular Baptist Microsoft project manager who’s waiting in line for a heart transplant – you can’t leave Yahoo for another registrar.

2) According to this blogger, Yahoo will also expose your real name and address if you allow your domain registration to expire.

So, if for some reason you can’t allow your real name into WHOIS, you also can’t cancel a privately registered Yahoo domain.

3) Last year Yahoo raised their base domain registration prices from $10 a year (pretty standard) to $35 a year (no). They announced this quietly in a standard “it’s auto-renewal time” form email. Privately-registered domains went up to $44. (I never actually received this email, incidentally; I had to find out about the rate hike on friggin’ BoingBoing Gadgets.)

(For context on those prices, NearlyFreeSpeech.net offers a superior anonymous registration service, which costs $13.46 per year ($9.81 for domain registration and DNS + $3.65 ($0.01 per day) for the privacy option). NFS also permits outbound domain transfers – like you’d, you know, expect from a registrar.)

I’m going to reiterate this: if you’ve got a privately-registered domain and for some reason can’t let your real name get into WHOIS, you can neither transfer nor cancel your Yahoo domain. It’s just not possible. Your only option is to keep giving Yahoo their $44 a year.

To put all this more tritely, Yahoo holds your privacy hostage, and threatens to shoot it if you don’t pay. I feel very embarrassed having written that sentence. Unfortunately, it does possess the virtue of being true.

I don’t know if this behavior is technically illegal – the attorneys with whom I’ve discussed the issue (aka, MY PARENTS) tell me it sounds like there are at least antitrust implications, but don’t know enough about internet law to be sure. In any case, it’s clearly deeply unethical.

Taken together, I think it’s unlikely that items 1, 2, and 3 are due only to incompetence. I think it is likely that at some point, Yahoo made an actual decision to structure private domain registration this way.

4) Incidentally, signing up for private registration doesn’t even automatically hide your information. I had to send in a support request after I’d paid for the service to get it done, and I’ve seen at least one other person making the same complaint, though I can’t find the link now.

I should point out that this one probably is just incompetence. Possibly deadly incompetence, if you’re being stalked/a whistleblower/a Venezuelan dissident!

5) When you transfer a domain to another registrar, Yahoo continues to attempt to bill you for it if you forget to cancel the “Yahoo Small Business Service” account associated with the domain. There are no “services” included with a Small Business Service account, and the account exists purely for the noble purpose of flim-flammery.

6) Even if you do cancel the Small Business Service, Yahoo may continue to bill you. (If you’re me! They’ll even do it twice!)

7) And then you can’t get through to customer service to complain, because customer service only deals with people who have Small Business Services accounts.

8) To the best of my knowledge, Yahoo domain registration services and associated personnel have never actually killed a man in Reno just to watch him die. I’ll give you that one. To the best of my knowledge.

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