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CitizenHawk Takes On The Typo Economy

It's clear that typo squatting is a real and growing problem. The World Intellectual Property Organization said in March that cybersquatting disputes in 2006 increased by 25% compared with 2005.

Poor typing hardly seems like the road to riches, but the typo economy is booming.

The top 50 online retail brands have spawned some 10,000 domains that generate traffic and ad revenue from misspelled domain names entered directly into Web browsers, according to CitizenHawk. The company, launching on Monday, aims to help businesses combat this form of brand hijacking, known as typo squatting.

Despite the popularity of search engines for finding Web sites, about 20% of online visitors arrive through a manually typed URL, according to Ari J. Master, CitizenHawk's chief operating officer, who added that 10% to 20% of typed will be misspelled.

Master cites an article in Slate that points to "various studies" as source of those figures. While that's hardly the most compelling citation, it's clear that typo squatting is a real and growing problem, however hard it is to quantify. The World Intellectual Property Organization said in March that cybersquatting disputes in 2006 increased by 25% compared with 2005.

Assuming the prevalence of typos is something close to what Master estimated, and given the number of domain registrations that clearly have been made to capitalize on typos, the math, despite its haziness, is eye-opening.

Take Office Max, which has been working with CitizenHawk to curb typo squatters. It gets about 7 million visitors a month. Of those, 700,000 are typed by hand and some 35,000 to 70,000 are mistyped.

Some percentage of that traffic is lost. CitizenHawk suggests 50%. So that's 17,500 to 35,000 visitors landing on competing sites through typo domains that re-direct typo traffic for the benefit of the typo domain owners. Assuming that 10% of those customers "convert" (buy something), that's a potential loss of 1,750 to 3,500 customers per month and possibly a lot of money.

Perhaps more compelling is the typo squatting search tool CitizenHawk offers on its Web site. It found 21 domains that may represent efforts to typo squat These include "," "," and "" showed 680 potential typo squatting domains at the time this article was written.

The CitizenHawk search tool also helps companies follow the money. It reveals that the misspelled domains are hosted at a domain parking service, meaning the registrant is getting ad revenue from visitors who mistyped this site's URL. It's probably not a lot of revenue, but because typo squatters use automated systems to do this with thousands of pages, the pennies ad up. Companies victimized by such schemes need to consider lost business and brand damage.

CitizenHawk aims to fight automation with automation by providing trademark and Web site owners with online tools to identify problem sites and send out complaints, take-down notices, and the like. "On the scale this is happening, you can't do 1,000 lawsuits," said Graham MacRobie, co-founder, president, and CEO of CitizenHawk.

It's but one small step from software-as-a-service to lawsuits-as-a-service.

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