The answer to this question is long and complicated. Our goal in this statement is to try to be transparent about our reasoning and process. Fundamentally, Registrars are a key piece of the DNS, and part of the technical infrastructure of the Internet. Consequently, it is neither appropriate nor effective to resolve content issues at a Registrar.
Controversy tends to be focused on a single domain, but it is a mistake to consider domains in isolation. A free and open Internet hangs in the balance of how Registrars, ISPs, and other similar parties respond to takedown requests. Tucows controls about 10% of the total domains that exist today—the second-most of any single company in the world. This is an immense responsibility and our choices have extremely broad implications.
We do not see ourselves, or similar infrastructure companies, as the appropriate arbiters of what content belongs on the Internet. That power belongs to agencies of justice and should continue to be exercised via due process.
What is our role in relation to website content?
Tucows and its domain-related brands (OpenSRS, Enom, and Hover) are Registrars. It’s important to understand what a Registrar is, and what it can and cannot do. Registrars manage the technical infrastructure, which enables the buying and management of domain names. Domain names are not websites; they are strings of characters (such as ‘example.com’) and act as a human-friendly layer that points to a website. Web-hosting companies, rather than Registrars, provide the services that allow website content to be available online, making that content accessible to Internet users.
Tucows cannot exercise control over the content of a website pointed to by a domain registered via our platform.
Because we’re not a web-hosting company, we cannot remove specific pages or content on a website. The tools available to a Registrar to address content issues are very blunt; we can only suspend a domain, or force the registrant (owner) to move it elsewhere.
We don’t consider forcing a registrant to transfer domains off our platform to be a compelling solution for multiple reasons:
1. It resolves nothing with transgressive website content. Forced transfers only push domains pointing to problematic website content elsewhere, which is both unfair to our competitors and devoid of actual resolution.
2. Multiple domains from multiple registrars may be pointed at a single website, limiting the efficacy of suspending any one single domain. If a domain is suspended, a replacement domain may be registered, pointed, propagated, and socialized in minutes, leading to an endless game of whack-a-mole.
To be clear, asking a Registrar to suspend a domain is an ineffective method of resolving content issues. The content can be relabeled, quickly and easily, with a new domain name, or accessed by use of an IP address.
Web-hosting companies are in a better position to address content issues. Web-hosts have the ability to provide a much more granular response and almost always have a direct relationship with their users and content.
Who has the right to decide what’s online?
We have Terms of Service that allows us broad capacity to cease providing services, as do most providers. The issue at hand is not what we could do, but what we should do. Tucows has always believed in a free and open Internet. It is imperative that those who operate as a fundamental piece of the Internet’s infrastructure, such as Registrars, Internet exchanges, and ISPs, remain content-neutral; their neutrality is essential in preserving the diversity of content on the Internet.
There are two scenarios in which we suspend domain names:
1. If there is evidence of due process
The reason due process is fundamental is that it represents the norms we’ve established as a society. When a court order arrives, dictating action, we can be confident that a domain has transgressed the law.
2. In “exigent circumstances”
This is where we are confronted with a situation that appears to represent an imminent threat of violence, injury, or significant crime. These are exceedingly rare. The judgement on exigent circumstances is always contextual and informed by as much information as we are able to gather at the time.
What should you do if you wish to remove content from the Internet?
Generally, the first step would be to approach the website owner, either via the contact information on the site itself, or through the contacts in Whois. Your second step would be to contact the web-host. Tucows is primarily a wholesale Registrar, and many of its resellers are web-hosts. You can identify the Tucows reseller responsible for a domain here. You can identify the reseller of a domain registered through Enom here.
Lastly, if you think the domain in question falls into one of the categories above, you can submit a ticket to our abuse team.
While, as an organization, we may vehemently disagree with the values and ideas a given website aims to disseminate, we feel the power to decide what types of content should and should not be online must rest with the people, rather than in the hands of a select group of corporations.
If you are interested in further reading regarding the relationship between Registrars and content, you could start with the following links:
- Registrars: Don’t Pick up the Censors Pen
- How Threats Against Domain Names Are Used to Censor Content
- The Daily Stormer, Online Speech, And Internet Registrars
- 10+ Years of Activists Silenced: Internet Intermediaries’ Long History of Censorship
- ICANN Is Not the Internet Content Police