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Sex, lies, and uniform resource locators

There are people in this industry--we could generously refer to them as leeches, though they are more commonly known as squatters--who make a nice living off domain names that prey on brands that other companies have built over years.

As a non-native of this country, I had to sympathize with the reader in China who wrote in with the following query:

"Dear sirs,

"We are intrested in the case of Bill Clinton. How can we find the site where his news are brodcast? What is the reaction of the Amercians? Do You really so critical about personal sex affairs?" [sic on all counts!]

As for the first question, I believe the more appropriate query would be, "How can we find the site where his news aren't broadcast?" As for the second two, I remain perplexed along with the reader. What is it about the subject of sex that has this country with its boxers--to use an appropriately coarse expression--in a bunch?

Take the Web (s'il vous plait!). It's an old saw in this young industry that sex is the only online content that sells. Or sex in combination with stock quotes, if you can believe the media. As someone who likes to compartmentalize the various parts of his life, I find this last phenomenon perplexing. But there must be something to it, as you can find out by clicking on over to Yahoofinance.com.

Is Yahoofinance.com about finance? No, it's about sex. Is it about Yahoo? Same answer! What we have here, folks, is the online cousin to those barkers who hang out in front of seedy establishments in the harsh light of day trying to persuade businessmen on their way to work to dally for a brief hour. But in this case, inspect the wares carefully: what you see in the address bar is related only tangentially, if at all, to what you get.

There are people in this industry--we could generously refer to them as leeches, though they are more commonly known as squatters--who make a nice living off domain names that prey on brands that other companies have built over years. This is nothing new to readers of this column. But every so often, one of these domain-name emperors amasses such a collection of junk jewelry that it impresses even me, accustomed as I am to theft, opportunism, and other varieties of industry chutzpa.

Yahoofinance.com--no relation to Yahoo Finance, except that it has drawn the attention of that site's lawyers--is the property of one Andrew Conru, whose online real-estate empire should be an inspiration to us all, especially if we are trademark lawyers at any of the following companies:

Microsoft (both "midrosoft.com" and "expediamsn.com" belong to M. Conru), Ziff-Davis ("zdexpos.com" is his), America Online ("memberaol.com"), Fox ("foxtelevision.com"), the Corporation for Public Broadcasting ("pbsonline.com"), and Sony ("musicsony.com").

Other organizations that might be interested in M. Conru's holdings include the World Wide Web Consortium, located at "w3.org" (Conru can be found at "w3.com"); Excite, whose mail service is at "mailexcite.com" (Conru is at "malexcite.com"); the Chinese Community Information Center, located at "ifcss.org" ("ifcss.com"); Reebok ("rebock.com"); Netscape Communications ("nedscape.com"); Lycos ("licose.com")--and the list goes on. Since today's column answers a letter about sex affairs, not poor spelling, Conru's complete holdings are worth a gander, but since this is a family column, I choose not to include some of his--how do the TV news anchors put it?--salacious domains here.

Yahoo, which thinks its brand is worth all the HTML in China, is applying some legal salt to this bloodsucking enterprise (which also includes the choice domains "yahooasia.com," "yahii.com," "yeahoo.com," and "yazhou.com"). "There are several instances of this, and there have been quite a few over time," said Yahoo spokeswoman Diane Hunt. "There's a group of people who want to take advantage of a well-established brand to drive traffic to an unrelated site, and in those cases we have aggressively protected our brand."

Conru, when contacted, was tight-lipped about his business. But before hanging up on one of my colleagues, he did allow that the page of personals and sex ads currently gracing the site was a "place holder" and that future plans for the spurious domain were still being worked out. Perhaps Yahoo's attorneys have made some constructive suggestions?

Well, if sex and stock quotes isn't your style, how about sex and server software? SGI raised a few eyebrows, if nothing else, with a little list of its satisfied customers. Included in this link was none other than Flynt Publications, which was linked to none other than Larry's flagship publication Hustler. Up until last night, that is, when one of my Skintrepid assistants made a few calls to SGI PR.

"This was an oversight on our part," explained a somewhat flustered SGI flak. "It's not our policy to link to porno. Obviously we acknowledge the fact that we have underage kids and other customers who would find that sort of thing offensive."

I don't know how many underage kids are lurking around SGI's customer satisfaction pages, but I suspect an even smaller minority of that demographic group finds Hustler offensive (though all I have to go on here is my son Vermel's surfing history...) Meanwhile, since Hustler has lost all that traffic coming from SGI, maybe it can strike a deal with Andrew Conru. He is the owner, after all, of "hustlar.com."

I'm no smut peddler--I just cover the industry! Send me some decent rumors and I'll promise to clean up my act.