GoDaddy’s Shameless, but Unsurprising, Opportunism

GoDaddy Makes a Principled Stand

As a blogger, I constantly read news and think about how to respond to it. But I’m having a problem this week: I simply don’t know what to do with all the Google detritus in the news.

I have a few options. I could sit here and frantically blog my fingers to the bone trying to make sense out of everything. That seems like a waste of time, though, since most of the chatter is duplicative. Another option would be to wait for a couple of days and do some sort of wise meta-analysis, ivory tower sort of commentary. Sounds good in theory, but since I’m generally not a wise person, that probably wouldn’t come off very well. The last possibility is to go total ad hoc, respond when I want, to what I want, and damn the structure.

That last option sounds rather appealing, since it allows me to just go after the news that really strikes a chord (i.e., upsets me the most).

In that spirit, let’s take a look at the announcement made by domain name registrar GoDaddy:

Two U.S. companies that sell Internet addresses to Web sites said Wednesday they had stopped registering new domain names in China because the Chinese government has begun demanding pictures and other identification documents from their customers.

[ . . . ]

Christine Jones, executive vice president and general counsel of Go Daddy, said the company’s decision was not a reaction to Google but instead reflects its concern about the security of its customers and “the chilling effect” of the new Chinese government requirements.

[ . . . ]

Go Daddy said the agency [CNNIC] has always made the company, known as a registrar, collect customer names, addresses and other contact information since it began registering “.cn” Internet domain names. But late last year, Go Daddy said, the Chinese agency changed its policy to require “.cn” domain name registrars to also collect head shots, business identifications and signed registration forms from new customers and then forward that information to the agency. (Associated Press)

I wrote about this topic last month, in which I was somewhat ambivalent about the new policy. Requiring ID information from domain name holders is a neutral policy on its face that could be argued either way. Having that information allows the government to find individuals at a later date. If that information is being used by the government to locate a dissident, then most of us have a problem with that. On the other hand, if that contact information is used to find someone who is infringing on intellectual property rights (a common occurrence!), it’s a very good policy indeed. It’s all relative.

I point out the timing of my previous post, which coincided with the announcement of the new ID requirements on domain name registration, because on its face, it gives GoDaddy a credible explanation as to why it waited until now to announce its new policy on .CN domains. In other words, they can say that it took them one month to decide, internally, how to respond to the new regulations.

Quite a reasonable assertion, and yet I’m not buying it. GoDaddy made the announcement at a Congressional hearing on the Google censorship issue. Seems a bit strange to be making an announcement on a new company policy at an unrelated hearing, unless it was designed to capture as much media attention as possible.

Network Solutions, another domain name registrar, changed their .CN policy last December. Wouldn’t surprise me if NS had timely information (i.e. early warning) on the new regulations and formulated their policy accordingly. If NS knew about it in December, or earlier, then GoDaddy had the same opportunity, giving them plenty of time to respond in the meantime.

Moreover, the GoDaddy VP and General Counsel who attended the hearing pointedly refused (according to the AP) to answer a question about their China revenues. This was the first question I had as well. Just how much revenue are we talking about here? Does GoDaddy stand to lose a lot by refusing to go along with the new registration requirements? If not, then it’s more publicity stunt than principled policy change, or at least smells like it.

The Wall Street Journal comes to the rescue, reporting on a press conference after the Congressional hearing where Ms. Jones provides some commercial information on GoDaddy’s .CN business:

But how much does it really hurt Go Daddy to leave China? In an interview after testifying to Congress, Jones said her company has 27,000 registered .cn domains in China since 2005 – more than any other non-Chinese company. But China still accounts for less than 1% of Go Daddy’s revenue.

Yeah, I’m a tired old cynic. Even so, if those numbers and the timing of the announcement don’t make you raise an eyebrow, there is something wrong with you. Anyway, if all of the above isn’t sufficient to coax the cynic from your subconscious, perhaps this will help:

Jones said that getting attention wasn’t the plan. “Our decision to discontinue selling the .cn names had nothing to do with Google’s decision to move its search into Hong Kong. Nor does it have anything to do with generating publicity,” she said. “It had only to do with preventing extensive personal information on domain name registrants from being supplied to the Chinese government.”

Something about a flat denial like that. Makes me giggle my ass off and roll my eyes. But that’s just me. Is it possible that GoDaddy has made this decision after an exhaustive internal review process that includes personal soul-searching and an in-depth study of moral philosophy? Yeah, it’s within the realm of possibility. However, somehow it’s hard to take seriously a company that got famous through an ad campaign whose one salient feature was the inclusion of scantily clad female actors with extremely large breasts.



28 Comments

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  1. lolz

    Well, Godaddy’s antics has been consistent at least. It’s against censorship and like to use this political stance to promote the company. Having the naked chick dancing in public proceedings reflects its support for anti-censorship AND generates buzz. It’s a win-win. Pulling out of China is also a great decision for godaddy because unlike google there is very little downside.

    Google’s whole “do no evil” message on the other hand is full of hypocrisy. Its anti-censorship stance is inconsistent at best. Google still censors for various governments include Thailand (where speaking out against the royal family landed Brits in jail recently), India, Brazil, Turkey, etc.

    What’s going to be more interesting is how MS will react. Since companies which advertised on google already also advertised on Baidu, the later is unlikely to see much increase in ad revenues even when google is out. This opens up a lot of opportunities for Microsoft if it can get Chinese to use its search engine.

  2. GoDaddy is lying to get some good press: On February 10 I had an email exchange with a GoDaddy support employee in which I asked the question whether I would need to supply any documents for my GoDaddy-registered domain marc.cn. I asked this because for other .cn domains that my company registered with other hosting providers we had to submit documents, but GoDaddy never contacted me with this request. GoDaddy told me that it was not necessary to submit any documents for my private .cn domain, but that they had changed their policy and that they would not register new .cn domains.

    This means that:
    1) they know not all .cn names require documents to register them (actually, CNNIC only requires companies that operate the .cn sites for Chinese audiences to register with biz license and ID copy, but not personal sites), but here they pretend that everybody has to submit documents.

    2) they decided to stop registering .cn names a while ago already, but only publicly announce it at a Congressional hearing right after Google left to get some good PR.

  3. Corporations are making attempts at ethical business practices and this is how you react? If only more companies acted as morally China wouldnt be a toxic waste dump.

    • I am not convinced, though, that this was actually an attempt at an ethical business practice. If it was, fine. However, if it was an instance of a company taking advantage of the situation and pretending to be moved by ethical concerns, when it reality it was just taking advantage of the situation for commercial gain, then I find that distasteful.

    • lolz

      And who is to define what is “moral”? You?

      If more corporations acted “morally” by not investing in China, China would be like what it was in the early 80s. Few people can afford to eat meat, most people don’t have land line phones, no hot water, heat, etc. It’s unlikely most expats who is criticizing China will even have the opportunity to be in China. And that is supposed to be better?

      • Morality is relative, but the concept of commercial gain is not. If the motive was making money, and they hid that motive by deceitfully playing the decision up as a moral stance, that is distasteful.

        If you simply like the conclusion/result and are willing to overlook the deceit, then maybe that’s OK for you.

        As to the normative question, as I said, one could argue either way on the new ID policy. If a company wanted to opt out on the basis of morality, that’s perfectly justifiable. Same with Google.

        • A corporations main responsibility is to make commercial gains, so what do you expect? It is a rare thing to find one these days that does so in a ethical manner, and I find it refreshing. You sound pessimistic and personally insulted by this.

    • King Tubby

      lossofmind. Are you serious??????. Read a reasonably critical history of Body Shop. Too much yaba, my friend.

      China’s environment is where it is…a poisonous sewer… because of the marrriage between western corporate greed and Chinese provincial desire to create local jobs PLUS a ton of graft, and forget the impact downstream. You make me sick, pal. Got toxic waste…no worries lets wait till midnight.

  4. xian

    Well of course they’re taking advantage of the Google situation. I don’t really blame them for it though, it’s a good move on their part.

  5. asdf

    Godaddy is your opportunist frat boy version of a corporation that is piling on for personal benefit, pure and simple.

  6. zball

    I find it is quit interesting to compare PR techniques between West and CCP. A review of Chinese contemporary history shows that CCP used to be and still is a master in public relationship. The FACT is: CCP came to rule mainland China through series of highly effective propaganda against the then ruling party KMT and convinced ordinary Chinese people that it was the only hope to lift the country out of collapse and humiliation.

    Back in 1930s, the party was relatively small and had no control of national media in forging direction of public opinion. So CCP put its bet on the vast countryside, seeded sparks in rural area and gradually started a huge commie blaze wiped through the whole country. For CCP, traditionally, neither westerns nor urban intellectuals could shake the foundation of its ruling. As long as the majority of Chinese grass-roots are satisfied with the progress ensued with recent economic growth, the party really does not give a shit on PR with western media. By saying that, the CCP is fully aware of the importance of PR with 800 million(?) countrymen/women. The belief of “single spark can start a huge blaze” was branded in its blood. In fact, even rampant corruption can be easily identified across the country , it is still hard to find resonance on human right issues among ordinary countrymen/women now. That is why I said the party still held high ground in PR within the Country. And, I think that is the exact very reason why CCP is so tight and stubborn on opening up public media in today’s China. But in the long run, we all know that censorship/cover-up will not solve the problem. Like the on-going economic reform, political reform will happen in China. Myself is pretty optimistic about it.

    • King Tubby

      My ten cents worth. The CP and its military/police instruments are the sole locus of political power, and when you want to retain that absolutism, you prevent the rise of alternatives/competitors which would dilute party sovereignity. NGOs could provide an alternative, but they have been sorted, and any attempt to *network* by rural grassroots activists just crowds the black jails.
      Ai Weiwei might be a chi chi challenge in the minds of cosmos in Beijing and New York, but hard scrabble farmers worried about water (yes, my mantra), health and education would probably regard him as a freak.

      You nailed it zball in terms of what Ive just written.

      The belief of “single spark can start a huge blaze” was branded in its blood.

      • zball

        Maslow’s hierarchy of needs will always kick in once the urge to satisfy basic physiologic needs are obvious among masses of Chinese migrant workers and peasants. That is also the most applied rationale for ccp justifying some of its performance.

        however, i believe with the improvements of living standard, tomorrow will be bright. Gee, i sound like a a propoganda officer..

    • Hank

      I beg to differ about the CCP being effective with their PR. At one time, that was true.

      Today, the CCP has a “captive” audience (no pun intended) but they also have an armed police to make sure no other force is allowed to compete with their PR (propaganda). But that’s besides the point.

      The key issue today is that the CCP must now compete in a global media environment where its crude PR techniques and heavy propaganda does not work.

      Silly bombastic slogans or threats may still convince the masses of poor peasants in China’s countryside but it is totally ineffective on students in London, housewives in Paris, or steel workers in Magdeburger.

      To reflect the great changes that have taken place in China these last 30 years, China must create a new image – it must overhaul its outdated media and propaganda institutions.

      China’s audience is now global; what works for simple-minded peasants and low educated workers will not work with an informed, sophisticated global audience.

      China must raise its game, it is a global power and needs a sophisticated media to reflect that.

      • King Tubby

        Hank. You read more into my comment that warranted.
        Re: Your remarks about shaping public opinion in the international arena. Most folk would agree…pretty uncontentious.

        I was talking about the exercise of power thru govt from Bejing to the township level, and that determines who gets the rewards (access to jobs, promotions, apts, envelops) and who gets shafted (land reclaimed, loss of water rights).

        Who is to know whether the average peasant family living on very marginal income believes govt sloganeering at the mo….nobody has surveyed them. Even if 70% – 90% are totally cynical with disbelief, it does not follow that that there will be nation-wide rural disorder tomorrow.

        1) they have to envision an alternative form of social organisation which accrues greater benefits to them.

        2)THEN AND, more importantly they need independent organisational structures and networked leadership across provinces which will allow them to pursue 1.

        And the CP will never allow 2 to develop. That was my point, if badly put.

        So I suspect all that will remain will be a millions of pissed off sulky peasants gazing at the world of plenty on tv, and without a clue about how to improve their lot.

        My bet is a variant of the Taipeng rebellion….superstition and rumour will be the catalyst, and that would be disasterous for all of China.

        • Hank

          King Tubby,

          I don’t disagree with you. I just wanted to point out that the anti-China bashing taking place in the English speaking world has a lot to do with how China presents itself.

          Of course, it is in the self-interest of the West to make China into a bogey-man but China needs to learn how not to keep shooting themselves in the foot.

          You are right about, “variant of the Taipeng rebellion….superstition and rumour will be the catalyst, and that would be disasterous for all of China” – and for all foreigners in China.

          A little history is in order. The “lao wai” who were caught in the middle during the Taiping Rebellion did not come out too well. I would imagine the same thing will happen again if the “Celestial Ones” keep sucking on that nationalism tit.

          The burning of the old summer palace (圓明園, Yuánmíng Yuán) was actually in retaliation for the torture and killing of the foreigns caught by the Taipings.

          • Terry

            um Hank and King Tubby, substitute Boxer for Taiping above and your history will be a bit more correct. Different times, different places.

            The Taiping Rebellion originated in Southern China with the Hakka people and supported by traditional anti Manchu/Ching forces (triads) some say due to the economic dislocation of tea transporters resulting from opening up the treaty ports after the 2nd opium war. The Boxer – Yi He – was an anti western rebellion (some say secretly supported by the Empress Dowager) that occurred mostly in Northern China.

          • King Tubby

            Hank. Im not that interested in loawai welfare, but at least you read my post a lot more closely than sinologist Terry. I was talking about cult religions at the grassroots level in the near future and their ability to destroy the Mandate from Heaven.

            Terry. Tea/tea/tea…lived in Fujian for years…wife’s parents/grandparents been in the tea gig for yonks.

            Try and think conceptually, okay.

          • Terry

            King Tubby,

            I got it about millenarian movements and all and the potential for that happening again and I agree with you 100%. And yeah, I am nervous. I have been in Beijing since ’95 and have seen anti-foreign sentiment get out of hand several times (spy plane, belgrade embassy bombing, olympic torch et al) Am with you on the overall concept and the underlying problems.

            Just wanted to correct the historical error, and at the same time introduce a theory that few folks are aware of about the economic and ethnic forces behind the Taiping Tian Guo. The Hakka transported all the tea for export to Guangzhou when that was the only port open to export trade prior to the 2nd Opium War and were left sorta unemployed and economically distressed when Fuzhou, Amoy/Xiamen, Ningbo et.al were oppened.

      • zball

        we r in the same boat regarding ur point that China must raise its bar to reach eyecandies in Paris or blue nose in new England for matching her gowing power and responsibilities.

        however, what i tried to point out is: 4 ccp, convincing the “simple minded’ peasant currently is way more important than flirting with the desperate housewives living in LA.

        also, i think the masses of chinese peasants are not simply simple minded. The simpleness comes from the pressure of earning a decent normal life. Once thoes peasants start to irrigate blog topics as we r doing now, it will be the time for ccp to seriously consider its PR techniques. — I guess president Hu team up with Bush doing a who’s hu show in Saturday night might be a better idea than breasts bouncer in parliment house to smooth the tense on both sides.

        • King Tubby

          zball
          Your paragraph two is spot on. I, for one,don’t regard peasants a simple-minded. Like you said, there is the pressure to provide the necessities.

          This *irrigating a blog site* sounds like a bit of a problem though. Im a reformer poster as Kai will attest, so we wont go there. Cheers

  7. Hank

    Stan, point of information, you may want to expand your comments to include Dell Computers in your criticism of Go Daddy.

    There’s a change in the air.

    The Telegraph (UK)
    By Malcolm Moore in Shanghai

    25 Mar 2010

    (abridged)

    “Dell and Go Daddy threaten to follow Google out of China: Two major US technology companies, Dell and Go Daddy, have threatened to pull out of China in the wake of Google’s departure from the country.”

    “… Michael Dell, the founder and chief executive of the company, made the suggestion in a meeting with Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister.

    “Mr Singh told the Hindustan Times: “This morning I met the chairman of Dell Corporation. He informed me that they are buying equipment and parts worth $25 billion from China (£16 billion). They would like to shift to safer environment with a climate conducive to enterprise with security of legal system.”

    ?The news came as Dell’s first plant in India, in Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu, made its first export shipment. The plant has the capacity to make a million computers a year. So far, most of the plant’s production has gone to the Indian domestic market, but it has now begun shipping to the Middle East. According to the Indian media, tax breaks given to Dell make it cheaper for the company to supply the Middle East, Africa and Europe out of India, rather than China.”

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/google/7517291/Dell-and-Go-Daddy-threaten-to-follow-Google-out-of-China.html

    • Thanks. Certainly looks like a reasonable commercial decision. I wonder whether either Dell or the media will turn this into a morality play?

      A lot of companies are getting nervous about growing business risk in China, given worsening climate for foreign companies over here. India ain’t so great either, though, but I’m not knowledgeable enough to make a comparison of the two.

      • Terry

        I have to believe that that comment by Dell, if it was made at all, was for domestic Indian consumption and was a political ploy by Singh. I hope that the media doesn’t blow it up out of proportion but am doubtful until something else seizes their attention. For one, Dell has a huge and successful domestic market in China that I am sure they will not turn their backs on.

        Hank, a statement by the Indian prime minister reporting a purported remark in conversation with Michael Dell that plays to Indian nationalism and supports his parties policies does not at all compare with Go-Daddy’s crass but perhaps effective PR stunt.

    • lolz

      If India can make things cheaper than China I don’t see why companies like Dell or any company for that matter, shouldn’t make a move. More likely though, Dell will retain both manufacturing in both India and China.

      I think if India does spend the 1 Trillion dollar its prime minister proposed in the next 5 years to improve its infrastructure, it can be a serious threat to China’s manufacturing. However, reading a little about Indian’s rather divided politics make me skeptical this will happen. Just the pros and cons of democracy I guess.

  8. unbiased

    I liked GoDaddy’s viral ad – but of course – it’s blocked in China…but there are other sources of amusement and entertainment – such as watching the Google melodrama play out…outside of China. It’s rapidly becoming a non-issue here.