March 16, 2007 | By Derek Slater

GoDaddy, Get a Backbone and Protect Your Users' Rights

A few weeks back, we wrote about how domain name registrar GoDaddy took offline Seclists.org based merely on an informal request and without providing any meaningful notice to the site's operator. Unfortunately, this isn't the only instance in which GoDaddy has carelessly ignored its users' rights.

In February, EFF was contacted by an anonymous owner of a parody and criticism website forum that allegedly exposes the financial corruption and domestic scandal of a local politician in Birmingham, Alabama. As part of a civil case in family court, an attorney representing the politician's girlfriend issued a subpoena to GoDaddy seeking the identity of the website owner, who was not a party to the lawsuit.

With the website owner's right to anonymous speech on the line, what did GoDaddy do? It caved without any apparent hesitation, providing its customer with a mere three days to find a lawyer and decide whether to file a challenge. GoDaddy also refused to provide a copy of the subpoena, which included essential information to determine whether and how to respond.

GoDaddy promises in its privacy policy to turn over customers' information only if required by law, but its lawyers didn't give this subpoena even a shred of scrutiny. Had they done so, they could have seen it was clearly invalid -- GoDaddy is located in Arizona and Alabama state law doesn't permit a subpoena to be issued on someone out of state. That was the ultimate conclusion of the state judge who eventually quashed the subpoena, no thanks to GoDaddy.

Even putting aside this aspect of GoDaddy's casual disregard for its customer's interests, the company's behavior is shameful. The First Amendment limits the ability of litigants to pierce a speaker's anonymity, particularly when that person isn't even being sued. GoDaddy owes its customers meaningful notice, time, and information so that they can fight back and protect their rights.

With the help of lawyer Lewis Page, the anonymous website operator did manage to move to quash before it was too late. But GoDaddy's sloppy practices still put an unfair burden on this user and continue to threaten all of its customers' rights.

For what online service providers ought to do to protect their users, check out our best practice guide.


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