Domain name registration is a hot industry. Registrars represent a growing multi-billion dollar industry with the keys to the Internet for any organization hoping to have a web presence. Further, because of their role as one of the gatekeepers to the Internet, registrars have the unique ability and are often asked to take action against illegal activity online.
This fact was highlighted in the report released this week by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the 2015 Out-of-Cycle Notorious Markets List. Like last year's list,1 the 2015 Notorious Markets List includes a domain name registar who refuses to stop providing services to unregulated, dangerous online pharmacies. The 2015 Notorious Markets List named Rebel (a division of Momentous), citing data showing the company effectively serves as a "safe haven" for illegitimate Internet pharmacies.2 See 2015 Notorious Market List, page 15.
The good news? There are many registrars out there who take action and hold registrants accountable. The behavior of Rebel as discussed in the 2015 Notorious Market List is the exception, not the rule, at least when it comes to registry and registrar action against illegitimate online drug sellers. The majority of registries and registrars are doing the right thing by patients.
Recent data makes such voluntary action all the more important. In December, the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP) reported that 81% of Americans are concerned by illegal online drug sellers and the threat of counterfeit or dangerous medicines. Their fear is justified. 96% of the roughly 35,000 active online drug seller sites are operating illegally according to the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy and LegitScript. In addition, according the World Health Organization, 50% of the medicines sold online are counterfeit. While some medicines sold online may be the real thing, the problem is consumers can't tell which websites are selling medicines that are fake. The danger: medicines bought from fake online pharmacies may contain little or no active ingredients or ingredients such as paint, arsenic or floor wax, leading to illness and even death.
Case in point: In October, three people died and more were hospitalized due to counterfeit Xanax in San Francisco. The fake medications were sold to unassuming customers branded as Xanax, but were laced with the powerful opioid fentanyl. This case is a timely and terrifying reminder that counterfeit medicines can have serious negative health consequences or kill, and consumers can't distinguish between safe and unsafe medicines simply by looking at them. Whether offline or online, patients are at risk if they buy medicines from unlicensed sellers.
The public health threat posed by illegitimate online drug sellers is what brought together three major domain competitors — GoDaddy, Rightside and Neustar — in 2010. Joined by ten other major companies, representing different "chokepoints" in the Internet purchasing chain, the group formed the nonprofit Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP). In 2014 alone, CSIP members report taking action on 9.6 million illegitimate pharmacy websites.
Other registrars have taken similar steps, including Blacknight Solutions, a founding member of the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacy — EU, as well as Realtime Register, Internet.bs, Dynadot, Endurance International, NetOwl, and scores more around the world. Domain name registries including Afilias, XYZ Registry and of course the new .pharmacy registry (see www.safe.pharmacy) also proactively monitor their platforms for illegitimate online drug sellers in an effort to protect patients.
By adopting tighter monitoring and enforcement policies, these registries and registrars ensure that their platforms won't be used to endanger consumers' health. It's the right thing to do.
The Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP Global) applauds these companies. They deserve recognition for taking proactive action to protect patients online. To these good corporate citizens, we say "thank you" and cheer your continued work on this issue.
We urge others to follow suit. No domain name registrar, payment processor, shipper or advertising provider should serve as a safe-haven or facilitator for criminal activity. Especially when lives are at stake, responsible voluntary actions (as those modeled by the companies named herein) should be the norm.
Internet commerce companies can really save lives. By promoting patient safety, acting proactively, and adopting a zero-tolerance policy, Internet commerce industry leaders are proving it is possible to both turn a profit and do right by consumers. Doing well by doing good — just as it should be. On behalf of patients everywhere, we notice and we thank you.
Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP Global)
The Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP Global) is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting patient safety online. ASOP Global does work in the US, EU and Asia. For more information visit www.safeonlinerx.com.
1 See U.S. Trade Representative. "2014 Out-of-Cycle Notorious Markets List." March 5, 2015. Page 12, discussing the role registrars play in public safety.
2 The Report also cites to continued problematic activity by Tucows. U.S. Trade Representative. "2015 Out-of-Cycle Notorious Markets List," page 15, footnote 30. December 17, 2015.
By Libby Baney, Digital Health Policy Consultant; Executive Director, ASOP Global
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