In what might be a first for a startup, an online form-building tool called JotForm says that it has had its domain, jotform.com, suspended by the US Secret Service as part of a law enforcement investigation.
A post on the JotForm blog yesterday explained, “As a part of an ongoing investigation about content posted in our site, a US government agency has temporarily suspended our jotform.com domain. We are fully cooperating with them, but it is not possible to say when the domain would be unblocked.”
JotForm, which is a product created by New York City-based Interlogy Internet Technologies, claims to have 700,000 users and over 2 million user-generated forms on its servers.
In a posting to Hacker News today, JotForm founder Aytekin Tank explained that the service’s DNS host, GoDaddy had complied with a Secret Service request to take down the domain. Tank explains in the posting that he wasn’t greeted with much urgency when he contacted the Secret Service. “The agent told me she is busy and she asked for my phone number, and told me they will get back to me within this week.
“I told them we are a web service with hundreds of thousands of users, so this is a matter of urgency, and we are ready to cooperate fully. I was ready to shut down any form they request and provide any information we have about the user. Unfortunately, she told me she needs to look at the case which she can do in a few days. I called her many times again to check about the case, but she seems to be getting irritated with me. At this point, we are waiting for them to look into our case.”
Domain seizures related to criminal activity have been a growing trend in the US. Democrat senator Ron Wyden has been campaigning against US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Operation In Our Sites, which has been obtaining control of domain names of sites suspected of dealing in infringing content since 2010. However, with the Secret Service’s focus on safeguarding the country’s financial infrastructure and economy, phishing seems like a likely activity suspected on JotForm.
Tank says that JotForm has a sophisticated phishing filter in place. “We take phishing very seriously…. we also take any reports about phishing very seriously and quickly suspend the accounts and let the other party know about it.”
Users “Shocked and angry”
While JotForm users can point to jotform.net to get their forms working, it’s clear that having the main domain for the service inaccessible is a significant problem for the startup. In an email today, Tank tells us “It (has) had a big impact on our business. Some of our users have hundreds of forms. So, changing them all has been a big trouble for them. The overall impact has yet to be seen. Many users were unhappy and lost trust in us. We might lose many of our customers. It is hard to say at this point.”
While the Secret Service needs to keep the economy secure, the idea that businesses’ domains can be closed down due to user-generated content, with owners left out of the loop as to what might happen next is a frightening thought.
As Tank explained in his posting on Hacker News earlier, “I believe this can happen to anybody who allows users to create content on the web. So, if you have such business, my recommendation would be to make sure that you can contact your most active users quickly if your domain is disabled. Many of our users are shocked and angry at us.”