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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

A correspondent sent me a copy of the following correspondence:

Dear NameScout.com,

When I went to your website and did a search for the name "mikmaq", which is the name of my People, an Indigenous Nation of North America, I was shocked and disgusted at the Similar Domain Names results, which came up with "red-indian", a racial slur, which has two origins, first, in Canada, from the Beothuk and Wabanaki peoples, who used red ochre to cover their body as a bug repellent. But second, and the worst, it derived in the USA from when Colonists scalped Indigenous People. The term "Red Indian" came from the red blood on the scalps that the Colonists took. Today the term "Red Indian" is used as a racial slur, and I am very upset that your search results would show such a thing. I am very offended, and I demand that this be removed, and until then, I will make sure others are made aware of this.

Here is a copy of the search results:

YOUR SEARCH RESULTS .com .net .org .biz .info

Intelligent Domain Name Search Results
Similar Domain Names .com .net .org .biz .information


More on the story

Dear Robert,

Here is an update, I found out that the company who powers those search results is not NameScout.com...they just bought the software, from another company, called Oingo (http://www.oingo.com).

Here are two e-mails I received, one from NameScout.com and the other from SnapNames.com (which uses NameScout.com to register domains).

----- Original Message -----
From: Rob Hall
To: 'maqtewekpaqtism@mikmaqmail.com'
Sent: Thursday, August 09, 2001 19:36
Subject: RE: Just Say No to NameScout.com

Dear Sir or Madame,

I would like to take this opportunity to personally apologize to you for any offence you took to the results of a search for a domain name at namescout.com.

For our search results, we purchase a service from a third party in which we send them the domain you entered, and they send us back a list of names that are in some way related to what you initially searched for. We have absolutely no control over the generation of this list. This generation is done automatically and in real time for every search initiated at namescout.com.

More information on the service we purchase can be found on their website www.oingo.com . I have forwarded your complaint to them. Additionally, I would suggest that you contact them personally with your complaint, as this type of result would also be displayed on other registrars search screens as many use this same service. (for example, the same search at www.alldomains.com returns the same result). As Oingo's system and software is proprietary, they do not publish any algorithms for their search,. Accordingly, I am unable to comment on how a result such as the one you received was calculated.

I was shocked and disturbed by your letter pointing out this racial inference. I assure you, that NameScout.com in no way condones this type of behavior.

I thank you for bringing this serious matter to my attention. Should you have any further concerns now, or in the future, please do not hesitate to contact me immediately.

Yours truly,

Robert Hall


Dear Sir or Madame:

Thanks for your email to SnapNames about NameScout's generation of the result "red-indian" in response to the stimulus of "miqmaq". We appreciate your expressing your concern; many times, issues of racial sensitivity such as you raise are quite valid and even urgent.

In this case, there are a number of reasons why we do not feel that NameScout has engaged in behavior meriting a termination of our partnership.

Applications like "Similar Domain Names" are fully automated; therefore, it is not possible for us to suggest (much less conclude) the existence of malicious intent behind their results. They typically simply scour the web and other existing information looking for associations between and among words or terms. If anyone, like you, had put the term "miqmaq" near "red indian" on a website (in an article, or a chat room, etc.), those terms would become linked.

Moreover, such applications do not make normative, or moral, judgments. Like a dictionary or encyclopedia, in such applications all words are included. The dictionary makes no judgment as to whether such words such be used, or how.

Finally, as a matter of free speech, there may be people who want to register "red-indian" for reasons that even you would probably consider valid, for example: (1) to prevent others from using the term (2) to post educational information of the sort contained in your email.

If what we have said here is factually in error in some way, do please let us know. We don't wish to offend, and I'm sure our partners don't either, but an understanding of how the technology works should allay your fears that there is intentional prejudice involved. Rather, the issue is one of the historical linkage between two terms, which your own email confirmed as existing, in this case.


Cameron Powell
VP of Business Development and General Counsel
115 NW First Avenue
Suite 300
Portland, OR 97209
(503) 219-9990 x229
(503) 274-9749 fax

Connecting Registrars and their Customers to the Secondary Market in Domain Names


Dear Mr. Hall,

Thank you for your e-mail, and bringing to my attention what company controls the search results. I will be contacting them tomorrow.

To my people, the word "Red Indian" is the same as the word "Nigger". It is just as offensive to us as the word "Nigger" is to Africans. I am sure there would be a huge uproar if someone did a search for "african", and was given "nigger" as a similar domain name.

Again, thank you for your reply. May peace be with you.

Maqtewékpaqtism Paqtismaq

Rob replies
Seems to me there may be a little more to the story. From what I've seen, the Mikmaq have been in the news over fishing rights conflicts lately. Yet the automated program didn't suggest mikmaqfishing.com or names like that. Why not, if many Mikmaq sites refer to fishing?

Indian websites in general are associated with things like mascots, the environment, genocide, sovereignty, etc., etc. Yet the automated system didn't come up with mikmaqmascots.com or mikmaqsovereignty.com. Again, why not?

My point is that so-called automated programs work the way they do because someone programmed them that way. In simplified form, they go by an internal set of rules. These rules are a legitimate area of concern, even if SnapNames portrays the system as automated.

As you suggested, if the automated system came up with mikmaqredskins.com or mikmaqsavages.com, the problem would be obvious. I'd guess the automated program has some way of screening offensive associations out. The question then becomes whether its rules are as complete as they should be.

Rob (former computer programmer)

Another update
Correspondent Maqtewékpaqtism wrote again to say a director of Applied Semantics (which owns Oingo.com) contacted her. She added:


[Y]ou were right, they can filter offensive terms, and they will filter "red-indian". I am happy that this company understood and are able to fix this problem. Here is a copy of the e-mail I received...

Dear Maqtewékpaqtism,

Thank you very much for your email this morning. We apologize for the offense we have caused you or your community by the use of the term 'red indian.' It is important for our company to get feedback on the usage of specific terms in our Ontology in order for us to continuously improve. We have now marked the term 'red indian' as 'offensive' within our Ontology, and the term will no longer come up as a result following our next DomainSense index. Please note that the term will remain a DomainSense result for the next three to four weeks. This delay is associated with the indexing, quality checking, and database replicating procedures associated with updating any of our products. Again, we apologize to anyone we may have offended by the use of this term, and we hope that you feel we are taking the appropriate actions by marking the term as 'offensive' within the Applied Semantics Ontology.

There you go. They were being a little disingenuous with their "it can't be helped" attitude. A better approach would be to say, "We don't know if it can be helped, but we'll look into it."

Anyway, another stereotype...eliminated. One down, 999,999 to go!


Related links
Red·skin n.  Dated, offensive, taboo

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