GrubHub is buying web domains for the restaurants it lists (updated)

In a statement, GrubHub said it's never 'cybersquatted.'

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Igor Golovniov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Igor Golovniov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

GrubHub's bid to conquer app-based food delivery may be hurting the web presences of the restaurants themselves. New Food Economy has discovered that GrubHub and its Seamless sub-brand have been acquiring "thousands" of web domains linked to restaurants, over 23,000 of which belong directly to GrubHub. Most of them are close or identical to the eateries' actual names, effectively preventing the locations from buying an address they might want to use.

Moreover, GrubHub appears to run "shadow" pages on some of these domains without the permission of the restaurants themselves. While both the real and shadow pages ultimately result in orders, GrubHub's unsurprisingly points foodies solely to its own services. That could deprive restaurants of revenue by steering would-be customers away from the actual sites, where the companies don't have to share some of their money with GrubHub.

We've asked GrubHub for comment. However, some restaurant owners are already irked by the practices. This might prevent restaurateurs from using the most obvious web address, reducing the chances that customers will find their online presences. Shadow pages could even outrank the real pages in search results and make it harder to see menus and ordering options beyond what GrubHub offers. In other words, your favorite Thai place or pizza joint might have trouble retaining their independence.

Update (6:56 PM ET): Grubhub VP of communications Brendan Lewis responded to the report, saying that Grubhub's practice is not cybersquatting "in bad faith." By the company's account, it registered domains on behalf of restaurants, but now says it no longer provides the service.

Grubhub has never cybersquatted, which is identified by ICANN as "generally bad faith registration of another person's trademark in a domain name." As a service to our restaurants, we have created microsites for them as another source of orders and to increase their online brand presence. Additionally, we have registered domains on their behalf, consistent with our restaurant contracts. We no longer provide that service and it has always been our practice to transfer the domain to the restaurant as soon as they request it.

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