Is the domain name 360.com more valuable than sex.com? For Qihoo 360 Technology Co Ltd, the answer is yes.
The Chinese Internet security company appeared to have purchased domain name 360.com for US$17 million (S$22.9 million), out-pricing sex.com's historic US$14 million buyout.
Registry information shows the ownership of the domain name was transferred from the United Kingdom-based telecom carrier Vodafone Group to the Chinese company on Wednesday afternoon.
Qihoo was not available for comment. A source in Qihoo confirmed to China Daily that the company had indeed spent a huge fortune, big enough to purchase an array of popular domains such as porn.com, casino.com and sex.com. Addresses related to pornography and gambling sites are usually the ones with the highest value.
It remains unclear how Qihoo plans to use the domain name. Visitors to the 360.com domain are automatically directed to haosou.com, a Chinese-language search site owned by Qihoo.
The address is most likely to be the gateway for all the company's business units.
Zhou Hongyi, co-founder of Qihoo, is planning a strategic shift for the Internet company with smartphones and other household appliances on his "to do" list.
Zhou is building a smartphone company in Shenzhen, Guangdong province. He said earlier Qihoo's presence in the Internet sector will help the new company gain market share in the highly competitive smartphone market.
Tian Zheng, a researcher at Analysys International, said security features are likely to be the selling points for Qihoo-branded phones. "Qihoo treats patent issues very seriously, and it is good for it to build its own handsets," said Tian.
Qihoo is not the first Chinese tech company willing to spend a fortune on an easy-to-remember domain name.
In early 2014, smartphone maker Xiaomi Corp launched a new domain name, mi.com, to replace the less-international xiaomi.com when it announced its plans to tap overseas markets for growth. The address cost the smartphone maker about $3.5 million.
In 2013, Global Broadcasting Media Group spent roughly 72 million yuan (S$15.5 million) to acquire news portal China.com's assets including the domain, making the deal the most expensive one ever.
It is difficult to track domain purchases because many high-value deals are not made public.
The most famous domain sale worldwide, however, happened in 2010 when the United States-based privately held technology group Clover Holdings purchased pornography site sex.com from domain specialist Escom LLC for a then record-high price of US$14 million. The site is currently active.