Have you ever wondered why Assange is in the Ecuadorian embassy or all those fake news places are registered to Columbia? Don’t those seem like weirdly arbitrary choices?
Why Ecuador’s embassy?
Let’s take the Colombian connection first. The two-letter Internet domain for Colombia is .co, which looks a whole lot like .com or some new generic top-level domain. Go Daddy has put on the big push advertising these new domains, at least in the past.
Some countries restrict the use of their domain to registrants who are in, or are from, their country. Colombia does not. Thus, one gets sites such as wsj.com.co or nbcnews.com.co out there to try to fool the user, and often succeeding.
There are some interesting country code top-level domains that are more open:
.fm for the Federated States of Micronesia, an independent island nation located in the Pacific Ocean. “Except for reserved names like .com.fm, .net.fm, .org.fm and others, any person in the world can register a .fm domain for a fee, much of the income from which goes to the government and people of the islands. The domain name is popular (and thus economically valuable) for FM radio stations and streaming audio websites
.io for British Indian Ocean Territory, treated as “a generic top-level domain (gTLD) because ‘users and webmasters frequently see [the domain] more generic than country-targeted.'”
.nu for the island state of Niue. “It was one of the first ccTLDs to be marketed to the Internet at large as an alternative to the gTLDs .com, .net, and .org… Commonly used by Danish, Dutch, and Swedish websites, because in those languages ‘nu’ means ‘now’.”
.tv for Tuvalu. “Except for reserved names like com.tv, net.tv, org.tv and others, any person may register second-level domains in TV. The domain name is popular, and thus economically valuable because it is an abbreviation of the word television.
.ws for Samoa. “The .ws domain is an abbreviation for ‘Western Samoa’, which was the nation’s official name in the 1970s when two-letter country codes were standardized. While there are no geographic restrictions on registration of most second-level .ws domains, .org.ws, .gov.ws, and .edu.ws registration is restricted.
“The .ws country code has been marketed as a domain hack, with the .ws purportedly standing for ‘World Site’, Web Site or Web Service, providing a ‘global’ Internet presence to registrants, as it supports all internationalized domain names
In other words, Colombia is the country for the faux sites because of the stroke of fortune that the Internet domain for Colombia is .co, and because there is money to be made.
As for Assange, this Washington Post article from October 2016 explains it well:
Ecuador treated Julian Assange like a trophy in 2012 when it opened the doors of its London embassy to the WikiLeaks founder, sheltering him from extradition to Sweden over rape allegations and, possibly, to the United States.
Rafael Correa, Ecuador’s leftist president, seemed to bask in Assange’s bad-boy glow, which gave the small South American nation a big role in a global drama. Protecting the WikiLeaks editor also gave Correa a way to poke Washington in the eye and look like a champion for press freedom even as he cracked down on journalists back home.
Correa embraced Assange’s mother at the presidential palace in Quito, Ecuador’s capital, and championed the Australian “hacktivist” as an anti-imperialist comrade-in-arms.
Now he’s treating Assange like a bad tenant who won’t leave.
There may be other factors in play here that I’m not aware of, but I don’t think it’s some odd South American conspiracy.