Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

ICANN asks VeriSign to suspend Site Finder service

Out-Law News | 23 Sep 2003 | 12:00 am | 2 min. read

VeriSign, the registry for all domain names ending .com and .net, has been asked by the internet's naming authority, ICANN, to suspend a service it launched last week that redirects lost web traffic to its own search engine. Two anti-trust lawsuits have also been filed against the company.

VeriSign provoked fury over the practice it launched last Monday to redirect surfers to its Site Finder search engine when they enter a web address that is not registered on the internet or is inactive.

VeriSign says it made the change to improve "the user web-browsing experience", and implemented it by adding what are known as wildcards to re-direct unregistered or unused names.

The alteration provoked a barrage of criticism. Network administrators accused the registry of seeking not to aid the misguided web user, but rather to generate more advertising revenue from its search engine partners. But this is only one aspect of their complaint given that others, including Microsoft, have done this before.

According to CNet News.com, VeriSign implemented the change without consulting internet standards groups, which has caused other problems.

Some anti-spam software depends upon a check against the sending address. Previously, a non-existent address would result in an error message, and the e-mail containing that address could instantly be discarded as spam. Now most .com and .net addresses will end in a web page, not an error message, which would block this approach to spam control.

VeriSign responded by promising to make "appropriate adjustments" to accommodate spam controls, but the technical difficulties have now drawn the attention of ICANN, which sets the rules for internet domain names. The group has now issued an advisory to VeriSign, requesting that it suspends the redirection until an investigation has been carried out.

The Internet Architecture Board, which reports to ICANN, has issued a report on wildcard systems, concluding that these are dangerous and should not be used without a clear understanding of the implications.

According to Reuters, VeriSign is setting up a committee of advisors to look at the technical side of Site Finder. VeriSign spokesman Tom Galvin told Reuters that, "The committee will be chartered with providing technical information". He added, "But of course we will take seriously whatever feedback they give us."

But he would not say what would happen if the committee recommended that Site Finder be removed. "They are not there to give us a recommendation. They are there to help us gather the information so we can make the best long-term decisions about this service," he told Reuters.

The main non-technical concern over Site Finder relates not to the new system itself – other companies have and do use similar re-direction services – but to the status of VeriSign. VeriSign, as a top level domain registry, is perceived as having a conflict of interest between itself as a domain registry and itself as a revenue generating search engine.

A rival internet search company, Popular Enterprises, which runs Netster.com, last Thursday filed a lawsuit against the registry, claiming that it is acting anti-competitively.

Bill Marquez, president of Popular Enterprises, explained in a statement that many search-related companies had seen substantial decreases in search revenue since VeriSign's Site Finder was launched on Monday and began exercising control over the internet to manipulate business.

Go Daddy Software took similar action on Monday. According to Reuters, Christine Jones, general counsel for the company which acts as a popular domain name registrar, said that Go Daddy's business was being harmed because Site Finder was allowing surfers to search there rather than having to go through a domain name registrar site.

VeriSign has yet to comment on the litigation.