ICANN report attacks VeriSign Site Finder service

Out-Law News | 15 Jul 2004 | 12:00 am | 2 min. read

ICANN, the internet's naming authority, has published a damning report on a controversial service launched by domain name registry VeriSign last year, concluding that VeriSign violated architectural principles, codes of conduct and good practice.

VeriSign launched Site Finder in mid-September, redirecting surfers to its Site Finder search engine when they entered a web address that was not registered on the internet or was inactive. The unilateral change was made, according to VeriSign, to improve "the user web-browsing experience."

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. Others criticised the effect that the changes had on the working practices of the internet.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) stepped in and, under threat of court action, VeriSign agreed to suspend the service in October.

Nine months later, ICANN's Security and Stability Advisory Committee has finally issued its report on the service. This finds that VeriSign's actions "did not have network-shattering effects but did violate fundamental architectural principles and well-established codes of conduct and good practice intended to ensure stability."

"Users' decisions and control were preempted and users were potentially subjected to violations of their privacy," the Committee added.

Site Finder was responsible for the failure of some e-mail systems, spam filters and other services, with consequent losses to some third parties. It also "violated fundamental internet engineering principles by blurring the well-defined boundary between architectural layers," said the report.

In addition the report found fault with the abrupt, arbitrary activation of the service, without a suitable notice period or warning to internet users. It therefore recommends:

That 'synthesised responses" like those generated by Site Finder should not be used in top level domains, or zones that are used by the public.

Where they are used they should be phased out.

There should be clarification and guidance on the use of these 'synthesised responses'.

VeriSign and other registries should only make changes in the future after a "substantial period of notice, comment and consensus".

VeriSign's director of corporate communications, Brian O'Shaughnessy, told internetnews.com: "We are not surprised by the outcome, because key members of the ICANN committee indicated that they were against the Site Finder service even prior to holding hearings".

"We are surprised, however, that after nine months of review, they still haven't provided data to back up their claims," he added.

The publication of the report comes a week after ICANN filed a motion to dismiss antitrust charges levelled against it in a lawsuit from VeriSign.

VeriSign's case alleges that ICANN overstepped its contractual authority and improperly attempted to regulate VeriSign's business in violation of its charter and its agreements with VeriSign.

In particular the suit refers to ICANN's actions with regard to the Site Finder service and to the equally controversial Wait Listing Service, which invites 'reservations' for domain names that speculators hope to acquire upon expiry of their registration.