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Network Solutions games net domain biz

'It's not a dirty trick. It's a security measure'

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Network Solutions is front running domain name registrations, temporarily preventing competitors from selling domains that web users show interest in. But the popular registrar insists this is merely a way of preventing others from front running.

As originally noted by the URL-obsessed webbies at DomainState - a message board for domain name owners - Network Solutions is now self-registering URLs that customers search for but don't immediately buy.

Yesterday, one loyal Reg reader went to the Network Solutions website and searched on "network-solutions-registers-all-names-searched.com." This URL was available for purchase, but he didn't immediately buy it. Minutes later, he went to the company's "Who Is" page, which showed that "network-solutions-registers-all-names-searched" had since been registered to none other than Network Solutions.

He could still purchase the domain from Network Solutions. But he couldn't purchase it from any other domain registrar - i.e. any Network Solutions competitor.

Network Solutions did not respond to multiple requests for comment. And we mean multiple. But the company did toss a statement at CircleID - a news and information site dedicated to internet infrastructure and policies. In the statement, Network Solutions vice president of policy Jonathon Nevett says the company is front running to prevent others from front running:

In response to customer concerns about Domain Name Front Running (domains being registered by someone else just after they have conducted a domain name search), we have implemented a security measure to protect our customers. The measure will kick in when a customer searches for an available domain name at our website, but decides not to purchase the name immediately after conducting the search.

After the search ends, we will put the domain name on reserve. During this reservation period, the name is not active and we do not monetize the traffic on these domains. If a customer searches for the domain again during the next 4 days at networksolutions.com, the domain will be available to register. If the domain name is not purchased within 4 days, it will be released back to the registry and will be generally available for registration.

This protection measure provides our customers the opportunity to register domains they have previously searched without the fear that the name will be already taken through Front Running.

Nevett says this is an effort to "take an arrow out of the quiver" of so-called domain tasters. You see, domains have a pretty good return policy. When you register a domain, you can get your money back if you return it within five days. A domain taster is someone who uses this ample grace period to "test the marketability" of a domain without actually buying it.

Network Solutions' Mr. Policy point out that "domain tasters are the largest Front Runners." In other words, many domain tasters have found a way of monitoring searches on registrar sites like the one run by Network Solutions, and they use those searches to nab URLs they'd like to taste.

"Due to no fault of registrars, Front Runners purchase search data from Internet Service Providers and/or registries and then taste those names," says Nevett.

This may be true. But Mr. Policy fails to point out that in nabbing domain searches - taking advantage of the same five-day grace period domain tasters exploit - Network Solutions has itself become a front runner. If you search on a domain and don't immediately purchase it, you can still go back and buy it. But for the next four days, you can't buy it from anyone other than Network Solutions.

"Some folks may not agree with our approach," says Mr. Policy, "but we are trying to prevent this malicious activity from impacting our customers."

But how does this practice in any way protect the company's customers? Domains tasters can still purchase the Network Solutions-registered URLs. It's just that they can't purchase the from anyone other than Network Solutions.

So, Network Solutions profits from innocent buyers as well as thieving domain tasters. In the short run.

Network Solutions isn't breaking the rules with its nasty little trick. ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) has yet to ban the practice. But one thing's for sure. If Network Solutions keeps this up, its regular customers will quit coming back. ®

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