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ICANN grills domain-hogging Network Solutions

Who's the front runner here?

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Is Network Solutions attempting to reinvent reality? ICANN's looking into it.

Last week, at its meeting in New Delhi, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers grilled the popular domain registrar about its recent efforts to protect/bilk loyal customers.

Network Solutions is now self-registering domains its customers show interest in, and though it claims this is merely an effort to prevent "domain front running," ICANN used its New Delhi meeting to reveal that a recent investigation into domain front running turned up exactly "zero cases" of this nefarious net practice.

And when ICANN asked Network Solutions prove it wrong, the company said that its proof was top secret. It would seem that there's only one outfit on earth that's actually mastered the art of domain front running. And that's Network Solutions.

But our front-running is a good thing

Network Solutions began self-registering domains in early January. Basically, if you search its website for a particular domain but don't immediately buy it, the company registers the domain on its own and holds onto it for the next four days (under current ICANN rules, it can do so without paying a registration fee). This means that you can still purchase the address from Network Solutions, but you can't purchase it from any other registrar.

You could argue that this likely to boost the company's profits. But Network Solutions continues to insist that it's simply trying to protect its customers from certain unnamed miscreants who've found a way to monitor searches on its site. If customers show interest in domains without actually purchasing, the company says, these unnamed front runners are sure to snap them up. So Network Solutions is snapping them up instead.

How does this prevent front runners from registering these domains? Can't they still register them from Network Solutions - just like anyone else?

Well, Network Solutions has an answer those questions. The company says that domain front runners are synonymous with "domain tasters" - those clever characters that temporarily register thousands of domains just to test their "marketability." And Network Solutions insists that it doesn't deal with tasters.

Speaking to ICANN's Security and Stability Advisory Committee (SSAC) during the New Delhi meeting, Network Solutions vp of policy Jon Nevett said that Network Solutions self-registration scheme is a good thing because "Network Solutions, A, obviously doesn't engage in tasting, but, B, tasting companies cannot register names from Network Solutions".

We have evidence. But you can't see it.

Though ICANN pointed out that it sees no evidence of domain front running, Nevett continued to insist that customers are constantly complaining about the practice. He even said that some front runners are attempting to squeeze some extra dough from his customers.

"We also had some complaints where the customer said they looked at a name, they didn't purchase it, and then they got a phone call a day later, asking if they want to purchase the name at a highly inflated price."

When ICANN asked Nevett to provide specific examples, he said they were asking him to do the impossible. "We have enough customer information that we researched," he explained, "and we have had conversations that were done under confidentiality agreements that I can't specifically talk about."

In the end, the SSAC said that it would continue to investigate this front running thing, that its initial investigation was inconclusive. We would suggest that it start with a further investigation of a certain North Carolina-based registrar. If anyone is taking advantage of domain-browsing Network Solutions customers, it's Network Solutions. ®

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