Network Solutions Gets Pwned
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Domain name registration has become so nuanced over the years that many in the online business community think of it as an art form. With all the various SEO techniques and the competition among popular names, even the slightest hindrance can throw off a company's entire business strategy. So when registrars start to profit off of competing customers, you can bet there's going to be some backlash.
On January 8, 2008, news broke about a scandal involving the domain name registrar Network Solutions (NSI). A forum on DomainState.com alleges that the company has been engaged in a shady form of domain name front running where phishing techniques are used to monitor and steal domain names being searched for with their “Whois” tool. Network Solutions then buys the domains, thereby blocking the user from buying them from another registrar not named Network Solutions. According to DomainState.com, “The standard domain name registration fee at Network Solutions is $34.99 – significantly higher than the leading alternatives.”
After purchasing the searched-for domains, they register the domain using the company name and the phrase, “This Domain is available at NetworkSolutions.com.” This practice is dangerously similar to domain name front running, which entails the same screening of domain name availability searches, but front running usually involves registrars buying the domains for themselves. Since Network Solutions is making the domains available through their site, they feel they are immune from any front running accusations.
Network Solutions uses the same ICANN five-day holdover period used by domain tasters to allow the registrant to purchase the domain. Of course, anyone can buy the domain through Network Solutions, not just those that searched for it. If no one buys it within the five days, they delete the domain. In the meantime, the domains are held with an ad for Network Solutions on the page. A problem occurs when a user searches for one of their competitor's names in a URL. Andrew over at domainnamewire.com ran a search for DotsterDomainNames.com and RegisteratGoDaddy.com and as of the time of this writing, a Network Solutions ad indeed appears at these domains – clearly a case of trademark infringement.
Network Solutions has only used the program for a few weeks as a test. The company claims that this method, similar to front running, is actually a means to protect its customers from the real front runners. Before implementing the program, they noticed most front running problems occur between the time a search is made and the registry VeriSign is pinged. But the program has only given front runners a new alternative to monitoring domain name searches by allowing them to monitor searches through the reserve domain DNS. Keep reading to find out more about Network Solutions and how they are responding to the accusations.
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