The Latest ICANN-VeriSign Agreement: Too Little, Too Late? - Not Enough Concessions
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In covering the issue, Kieren McCarthy observes that “The changes are a carefully argued halfway house. Enough concessions are given for the internet industry to feel its concerns have been listened to, while at the same time VeriSign wins complete control of the internet’s dotcom business – still by far the most profitable on the net.” To judge from other comments I have seen, McCarthy is being generous.
Some of the biggest complaints are about things that haven’t been changed. For example, the revised settlement still gives VeriSign a presumptive renewal right in relation to the .com registry; this is what McCarthy meant about the deal giving VeriSign complete control of the .com business. Some think this should be thrown open to competition.
The agreement also allows VeriSign to take control of all expiring domains. This has become a large secondary market. Granting VeriSign a monopoly over the expired domain market would put a number of people out of business.
And not everyone is convinced that the language in the new agreement would prevent VeriSign from creating another SiteFinder-like service, or unfairly profiting from it. For those who need a review, when a user tries to get to a domain by typing in the URL, but the domain doesn’t exist, the user’s ISP typically returns an error page saying “no such address” or the equivalent. VeriSign came up with a way to “game the system” in a sense, called SiteFinder.
Introduced in late 2003, SiteFinder redirected queries for nonexistent domain names to VeriSign’s own servers. Users would then see a designated VeriSign site, which suggested alternative sites, categories, sponsored links and other content that might match the domain the user was trying to reach. VeriSign claimed it was “improv[ing] the user web browser experience.” Meanwhile, VeriSign was profiting from the information, because SiteFinder was tracking click-throughs to the sponsored links found on its pages and earning commissions, usually paid by the websites receiving traffic from SiteFinder. VeriSign was forced by ICANN to shut down SiteFinder less than a month after its launch.
SiteFinder upset many people, not just VeriSign’s rivals. What was the company doing with the information it collected? And even though it shut down the service, how can we trust it not to come up with some other possibly underhanded way to profit from its position?
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