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Network Solutions may change controversial domain-name policy

Accused of 'front running,' company says it is trying to prevent the tactic by scammers

By Linda Rosencrance
January 10, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Domain-name registrar Network Solutions Inc. may back off its controversial new policy of automatically reserving a domain name once it has been the subject of a search on its Web site.

The registrar came under fire this week as it implemented a policy that effectively locks up any domain name that is the subject of a search on its site, preventing a customer from registering the name with another, possibly less expensive, registrar for four days. Network Solutions charges customers $34.99 to register a domain name, while GoDaddy.com Inc., for example, charges up to $9.99.

"We're making refinements to the protection measure and there are discussions about giving people the option [of letting us hold the domain name], but right now we're holding it for four days," said Network Solutions spokeswoman Susan Wade.

Earlier this week, Network Solutions instituted a policy that critics say amounts to "front running." But Wade said the new policy is intended to prevent front running, a tactic in which scammers keep track of domain name searches and then register those domains themselves, hoping to sell them to the original searchers at outlandish prices.

Wade said Network Solutions decided on the policy to register the domain after the search so that the name won't be registered by "some obscure person" before the original searcher comes back to register it.

"What we're trying to do is keep that information that our customers are putting in there from [scammers]," she said. "So we hold it for a grace period of up to four days so you have an opportunity to consider whether or not to register it. After four days, we release it."

Wade said before Network Solutions implemented the policy, it advised the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which oversees the Internet address system, of its plans.

ICANN spokesman Jason Keenan confirmed that Network Solutions notified the organization of its new policy. Keenan said ICANN is looking into the matter but hasn't determined whether the registrar's policy violates its regulations.

Other registrars, meanwhile, were critical of Network Solutions' policy.

"We think the situation speaks for itself -- it's not good for the industry and more importantly, it's not good for the customer," a GoDaddy spokesman said in an e-mail. "Customers should be able to register an available domain name whenever and wherever they want."

Sigmund Solares, CEO of Intercosmos Media Group Inc., which operates registrar directNIC.com, agreed with GoDaddy. "DirectNIC.com has never sold customer domain name search data or WHOIS search queries," Solares said in an e-mail. "We use this data only for processing a customer's request for the sole use of the customer making the request. We have maintained a strict policy against domain name front running in any form."



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