VeriSign ignores ICANN, faces new suit over Site Finder

The chairman of Internet Engineering Task Force called Site Finder 'technically stupid'

Internet infrastructure company VeriSign Inc. yesterday rejected a request from ICANN to suspend a service that redirects Internet users who have mistyped domain names.

Instead, the company is forming a committee to assess the issues raised by the new service, called Site Finder, and find ways to address technical issues with the service, according to Tom Galvin, a VeriSign spokesman.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) had requested Friday that VeriSign suspend the controversial "wild-carding" service it introduced last week.

Yesterday's statement from VeriSign came on the same day that a second company, Web domain hosting company Go Daddy Software Inc. in Scottsdale, Ariz., filed a lawsuit against VeriSign in federal district court in Arizona over Site Finder. Like the earlier suit, brought by Orlando-based Popular Enterprises LLC, Go Daddy's lawsuit claims that VeriSign is misusing its role as the .com and .net domain registry to muscle out competition (see story).

If someone mistypes a Web address, Site Finder directs that person's Web browser to sites of VeriSign customers instead of others who might benefit from the typos. To counter the Site Finder effect, Web site owners will be forced to register every misspelled version of their domain name to prevent losing customers to paid links provided by Site Finder, Go Daddy said.

In response to mounting criticism over Site Finder, ICANN released an advisory asking VeriSign to suspend the service pending the outcome of a review from the Security and Stability Advisory Committee and the Internet Architecture Board (IAB) (see story).

The IAB report, released on Friday, was critical of the Site Finder service, which it said "interacted poorly" with any program or feature that depended on the traditional "no such name" responses for domains that don't exist.

VeriSign is sensitive to criticisms of Site Finder and is working with the Internet community to resolve technical issues, Galvin said, adding that the company has already made improvements to Site Finder to address some problems with e-mail systems. And it is planning others.

But in a letter to ICANN President and CEO Paul Twomey dated Sept. 21, VeriSign Executive Vice President Russell Lewis said it would be "premature to decide on any course of action until we first have had an opportunity to collect and review the available data." VeriSign would take appropriate steps "after completing an assessment of any operational impact of our wildcard implementation," he said.

The Site Finder committee will further guide the company's response. Although the committee hasn't been selected, it will include individuals from the Internet community and will address technical issues and other complaints about the service, Galvin said.

VeriSign is pleased with the performance of Site Finder thus far, he said. The site has received more than 20 million unique visitors since the service was introduced last week, averaging 4 million to 7 million per day. Many of those users took advantage of the site's suggested links, which are grouped under the heading "Did you mean?" Galvin said. A lesser number used the site's Search the Web and Search Popular Categories features, which include "sponsored" links paid for by VeriSign customers.

Asked yesterday about VeriSign's refusal to take down the service, ICANN spokeswoman Mary Hewitt said the organization stands by its request. ICANN attorneys are currently reviewing the .com and .net contracts VeriSign signed with ICANN to see if Site Finder violates any provisions of those agreements.

ICANN couldn't comment on the status of those reviews or on what steps ICANN might take if VeriSign refuses to abide by the organization's request, Hewitt said. "It's kind of uncharted waters," she said.

Harald Alvestrand, a Cisco Systems Inc. fellow and chairman of the Internet Engineering Task Force, was less circumspect in his comments about Site Finder. "VeriSign is taking choice away from users, and this is especially acute in the non-English [speakers'] context. If you had error messages that were coming up in Korean or Thai and are now in English, that's not something you'd be happy with."

Alvestrand, who helped put together the IAB report on domain wild carding, said the organization missed an opportunity to speak out against the use of wild cards before Site Finder was announced. Currently, about 10 different top-level domains use wild-card systems similar to Site Finder, but most are low-profile country codes, he said.

The IAB didn't issue a position paper on the practice earlier because it "didn't get around to it," and because the managers of many of those country domains were "rogue operators" who were unlikely to be swayed by the group's opinion.

IAB members never considered that VeriSign would institute wild-carding for the leading .com and .net domains, Alvestrand said. "It's technically stupid and harmful to the Internet. We thought [VeriSign] would realize that without us telling them," he said.

Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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