VeriSign suspends Site Finder feature after ICANN turns up the heat

Letter from ICANN demanding a shutdown preceded VeriSign's action

The controversial Site Finder service unveiled on the Internet last month by VeriSign Inc. was temporarily suspended by the company late today after the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) demanded that the feature be halted immediately because of concerns about its effects on the Internet.

In an announcement late this afternoon, Mountain View, Calif.-based VeriSign, which oversees the main Internet database of .com and .net domain names, said it will suspend the service to provide time for both sides to discuss and resolve the matter.

The temporary shutdown, however, may not do much to calm tempers between the two sides.

In the statement today following the service suspension, Russell Lewis, the executive vice president of VeriSign's Naming and Directory Services Group, was critical of ICANN for demanding the action without any kind of review.

"Without so much as a hearing, ICANN today formally asked us to shut down the Site Finder service," Lewis said. "We will accede to the request while we explore all of our options."

In a letter earlier today to VeriSign General Manager Russell Lewis, ICANN President and CEO Paul Twomey was just as incredulous that VeriSign had enacted the Site Finder service without asking permission from ICANN.

"VeriSign's unilateral and unannounced changes to the operation of the .com and .net Top Level Domains are not consistent with material provisions" of the agreements that regulate VeriSign's operation of the two domains, Twomey wrote. ICANN had asked VeriSign on Sept. 19 to voluntarily suspend the service, but VeriSign didn't turn it off.

ICANN said the Site Finder service has "had very significant impacts on a wide range of Internet users and applications," whereas VeriSign's Lewis said that "there is no data to indicate that the core operation of the Domain Name System or stability of the Internet has been adversely affected.

"ICANN is using anecdotal and isolated issues to attempt to regulate nonregistry services, but in the interests of further working with the technical community we will temporarily suspend Site Finder," Lewis said in his statement.

ICANN also issued a new advisory early today on the matter.

Mary Hewitt, a spokeswoman for ICANN, said the Marina Del Rey, Calif.-based organization is "pleased that VeriSign has responded to the requests of the Internet community and ICANN to suspend the service. Now a full review can ensue under conditions that do not threaten the stability of the Internet."

In his letter to VeriSign, Twomey said the Site Finder issue can be discussed at next week's public meeting of ICANN's Security and Stability Advisory Committee in Washington as a first step in resolving the issue. Twomey had set a deadline of 9 p.m. EST tomorrow for VeriSign to turn off Site Finder or face sanctions for allegedly violating its contracts with ICANN.

Site Finder, launched by VeriSign on Sept. 15, essentially added a "wild card" to its databases, sending Web users to the Site Finder tool if they incorrectly type a Web address or try to go to a site that doesn't exist. Site Finder offered alternate Web sites and paid advertisements where users could then search for the information they are seeking. The feature drew criticism and inspired lawsuits from two competing Internet companies, which have alleged that it provides unfair competition (see story).

VeriSign said that Site Finder has been used more than 40 million times by Internet users since its launch. "The service has been well received by millions of Internet users who appreciate getting navigation tools as opposed to the 'dead end' of an error message," Lewis said.

Two weeks ago, VeriSign said it was creating a technical review panel to help gather and analyze feedback about Site Finder and assist in the long-term implementation of the service.

"The next several weeks will be a test as to whether innovation will occur within the Internet infrastructure," Lewis said. "The fact is that while the Internet has been used for innovative purposes over the last decade, the core infrastructure has suffered from a lack of innovation. VeriSign will argue vigorously for innovation because it not only improves the Internet user experience but [also] has implications for the vitality of the DNS system and economic competitiveness and job growth."

Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

Shop Tech Products at Amazon