ICANN grills VeriSign over Site Finder service

Members of an ICANN committee were upset with the company

VeriSign Inc. faced a series of questions about last month's launch of its Site Finder search page from members of an Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) committee yesterday, with members asking why the company didn't poll the technology community about the ramifications before launching Site Finder.

Members of ICANN's Security and Stability Advisory Committee are looking at whether the Site Finder search page, designed to redirect mistyped URLs, affected the stability of the Internet by confusing some e-mail and Internet applications. The committee met twice with VeriSign officials in Washington this month. Its next step will be to make a recommendation about Site Finder to the board of Marina Del Rey, Calif.-based ICANN. Many of the questions yesterday ventured away from security and into other territory, such as asking why VeriSign didn't notify ICANN and other standards bodies sooner before launching the service Sept. 15 and why VeriSign polled Internet users but not technologists and domain-name owners before launching Site Finder.

Mountain View, Calif.-based VeriSign pulled down the Site Finder service early this month after complaints from ICANN and other groups that the service caused problems for some e-mail and Simple Mail Transfer Protocol servers because those applications or servers didn't receive traditional error messages. Other critics charged the company with trying to use its control of the .com and .net domains, for which VeriSign serves as the registrar under a contract with ICANN, to dominate the Web search market.

Committee and audience members asked why VeriSign launched the service with little notice and why the company didn't want to share some of the details of polling it did regarding the launch of Site Finder. Polling questions and some internal testing are proprietary information, VeriSign officials said.

"The Internet was really built not by a set of companies that built closed, proprietary systems but by a much more open system," said committee Chairman Steve Crocker.

Others questioned whether Site Finder was forcing other systems administrators to make changes to their systems, resulting in a kind of Site Finder tax. Of seven outstanding issues identified by VeriSign, only two require action by the company, said audience member David Lesher, with most of the others requiring software updates on the user's end.

"In the words of the current [Bush] administration, this is a large cost-shifting, an unfunded mandate from VeriSign to the community," Lesher said.

At yesterday's meeting, VeriSign officials defended the service, saying it complies with Internet standards. If they resurrect Site Finder, they plan to add a second Domain Name System wild-card entry, called an MX wild card, to allow e-mail servers to stop trying to send e-mail addressed to a nonexistent domain.

VeriSign has listened to the critiques of Site Finder and will work with the community if the service is launched again, said Russell Lewis, executive vice president and general manager of VeriSign's Naming and Directory Services unit. "We've had a lot of constructive input from people in the technical community, and we're very grateful for that," Lewis told the ICANN committee. "Believe me, we want to assure you that we are listening, we do care, your input is important to us, and we plan to act upon it."

VeriSign will also look into providing the Site Finder Web site search page in languages other than English and said it would give the Web community a 30- to 60-day notice before relaunching, Lewis said.

VeriSign also made a mistake by informing ICANN and other standards bodies only a few days before it launched Site Finder, he said. "The No. 1 complaint, actually, that we heard across the board was this lack of notice," Lewis said. "We do sincerely regret any inconvenience that the service created, notwithstanding that most of the concerns that we discussed today ... were largely addressed within a matter of days, if not hours."

VeriSign presented the results of a series of polls taken of Internet users, saying a majority of users preferred the Site Finder page to other error or search pages, such as those provided by America Online Inc. or Microsoft's Corp. MSN. Eight-four percent of those polled in the U.S. preferred the Site Finder page over other options they had seen, said Ben Turner, VeriSign's vice president for naming services. Another 33% of users rated Site Finder "excellent" or "very good," 43% rated it "good," and only 4% rated it "poor," Turner said.

Turner's survey results set off a series of questions from the ICANN committee members, with some questioning the wording of the survey and others wanting more detailed results than the answers Turner provided them. Turner repeated that surveying methods were proprietary.

"What does this have to do with stability and security?" he said of the committee's questions over survey methods.

Committee member Paul Vixie questioned why VeriSign didn't survey other groups besides Internet users on the impact of Site Finder, such as companies that have registered domain names through VeriSign. "You surveyed some number of Web-browsing end users. ... However, other than by accident, that population is not your customers," Vixie said. "So you didn't specifically survey any of your customers, but rather third-party end users."

Turner fired back at questions about who VeriSign surveyed. "If you guys don't think consumers are relevant, we can move beyond this data set," he said.

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Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

  
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