Network Solutions Faces PR Nightmare Over Domain FrontRunning

Domain registrar locks domains searched on its site.

[Update: see Editorial: Where Network Solutions Went Wrong] Network Solutions has implemented a program that locks users from registering domains with other registrars. According to the company, it’s goal is to keep criminals from “frontrunning” domains searched at its site.

Here’s the deal, as reported at DomainState and a couple blogs: If you try to register a domain at Network Solutions, but decide not to register it, you won’t be able to register it anywhere else. Network Solutions registers the domain in its company name with the words “This Domain is available at NetworkSolutions.com”. If you return to Network Solutions you can register it, but otherwise you’re out of luck.

This may be a form of domain frontrunning, in which a registrar screens name availability searches and buys domain for itself based on these. Ironically, Network Solutions says they are actually trying to protect their customers from domain frontrunning with this service.

I just got off the phone with Susan Wade, who heads PR for Network Solutions.

“This is a customer protection measure to protect customers from frontrunners,” said Wade. “After four days, we release the domain.” According to Wade, Network Solutions instituted this program as a test over the past few weeks. I asked if Network Solutions is actually acting as a frontrunner by doing this and she said there’s a distinction. First, they are not monetizing the domains. Second, they have no intention of keeping the domains. All domains are released after the four day period.

With regards to monetization, it appears that Network Solutions isn’t putting pay-per-click ads on the domains, but is creating an ad for their own company at each domain it reserves:

Network solutions

I’m not sure there’s a distinction between pay-per-click ads and these billboards, other than the lack of trademark infringement on a URL. However, if you search for a competitor’s name then it would be trademark infringement. For example, I just searched for DotsterDomainNames.com and RegisteratGoDaddy.com. You will now see an ad for Network Solutions at these domains. [Update: In part due to this article, Network Solutions has since changed its parked page to ‘under construction’, and soon they will not resolve at all.]

According to Wade, Network Solutions believes the frontrunning problem is occuring somewhere between when domains are searched at a registrar and when the registry VeriSign (NASDAQ: VRSN) is pinged. Someone is selling the data, she says, and Network Solutions has implemented this solution to stop it. Network Solutions will not release the domain if you request, and anyone who visits the domain or Network Solutions can register it. This seems to create a new opportunity for frontrunners: just monitor NetSol’s reserve domain DNS for new domains and register anything its customers are searching for. (Pssst. If you want to spy on NetSol customer domain checks, see comment #8 below.)

Domainers are starting to have fun with Network Solutions’ new program. I tested this with a Dell trademark, since Dell is a member of CADNA (an organization fighting domain trademark infringement). I searched at NetSol for “DellisaTrademark.com”. Sure enough, the domain was reserved. And a whois search at Netsol reveals:

Registrant: Make this info private
This Domain is available at NetworkSolutions.com
13681 Sunrise Valley Drive, Suite 300
HERNDON, VA 20171
US

Domain Name: DELLISATRADEMARK.COM

This Domain is Available
600,000 domain names are registered daily! Don’t delay; there’s no guarantee that a domain name you see today will still be here tomorrow!

Register it Now

Administrative Contact :
Network Solutions, LLC
domainsupport@networksolutions.com
13681 Sunrise Valley Drive, Suite 300
HERNDON, VA 20171
US
Phone: 1-888-642-9675
Fax: 571-434-4620

Technical Contact :
Network Solutions, LLC
domainsupport@networksolutions.com
13681 Sunrise Valley Drive, Suite 300
HERNDON, VA 20171
US
Phone: 1-888-642-9675
Fax: 571-434-4620

Record expires on 08-Jan-2009
Record created on 08-Jan-2008
Database last updated on 08-Jan-2008

Domain servers in listed order: Manage DNS

ns1.reserveddomainname.com 205.178.190.55
ns2.reserveddomainname.com 205.178.189.55

Show underlying registry data for this record

If Network Solutions doesn’t stop this practice immediately, they are guaranteed of lawsuit in the near future. And ICANN will certainly get around to investigating it eventually

Comments

  1. Andrew says

    Trying to keep the servers up here due to increased traffic on this story. also see DomainNameNews’ story, although their servers are having trouble keeping up after getting slashdotted.

  2. Teutone says

    Their excuse is bull! They are holding domain names hostage. They are practicing the same “sin” as those they are supposedly trying to protect domain name registrants from.

  3. says

    Rumor has it that they are also “testing” expiring domains for PPC traffic and ones that convert well don’t get released back into the pool, they are registered by a subsidary businesss.

    But you didn’t hear it from me.

  4. T says

    Worst… While netsol *may* or *maynot* be tasting domains, third parties can now monitor lookups on NSI via the daily additions and deletions from the NSI nameservers (and they have probably already been doing anyways). So NSI is effectively publishing all it’s lookups and the names can be snapped 4 days later and registered and parked somewhere else for PPC advertising or squatting by more malicicious 3rd parties (although not any more insidious as NSI takes the cake).

    So, if you don’t get it in 4 days, a squatter will notice the shown interest and know to register it themselves.

    http://www.dailychanges.com/detail/?ns=RESERVEDDOMAINNAME.COM&date=2008-01-08&net=1832&changes=1838&act=n

    This is so stupid in so many different ways it is unbelievable.

  5. Roy says

    Now all front runners have to do is monitor the zone, look for all new domains registered with their name servers, and keep trying to register them until they are released or until 5 days passes. Brilliant scheme NSI. Isn’t there someone there that says “Hey, this is kind of a dumb idea.”?

  6. says

    Front runners don’t have to wait the time period. They monitor NS’s nameservers for new domains, and then they just register it immediately with NS. no wait time. It’s aiding domain front runners- it’s making it worse.

  7. Goto Ao says

    Interchangeable Master Channels (IMCs)have the ability to end frontrunning, whether it occurs at NSI/Verisign or anywhere else.

  8. hellkat says

    I’ve suspected this of domain name registrars for several years now. I agree with Teutone, its a bullshit hijacking excuse for them to make money.

  9. Chris says

    Why didn’t I see this article a week ago? I just searched a domain name on Network solutions as I like their multiple domain search function. I found a great .com domain that was available. when I went to the GoDaddy to buy it I find that is not available, and that Network Solutions is squatting on it. So now my question is who do I contact to get in on a class-action lawsuit?

  10. says

    I work for an IT company in Makati City, Philippines, and one of the tasks I have is to register domains and arrange hosting for our clients. I manage over 20 websites hosted on Network solutions, and have been doing so for the past two years. I have had no warning from NetSol on front running and I can even say that they are the front runners themselves. The four days to release was not even true, as I first tried registering a domain on 22 January 2008 and by 12 March the domain was still locked under NetSol.

    Now they have the warning popup — they didn’t have that back in january, and they lied too because the domain was locked for definitely more than 4 days.

  11. Lemuel Chua says

    I’ve just whois a domain in network solutions and it says the domain is available. after an hour or two i decided to have it registered to godaddy.com and look what i found. networksolutions had it registered on the very moment i queried that domain.

  12. Andrew says

    @ Lemuel – this won’t change until ICANN follows through with it’s non-refundable registration fee.

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