Tucows discusses Network Solutions “customer protection measure” and front running.
It’s been a few days since news first broke about Network Solutions’ new practice of reserving any domain searched for on its site. A lot of industry observers have weighed in on the practice, but most registrars have been relatively quiet.
I talked with Tucows (AMEX:TCX, TSX:TC) President and CEO Elliot Noss today, and he’s not shy about his position.
“For me this is analogous to the approaches that a couple registrars have taken, such as Godaddy and Network Solutions, for transfer policy,” said Noss, referring to registrars taking initiatives to protect their customers that also benefit their business. Specifically, Noss is referring to those registrars’ practice of blocking transfers of domains within 60 days of changes to whois information. These registrars say they are blocking transfers to protect customers from domain theft, much like Network Solutions claims its new reservation policy protects customers from front running. Front running involves someone intercepting a domain name query and preemptively registering the domain.
“It’s violating the stated policy and then putting the burden on ICANN or other parties to prove that they’re wrong,” continues Noss. Tucows has also blogged about the topic on its official site.
Noss doesn’t believe that Network Solutions’ program is a solution to front running.
Noss said the basic driver to front running is internet service providers (ISPs) selling internet data. Using any site to check for a domain — be it Network Solutions, Tucows, etc. — exposes you to the potential of that query being stolen. When someone visits a web site or sends a request over the internet, that data can be captured by the ISP.
Suprisingly, it’s not just rogue ISPs that sell this data. “The larger [ISPs] are more likely to have this behavior,” says Noss. He points to Verizon capturing error traffic and serving ads on them as an example.
Registrar Register.com offers a service that lets users reserve domains for later registration using the 5 day grace period afforded to registrars. Noss says this may be fair as long as the company is explicit with its customers, and that’s part of the problem with Network Solutions’ practice.
“All of this stuff makes sense to you and me and doesn’t make sense to 99% of the population,” Noss told me. This is a valid point; registrars such as GoDaddy and Network Solutions deal with customers who don’t even know what “drop catching” and “parked page” mean.
Underlying the problem of front running is domain tasting, which allows front runners to test domains for 5 days without payment. If the domain gets enough traffic to justify the annual registration price, the domain taster keeps the domain. Otherwise he returns it for a refund from the registry.
But ICANN may also share in the blame for Network Solutions starting its “customer protection” program.
“This highlights that if ICANN is inactive and relies on studies and reports, that the market will keep evolving and evolving beyond it,” says Noss. “As an organization they need to step up and act.”
Indeed, it wasn’t until just a few days ago that ICANN released its initial report [pdf] on domain tasting.
Better late than never?