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Time Warner, Yahoo Team Up to Cybersquat

Companies join the ranks of big corporations redirecting “error” traffic.

Time Warner’s Road Runner internet service has teamed up with Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO) to typosquat on millions of unregistered domain names.

The feature from the two companies is called “Web Address Error Redirect Service” and automatically sends web users to a page full of search ads if they type in a web address that does not exist. It appears to override customer’s own preferences in their browsers for what to do if an address doesn’t exist.

Road Runner isn’t the first ISP to do this. Verizon (NYSE: VZ) already does it for some of its customers. Yes, this is hypocritical given that Verizon has sued typosquatters that own misspelled versions of its trademarks.

Major computer manufacturers including Gateway and Dell (NASDAQ: DELL)have similar programs with Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) but are managed at the browser level.

Both Dell and Verizon are members of The Coalition of Domain Name Abuse, an organization whose charter is to stop typosquatting and cybersquatting. Yes, that’s hypocritical too.

To be clear, I’m not a proponent of cybersquatting. What’s wrong here is that large companies think its OK for them to do it while they sue smaller companies for doing the same thing.

How it Works
If you’re connected to the internet through Road Runner and type a non-existing domain name, you are presented with a search page that includes 5 sponsored results above the fold. Unpaid search results show up below the fold.

Here’s a picture of a typo of DomainNameWire.com:
Road runner typosquatting page

Users are opted in to the feature automatically and can opt-out through their preferences. Road Runner also has a “Typo Correction Service” which automatically corrects common typos of domain names.

Although Road Runner appears to have been redirecting error traffic in some areas for about a month, it just started showing up for me in Austin.

Why is Road Runner doing this? Money. Big money.

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  1. woolwit says

    Here’s a Frank Schilling post on the Verizon variation…

    An easy workaround is an Open DNS account-
    If you open a free account you can manage Typo Corrections and Typo Exceptions among other things such as blocking Adult sites. I’m back to the familiar Page Load Error message. (If you don’t set those preferences, then ‘open’ dns also is scoring some squatting cash on your typos.)

  2. DP says

    The hypocrisy does not end there. These are the same companies the cried foul when Verisign basically did the same thing.

    I’ve seen people say it doesn’t hurt our PPC when they’re only doing this on non-resolving names anyway. This is simply not true.

    Old Scenerio: Joe User types ‘redsheos.com’, gets a page not found error, realizing their mistake they then type ‘redshoes.com’ and go to a parked page (no idea if that page is parked, just an example.

    New Scenario: First type-in gets them to a page of ads which is no better or worse, in the eyes of the user, than the parking page on the intended domain. They’ll never make it to the second type-in.

    Typos of TMs were already mentioned. How can it possibly be ok to trap every error of “verizon” and direct it to a page of cell phone ads when its illegal to collect traffic to a single instance of a verizon type (verzion.com) etc … amazing.

  3. Andrew says

    @ John – I must have misread your first comment while I was in a hurry. I misread it that it was *not* doing the same for you. Thanks for the clarification.

  4. corinnew says

    I started noticing the new redirection feature when perfectly valid domains started being redirected. In other words, their service is also redirecting pages that shouldn’t be redirected. The sad thing is that when you call their tech support, half of the staff are completely unaware that this service even exists ( I’ve been on the phone with Time Warner about this issue for 2 days now and am awaiting tech person number 4 to come out).
    I think in my case, the Internet connection is timing out and handles that the same way it would handle a misspelled domain. Noone at Time Warner will admit to that though.

  5. Andrew says

    @ Corinnew – Do you mean your Road Runner connection times out or the host server? If it’s Road Runner then of course nothing would show up at all…but I could see it happening if the web site is not loading fast enough. When I time out with the Google toolbar it takes me to a Google search page.

  6. corinnew says

    To be honest, I’m not sure why it is redirecting valid domains. I’m thinking it does it to pages that are simply loading too slowly (I’m experiencing 11% packet loss that TimeWarner hasn’t been able to fix yet). But TW won’t speculate on why it would be redirecting perfectly legitimate URLs. I have a screenshot up online of one of the valid domains it redirected.

  7. bt says

    Roadrunner is re-directing me from valid domain names too. It just started this weekend and I also noticed my service going in and out a lot (I’ve had Azureus running so I can see data transfer suddenly slow to a stop). I live in central florida and use Brighthouse.

    This is driving me nuts!! It’s re-directing pages I have had bookmarked for years and they seem to be getting cached too. I first noticed this when it told me it couldn’t find http://www.google.com. My coffee maker could probably find google if I pressed the right button.

  8. Andrew says

    @ BT – you’re not the only one. My wife can only get into about 50% of sites on our RR right now. She can’t get to Google.com

  9. corinnew says

    @ Andrew: I switched to OpenDNS since I commented here and have been problem-free since.

    RR kept telling me too that Google was gone!! Time Warner doesn’t want to hear anything about this though, so I wouldn’t waste my time – believe me I learned this the hard way…

    Wired ran a good story a few days ago on ISPs trying to cash in on domain redirection and how this creates potential security problems: http://blog.wired.com/27bstroke6/2008/04/isps-error-page.html

  10. Andrew says

    @corinnew – Thanks — I’ll suggest that to my wife.

    I used to have a heck of a time connecting to DomainNameWire. I’d IM someone and they were connecting fine…so I could tell it was an ISP problem. If you do a TRACEROUTE it shows that it’s working fine!

  11. woolwit says

    Thing is “Open”DNS (it’s not Open software) is now hijacking non-resolving type-ins as well. Even with typo correction set to off. How lame! They redirect to OpenDns’s ‘guide’ page- ads.
    And on a podcast the other day I heard where a non-resolving type-in went to a page full of ads sponsored by Dell, i.e. The computer came pre-configured to resolve to a Dell sponsored ad page when typing a non-resolving domain name into the IE browser! Everybody wants a piece of your error traffic. Maybe the recent news about DNS redirects opening
    holes for hackers to hijack the web will lead to my getting a 404 back. Or maybe someone will build a business model around providing a ‘old school’ DNS.

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