Network Solutions is standing by its controversial policy of automatically registering some domain names that are the subject of searches on the company's Web site.
After testing the concept in December, the domain name registration company quietly began doing this over the past weekend. Potential customers who used the company's "Find a domain" search engine would suddenly find the domain names they had been searching for were registered to Network Solutions itself, making them temporarily unable to purchase the domain from another provider.
Industry watchers were quick to blast the new policy, saying that it either forced searchers to become Network Solutions customers, or exposed their ideas to scammers, who would be able to snatch up the domains the second they were released. "It is a deplorable action that Network Solutions would announce potential domain names to the entire world," wrote Jay Westerdal, on the DomainTools blog.
If cutting down on domain name scamming was the goal, "someone should be fired over the implementation," wrote Andrew Allemann, a blogger with Domain Name Wire.
On Wednesday, Network Solutions CEO Champ Mitchell said that his company planned to change the site's design to ensure that users are notified of this policy. The company is also looking into adding a feature that would make give users the option of keeping their searches un-registered, although that would require cooperation from domain name registries, he said.
Ironically, Mitchell said that Network Solutions came up with the search registration process in an effort to cut down on the scamming that has plagued the industry over the past two years. "We are not trying to make a bunch of money off of this," he said.
By registering the domains immediately, Network Solutions is keeping them out of the hands of scammers who take advantage of a loophole in the way names are registered. It has become increasingly common for scammers to register large number of domains for a short period of time and then to keep the ones that generate Web traffic, a practice called domain tasting. Because a domain can be held without charge for up to five days, this practice costs the scammer almost nothing, but it can be lucrative.
In another practice, called front running, scammers have found ways -- some of them illegal -- to keep track of domain name searches and then hold onto those domains themselves, hoping to sell them to the people doing the searching.
Some critics have said that Network Solutions' new practice amounts to front running, but Mitchell disagrees, saying the point of the system is to protect customers from the front-runners.
His company has developed an algorithm, designed to identify legitimate domain name searches and then automatically register the domain names being searched for on behalf of Network Solutions. These domains are held with a Web-page notice saying that they are available for sale for a four-day period. This gives the Network Solutions customer a window of opportunity to purchase the domain before it snatched up by a scammer, Mitchell aid.
Mitchell added that if ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), the organization that oversees the domain name system, would move to cut down on these type of scams, then his company wouldn't have to engage in this kind of automatic search registration. "We would be perfectly happy to end this process if ICANN or the registries would do something to protect small businesses or other small users," he said.
A US$0.25 non-refundable domain name registration fee would probably be enough to make domain tasting or front running unprofitable, he added.