UPDATE: VeriSign Suspends SiteFinder Service

In a letter sent to VeriSign on Friday, ICANN CEO Paul Twomey told the domain registry that it had until 6 PM Saturday to comply with a request to take down the SiteFinder service. At some point on Saturday, VeriSign complied with the request and turned off the redirection service for mistyped .com and .net domains.

Having failed to convince VeriSign to suspend its Web redirection service that began September 15th, ICANN pointed to contract violations and demanded that VeriSign halt the service. ICANN faulted VeriSign’s service for its “substantial adverse effect on the core operation of the domain name system, on the stability of the Internet and the .com and .net top-level domains.”

VeriSign complied with the request and suspended the SiteFinder service, which has been the basis for at least three lawsuits against the company that administers the .com and .net registries. However, the Mountain View, California-based company said that it is not pleased with ICANN’s demand and disputed the impact of SiteFinder on the domain name system and the Internet.

“Without so much as a hearing, ICANN today formally asked us to shut down the SiteFinder service,” said a statement from VeriSign executive vice president Russell Lewis. “During the more than two weeks that SiteFinder has been operational, there is no data to indicate that the core operation of the domain name system or stability of the Internet has been adversely affected.”

ICANN Uses Teeth

Referring to the “scope and magnitude” of concerns expressed by a wide range of Internet authorities, bodies and other groups, ICANN ordered VeriSign to suspend the service to avoid “steps necessary to enforce contractual obligations.”

ICANN spokesperson Mary Hewitt told TechNewsWorld that the organization had several viable options for enforcing the contract, including arbitration, sanctions and even litigation.

Heather Carle, a spokesperson for VeriSign rival Afilias, told TechNewsWorld that the move by ICANN is a step in the right direction. “We think this is very significant and shows ICANN is taking steps to use the teeth that have been built into these contracts with VeriSign and other registries,” she said.

Substantial Adverse Effect

In its letter to VeriSign and its advisory on the matter, ICANN indicated there are existing and possibly future negative impacts from SiteFinder on the domain name system and the Internet in general, which relies on the domain system to route traffic correctly.

The SiteFinder service, which VeriSign reported last month was drawing 4 million to 7 million users daily and had more than 65 million visits in its first week, has been harshly criticized for breaking from previous Internet behavior rules and fouling antispam measures that rely on the domain name system to determine whether a spammer’s originating domain is valid or spoofed.

There also have been complaints that mobile Web users have been severely affected by the change because VeriSign has been rerouting mobile Web traffic to SiteFinder as opposed to delivering standard error messages when users type in incorrect or misspelled URLs. Standard error messages would not result in used bandwidth on a wireless account.

In the letter to VeriSign, ICANN outlined VeriSign’s “contractual inconsistencies,” which included violating code-of-conduct and equal-access obligations in addition to failure to comply with the obligation to act as a neutral registry service provider.

Impact Denied

In response to ICANN’s directive, VeriSign defended SiteFinder and said the service “has been well received by millions of Internet users who appreciate getting navigation tools as opposed to the ‘dead end’ of an error message.”

Suggesting that SiteFinder is an innovation, VeriSign also referred to its establishment of a technical panel to gather and analyze feedback on the service.

“The next several weeks will be a test as to whether innovation will occur within the Internet infrastructure,” Lewis said in a statement. “The fact is that while the Internet has been used for innovative purposes over the last decade, the core infrastructure has suffered from a lack of innovation.”

Profit and Process

Gartner research director Ray Wagner told TechNewsWorld that VeriSign might have failed to consider the implications of SiteFinder as it was looking for ways to monetize its duties as a registry. The analyst called ICANN’s measures “the right action to take,” adding that the body has been criticized in the past for mismanagement.

ICANN’s Hewitt, who referred to the group’s previous successful bid to force VeriSign to upgrade its whois system — the system that provides information on who owns domain names — said ICANN also is working on an adequate process to deal with proposed changes to the operation of domain registries.

“We’re asking for procedures to be put in place so future cases will have a process and will not impact or jeopardize the stability of the Internet,” Hewitt said.

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