Registrar denies 'front-running' Net registration

Network Solutions, a major registrar of Internet domain names, counters accusations it's grabbing domain names after customers show an interest but before they register them.

Contrary to claims that emerged Wednesday, Network Solutions said it isn't "front-running" the Internet address registration process, a practice in which a company registers a potential domain immediately after a prospective buyer searches to see if it's available. In fact, the practice that triggered the accusation is an attempt to counteract front-running, the company said.

Front-running can give a registration company an advantage over the customer who wants to register the site--for example by preventing the customer from registering it through a competing registrar or by selling it to the customer at an inflated price.

The company faced criticism of front-running Tuesday, with discussions cropping up at Domain Name News, Slashdot, and DomainState discussion boards.

"Network Solutions has instituted a four-day lock on all domain names searched on their site. They are effectively using phishing techniques to hijack or steal domain names and forcing domain name registrants to register their names at Network Solutions. The standard domain name registration fee at Network Solutions is $34.99--significantly higher than the leading alternatives," complained one commenter.

Although Network Solutions does temporarily register a site a customer searched for, spokeswoman Susan Wade denied there's anything nefarious afoot. "Network Solutions is not front-running," she said.

Network Solutions holds the domain for up to four days, during which time a customer can register it only from Network Solutions and after which it again becomes generally available if unregistered, Wade said. But that feature, she said, is a "pre-emptive" measure to protect customers--from front-runners.

That's because front-runners can tell when a customer has searched for a domain at Network Solutions, for example because Network Solutions then must check availability at other sites when a customer searches, Wade said.

"This search data is captured at the various registries. We believe there are registries and/or Internet service providers that may be selling this data to front-runners. So, by holding domains searched on Network Solutions, this pre-empts the search data being captured," she said.

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