Tech Industry

ICANN panel condemns Site Finder

Committee says VeriSign's service, which redirected Web surfers using misspelled addresses to its own site, was unneighborly.

A long-awaited report evaluating the impact of VeriSign's controversial Site Finder service concludes that it had undesirable side effects, violated commonly accepted codes of Internet conduct, and should remain offline.

The 85-page report prepared by a group of technical experts organized by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) says that while Site Finder did not have catastrophic effects on the Internet, it nevertheless ran afoul of "community standards and caused harm to individual users and enterprises."

In September, VeriSign, through the new Site Finder program, temporarily redirected domain lookups for misspelled or nonexistent names to its own site. The practice confused some Internet e-mail utilities and drew angry denunciations from frustrated network administrators. Critics charged that the Mountain View, Calif.-based company, which enjoys a government-granted monopoly as the master database administrator for .com and .net, was trying to make money off of Internet users' typos through advertising on the Site Finder site.

The ICANN Security and Stability Advisory Committee, which finalized its report on Friday, recommended that similar "wild card" redirections not be used in any top-level domains, including .org, .biz and country codes. VeriSign on Site Finder after ICANN objected last year, but the company has since

As part if its review, the panel convened two public meetings last fall in Washington, D.C.

Among the committee's findings is the conclusion that Site Finder caused "certain e-mail systems, spam filters and other services (to fail), resulting in direct and indirect costs to third parties." The panel also found that VeriSign incorrectly focused on Web users and did not take into account Site Finder's impact on other Internet protocols. Additionally, the service was activated "abruptly" with scant notice to Internet surfers, and it could lead to privacy violations, the panel found.

VeriSign has defended Site Finder by saying it offers a better way to handle nonexistent or misspelled domain names than the unhelpful error messages that some Web browsers currently provide. Most problems it caused were "minor or inconvenient," VeriSign said in a presentation to the ICANN committee.

Karl Auerbach, a former ICANN board member and a critic of Site Finder, was skeptical of the committee's report, saying its logic seeks to lock in today's technology and that it could impede innovation.

"Different people and different organizations have divergent views on what constitutes the common good, on what constitutes acceptable and desirable goals, and what are legitimate and ethical constraints," Auerbach wrote in an essay on his Web site.

Separately, ICANN last week filed a motion opposing VeriSign's attempt to include antitrust charges in its lawsuit, which was filed in a Los Angeles federal court.

"VeriSign does not agree with the way ICANN is structured or operates, and quite frankly is unhappy that ICANN even exists," ICANN's lawyers say in the document.

In other business, VeriSign on Tuesday announced a for transferring domain names between registrars. The procedure takes effect Nov. 12 and is designed to make the transfer process simpler.

Additionally, ICANN is about to convene its next regular meeting, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. ICANN holds a few such meetings every year. These sessions are attended by people active in domain name, trademark, root server and related issues. The next meeting, which starts Monday, features a workshop aimed at bridging the gap between ICANN and the United Nations, which is becoming increasingly interested in Internet governance.