Theas a surprise last week, replacing the familiar error pages typically found when a Web surfer mistypes an Internet address. Criticism has been harsh and bitter from competitors and many broad Internet technical circles which say the action interferes with other Net applications.
"This action violates many of the architectural principles that have so successfully supported the phenomenal growth of the Internet to date," Lynn St.Amour, president of the Internet Society, wrote in a letter Friday to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the body responsible for domain name policy. "Not to heed these principles or the advice of numerous technical Internet groups is extremely irresponsible and is putting the stability of the Internet at considerable risk."
VeriSign is able to exert control over all unassigned and misspelled domain names because it serves as the government-approved registry, or ultimate traffic director, for domain names ending in .com or .net.
Ordinarily, a Web browser translates a domain name such as www.news.com into an Internet address by checking domain name servers across the world that hold this information, much like a phone directory that equates names with telephone numbers. Previously, if a name did not exist--whether misspelled or simply unassigned--Web browsers would find themselves at the familiar DNS (domain name system) error page.
Some Web browsers and browser add-ons would redirect these mistakes to another search page or suggest possible alternatives.
The new VeriSign service points all misspellings to the same Site Finder search page, however, making it difficult or impossible for other companies to provide those browser redirection services. Critics say it also could harm spam filters, some of which relied on the old system to block e-mail that came from false addresses.
The new class-action suit, filed by longtime Internet litigator Ira Rothken on behalf of a California e-mail and device synchronization software provider, said VeriSign is abusing its power over the domain name system.
"VeriSign's redirection of .com and .net traffic not only is earning, or is intended to earn, profits for VeriSign, but it subverts the basic infrastructure of the Internet, to the detriment of numerous entities," the suit says. "VeriSign's actions have exceeded and continue to exceed the scope of its authorized monopoly status--its establishment of Site Finder redirection service was not acting in compliance with any clearly articulated government program, and it was not acting at the direction or with the consent of any federal agency."
Other suits have been filed against the domain name company on behalf of private companies or individuals, but Friday's was the first to seek class-action status.
A VeriSign representative declined to comment, saying the company does not remark on pending litigation. Previously, the company has said it would examine technical objections to the Site Finder redirect service, but indicated that it.