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VeriSign sued over redirect Web service

An Internet search company files a $100 million antitrust lawsuit against the Web address provider, accusing it of hijacking misspelled and unassigned Web addresses.

An Internet search company on Thursday filed a $100 million antitrust lawsuit against VeriSign, accusing the Web address provider of hijacking misspelled and unassigned Web addresses with a service it launched this week.

VeriSign's new Site Finder service takes searches for .com and .net Web addresses that are not spelled correctly or have not yet been registered and redirects them to a VeriSign Web page that includes options and pay-for-placement topic links.

Since it was launched on Monday, the Site Finder service has drawn widespread criticism from Internet users who complain that VeriSign has overstepped its authority. However, VeriSign says it is merely offering a convenient service.

The lawsuit filed in federal court in Orlando, Fla., alleges antitrust violations, unfair competition and violations of the Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act and asks the court to order VeriSign to put a halt to the service, said Robert Hart, a spokesman for Popular Enterprises, the Orlando-based parent company of search provider

According to the lawsuit, Mountain View, Calif.-based VeriSign has been using its position as the keeper of the master list of all Web addresses ending in .com and .net, also called domain names, to unfair advantage.

Not only is VeriSign making money off the redirected searches, but it is improperly interfering with competing services, including Netster's SmartBrowse and similar services run by Internet service providers like AOL Time Warner's America Online and Microsoft, Popular Enterprises said.

Typically, Internet users are shown a generic "404--cannot be found" page when a Web address does not exist. SmartBrowse and other services display Web sites and search options that are closely related to the original search request.

VeriSign spokesman Brian O'Shaughnessy said he could not comment on the lawsuit because the company had not seen it and does not as a matter of policy comment on pending litigation.

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