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VeriSign cleans up Web address auctions

The domain name registry, which recently began auctioning off Internet addresses on eBay, says it will pull sales of adult-themed and trademarked names.

VeriSign said Friday that it will clean up its domain name auctions on eBay, some of which appear to have violated the Web address registry's stated corporate policies.

VeriSign launched its own eBay store last month when it started providing authentication services to the Internet's most popular auction site through the digital security side of its business.

In the six weeks since the store launched, VeriSign's merchandise had begun featuring Web addresses ending in country-code domains that conflict with the company's ban on registering adult-themed addresses and trademarked names.

Shortly after CNET News.com queried VeriSign about the domain sales, the company pledged to abort them.

"When we created our arrangement with eBay, we set a policy not to endorse or promote the sale of objectionable, inappropriate or trademarked material," said VeriSign representative Brian O'Shaughnessy. "The names of the nature that CNET pointed out are against our policy, and that's why we're taking immediate steps to remove them. We take full responsibility and are taking measure to ensure that this does not happen again."

Unlike top-level domains such as .com, which are approved by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, country-code domains are not regulated, O'Shaughnessy said. As a result, VeriSign is free to resell addresses with those endings.

Country-level domains exist for 244 countries, from Angola to Zimbabwe. VeriSign runs registries for .cc, .bz and .tv, O'Shaughnessy said. He added that the eBay store represents the company's first attempt to sell Web addresses ending in those domains.

As of early Wednesday, the auctions offered numerous adult-themed names and other addresses, including "bbc.cc."

Even VeriSign's auctions of unobjectionable addresses have raised the hackles of some domain-name watchdogs. For sale on the VeriSign site are the cream of the .cc and .bz crop, including "business.cc" and "news.cc." Each of these is priced at $100,000--far higher than the company's usual price of $35 a year for a single Web address.

With its purchase of Network Solutions in 2000, VeriSign became the Internet's most important domain name registry, controlling the .com, .net and .org domains, among others.

The company has faced a tough market recently as domain-name supply has increased with the introduction of dozens of new country-specific names and other generic domains. Meanwhile, demand for Web addresses has slackened along with the rest of the high-tech economy.

Amid these conditions, VeriSign's marketing efforts have drawn complaints and even lawsuits from competitors. On Thursday, the company signed a federal court order that stemmed from a lawsuit filed by rival Go Daddy Software, which accused VeriSign of overly aggressive marketing tactics. With the order, VeriSign agreed to stop sending bogus messages to rivals' customers.

VeriSign also saw a key investment go sour with the closure of plain-language Web address company RealNames.