Copyright: Copying and redistribution is permitted as long as proper credit is given to the Summit Open Source Development Group.
Important Note: This is a previously unpublished document. It may contain errors, spelling mistakes, etc. We are releasing it for historical reasons.
There is a battle going on in cyberspace. It's not between crackers and law enforcement, nor between spammers and spam fighters. The battle is between those who want to profit from the Internet at the expense of others and the people who want to keep the Internet an open, untainted medium.
Back in Sept. 15, 2003, Network Solutions/Verisign activated the controversial service called SiteFinder. Using their monopoly on .com and .net domain registrations, NetSol/Verisign essentially hijacked all mistyped and unresolving domain names in the .com and .net namespace. There was no prior notice, and the resulting mess that this sudden change caused was felt worldwide.
This paper talks about the latest battle between companies wanting to profit off of the Internet, and the people who want to keep the Internet in the hands of the community.
A quick note before I begin - I am not against businesses being on the Internet, nor am I against the idea of profiting from the Internet. What I am against though, are the attempts by companies to make a profit at the expense of the Internet's stability and functionality, and at the expense of Internet users in general.
The heart of the SiteFinder service is the wildcard record in the .com and .net root name servers. What this wildcard does is match any domain name - mistyped or non-existent - and redirect it to the SiteFinder page.
The basic idea being that the SiteFinder service will recommend the proper page the user might have been looking for. The main problem with this wildcard, though, is the affect it has on services that are not web based.
When the wildcard was activated, without notice to the Internet community until AFTER the change was made, services began breaking all over the Internet. Spam suddenly got through filters, Windows machines could no longer find their printers and file servers, and negative DNS caching suddenly became useless.
You can read more about the problems the wildcard caused at my other paper, "An end user's guide to the problems associated with the implementation of the Verisign SiteFinder service" located at <xxxxxxxx>. That paper describes the issue in more detail, so I won't repeat it here.
There is no doubt in anyone's mind that the SiteFinder service is based on the need to feed Verisign's profit margins. With sole control over the .com and .net top-level domain name servers, Verisign is in a unique position to control what a good portion of the world sees when they browse the web.
While it does cost money to provide services to the Internet, such as a root name server and the .com and .net name servers, there is a difference between generating a reasonable revenue from a public utility (which is essentially what Verisign is, since .com and .net are pretty much required to run a business on the Internet), and gorging consumers and end users for every last penny they can get.
As it is, Verisign generates funds from not only their own domain registrations, but from any other registrar who offers .com and .net domain names to the public. Now, they want to make even more profit without including any of the other registrars and at the expense of the Internet community in general.
How do they intend to generate this profit? By selling ads on the SiteFinder page and offering paid (and pay per click) search listings. They are also collecting information from people's browsers using web bugs and cookies (and most likely turning around and selling that information for profit as well), all the while claiming they are not collecting personal information.
The major problem with paid search listings is that the end user rarely knows just how much the site being listed paid to be where they are (or that they paid for their current listing).
Unlike Google, who isolates their Google Ads to the right side of the page in clearly outlined boxes, many search engines mix their paid search engine listings with regular searches. This means that the resource you were looking for may not actually be the best resource available.
A quote from the section of my other paper:
"It was also brought to the attention of the Internet community that Verisign was making a profit off of the SiteFinder service through its ties with the Overture paid search service and other advertising companies. Although the actual figures are unknown, it is believed to be many millions of dollars. These funds go directly to Verisign and are not distributed to groups like ICANN and other register services.
Verisign tries to justify the need for pay-per-click links by claiming that they need the money to continue to 'innovate' and improve the services that they offer to the Internet community. Of course, it should be noted that Verisign does not run all of the root name servers. It only maintains and controls the .com and .net name servers.
The .com and .net top level domain name servers do not provide resolution for all of the top level domains - the main root name servers are the central point of contact when an end user requests a domain name. It should be noted that the root name servers are run and funded by various groups, including the ISC and Verisign. These servers continue to run, privately funded, without interference and without needing to generate profit in on themselves. These servers are provided for the benefit of the Internet community.
While the .com and .net top level domain name servers handle more then half of the queries for domain names due to the popularity of those two top level domains, they most likely do not see the same level of queries that the root name servers do. As such, I do not completely understand the need for the .com and .net name servers to generate a profit except to provide revenue to a company that already abuses its monopoly powers at a level that comes very close to Microsoft (and, if carefully reviewed, many of the justifications that Verisign has for their actions are very similar to Microsoft's justifications for its monopoly on computer operating systems)."
As the sole company in control of the two largest top level domains on the Internet, Verisign can literally do anything it wants with these domains, but it is trusted (by the Internet community) to handle itself with care and respect. Unfortunately, much like Microsoft, Verisign thinks it no longer has to abide by the same rules as everyone else does.
If any other registrar, such as Register.com or GoDaddy wanted to do the same wildcards, Verisign would stand up and refuse to allow it, and claim that it would harm the Internet.
Compare this to Microsoft's recent assertion that companies like HP choosing to use the Apple iPod over Microsoft's own Windows Media services for handheld music devices are limiting consumer choice and freedom. Windows Media devices can usually only play Windows Media Player files (which are not a true standard), while the Apple iPod can play both AAC and MP3 files (which are true standards). A monopoly, claiming that someone else is limiting the consumer's freedom of choice.
But, as the monopoly of domain names, Verisign sees no problems with adding the wildcards and giving it the attention and profit that would come from the SiteFinder service.
Verisign in no way offers any of the other registrars the opportunity to get involved or use the service to help fund their daily operations. There is no doubt that Verisign would include links on the SiteFinder page to help the user register the domain name they just mistyped or couldn't find, and direct them to the Network Solutions page.
Why does SiteFinder need to exist in its current implementation (including the wildcards)? Verisign claims that SiteFinder is a necessity for end users that have trouble locating the site that they need.
So, instead of a wildcard, why not implement something like the Google Toolbar that will help the end user find what they are looking for? The easy answer is that it would mean that end users must download and install the toolbar, rather then having it forced on them out of their control. This means less profit and views, because there are already superior solutions and toolbars out there that would appeal to end users more.
While Verisign claims to have taken a survey of Internet users and found that they like SiteFinder, no one has yet to step forward and say that they were part of this survey, or who this survey actually contacted and what the questions were.
For all the community knows, Verisign went to a nursing home, and asked seniors to nod their head yes or no if they liked the idea of a search service that automatically came up when they mistyped a domain name. Compare this to Microsoft going to one of their own offices and asking employees what operating system they use, and which is superior.
Obviously, these kinds of surveys do not get a real idea of what people actually think and are strongly biased. In the days after SiteFinder, other surveys were done that show that the Internet community as a whole - end users, businesses, providers, and developers alike - do not like SiteFinder and have no reason to do it.
Providers such as AOL and MSN already offer mistyped domain name correction services to their end users. The primary difference is that these services only affect their own customers, and not the whole Internet like SiteFinder does.