Network Solutions Inc., a Herndon, Va.-based firm that registers Internet domain names, may change its new policy of temporarily preventing users from registering a domain name once it has been the subject of a search on its Web site.
The registrar, which used to have a monopoly on registering domain names, came under fire this week as it implemented a policy that effectively locks up any domain name that is the subject of a search on its site, preventing a customer from registering the name with another, possibly less expensive, registrar for four days.
The policy was intended to prevent an opportunist from running a search on a potentially popular but unused domain name, and then buying it only for the purpose of selling it for a profit.
Network Solutions charges customers US$34.99 to register a domain name, while GoDaddy.com Inc., for example, charges up to $9.99.
“We’re making refinements to the protection measure and there are discussions about giving people the option [of letting us hold the domain name], but right now we’re holding it for four days,” said Network Solutions spokeswoman Susan Wade.
Earlier this week, Network Solutions instituted a policy that critics say amounts to “front running.” But Wade said the new policy is intended to prevent front running, a tactic in which scammers keep track of domain name searches and then register those domains themselves, hoping to sell them to the original searchers at inflated prices.
Wade said Network Solutions decided on the policy to register the domain after the search so that the name won’t be registered by “some obscure person” before the original searcher comes back to register it.
“What we’re trying to do is keep that information that our customers are putting in there from [scammers],” she said. “So we hold it for a grace period of up to four days so you have an opportunity to consider whether or not to register it. After four days, we release it.”
Wade said before Network Solutions implemented the policy, it advised the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which oversees the Internet address system, of its plans.
ICANN spokesman Jason Keenan confirmed that Network Solutions notified the organization of its new policy. Keenan said ICANN is looking into the matter but hasn’t determined whether the registrar’s policy violates its regulations.
Other registrars, meanwhile, were critical of Network Solutions’ policy.
“We think the situation speaks for itself — it’s not good for the industry and more importantly, it’s not good for the customer,” a GoDaddy spokesman said in an e-mail. “Customers should be able to register an available domain name whenever and wherever they want.”
Sigmund Solares, CEO of Intercosmos Media Group Inc., which operates registrar directNIC.com, agreed with GoDaddy.
“DirectNIC.com has never sold customer domain name search data or WHOIS search queries,” Solares said in an e-mail. “We use this data only for processing a customer’s request for the sole use of the customer making the request. We have maintained a strict policy against domain name front running in any form.”
Jeffrey Eckhaus, director of Register.com, said his company understands how important it is for people and businesses to be able to purchase the domain names they want. “That is why we offer Domain Hold, an option for all customers that allows them to reserve domain names for free or a small cost depending on the length of time they’d like to reserve it for,” Eckhaus said in an e-mail.
A Register.com spokesman said the company does not automatically reserve a domain name once it has been searched for on its site.
Larry Erlich, president of DomainRegistry.com Inc., said he was surprised that a company like Network Solutions had instituted such a policy. “I would have thought that was something that was happening with smaller registrars rather than a large registrar,” he said.
Erlich said Network Solutions was also preventing the transfer of domain names to his company in violation of ICANN policy.
“We have customers who say they want to transfer a domain name from Network Solutions to us, but when the customer tries to get an authorization code from Network Solutions, he might have to change his contact information — like his e-mail address. And the minute a customer changes his e-mail address on the Network Solutions site, it automatically blocks that customer from changing registrars for 60 days — a clear violation of ICANN policy,” Erlich said. “We have a case that just happened yesterday and we’ve written to ICANN about it; they’re not allowed to block a registrar transfer just because a customer changes contact information.”
Wade confirmed that if there is a change made to contact information, the company institutes a 60-day hold on a transfer to ensure that the change is not being made by someone trying to hijack a domain name.
“We are not the only ones that have instituted that policy,” Wade said. “Is it against ICANN policy? No.”
The ICANN spokesman provided a link to the organization’s policy on domain-name transfers but did not elaborate.