Netsol Take Evil To A New Level

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A couple of months ago I posted about domain name front running. I’d been at a meeting during ICANN’s LA meeting and had also read Jay Daley’s paper on the subject.
At the time I was unconvinced as to the existence of front running as a practice.

In light of the revelations that have come to light in the last couple of days I may have to modify my previous views.

What’s changed?

Well it turns out that Network Solutions have been incredibly naughty – and that’s the nicest way to word it.

It transpires that if you do a domain search on the Network Solutions site (and presumably any of the partner / related sites that use the same backend) and DON’T proceed with the registration NetSol “hold” the domain for you.

To prove this I just tried a rather inane domain search on their site for the domain networksolutionslikefrontrunning.com

Naturally enough the domain wasn’t registered.

A few seconds later I ran the same search using a command line WHOIS lookup. Under normal circumstances I’d expect to see the domain as being available.

Of course we’re not talking about “normal” companies.

We’re talking about Network Solutions, so we get:


blacknight@sicilia:~$ whois -H networksolutionslikefrontrunning.com

Whois Server Version 2.0

Domain names in the .com and .net domains can now be registered
with many different competing registrars. Go to http://www.internic.net
for detailed information.

   Domain Name: NETWORKSOLUTIONSLIKEFRONTRUNNING.COM
   Registrar: NETWORK SOLUTIONS, LLC.
   Whois Server: whois.networksolutions.com
   Referral URL: http://www.networksolutions.com
   Name Server: NS1.RESERVEDDOMAINNAME.COM
   Name Server: NS2.RESERVEDDOMAINNAME.COM
   Status: ok
   Updated Date: 09-jan-2008
   Creation Date: 09-jan-2008
   Expiration Date: 09-jan-2009

>>> Last update of whois database: Wed, 09 Jan 2008 20:48:58 UTC <<<

NOTICE: The expiration date displayed in this record is the date the
registrar’s sponsorship of the domain name registration in the registry is
currently set to expire. This date does not necessarily reflect the expiration
date of the domain name registrant’s agreement with the sponsoring
registrar.  Users may consult the sponsoring registrar’s Whois database to
view the registrar’s reported date of expiration for this registration.

The Registry database contains ONLY .COM, .NET, .EDU domains and
Registrars.
Get a FREE domain name registration, transfer, or renewal with any annual hosting package
- or just $8.95 with monthly packages.

http://www.networksolutions.com

Visit AboutUs.org for more information about NETWORKSOLUTIONSLIKEFRONTRUNNING.COM
<a href=”http://www.aboutus.org/NETWORKSOLUTIONSLIKEFRONTRUNNING.COM”>AboutUs: NETWORKSOLUTIONSLIKEFRONTRUNNING.COM </a>

Registrant:
This Domain is available at NetworkSolutions.com
   13681 Sunrise Valley Drive, Suite 300
   HERNDON, VA 20171
   US

   Domain Name: NETWORKSOLUTIONSLIKEFRONTRUNNING.COM

   ————————————————————————
   This Domain is Available – Register it Now!
   600,000 domain names are registered daily! Don’t delay; there’s no guarantee
   that a domain name you see today will still be here tomorrow!
   Register it Now at www.NetworkSolutions.com.
   ————————————————————————

   Administrative Contact, Technical Contact:
      Network Solutions, LLC            domainsupport@networksolutions.com
      13681 Sunrise Valley Drive, Suite 300
      HERNDON, VA 20171
      US
      1-888-642-9675 fax: 571-434-4620

   Record expires on 09-Jan-2009.
   Record created on 09-Jan-2008.
   Database last updated on 9-Jan-2008 15:49:32 EST.

   Domain servers in listed order:

   ns1.reserveddomainname.com   205.178.190.55
   ns2.reserveddomainname.com   205.178.189.55

So they’ve done three things:

  • The domain is now registered to them
  • It can not be registered to me UNLESS I use Network Solutions
  • If I decide I don’t want to register the domain the only way anyone else can get it is via Network Solutions

In simple terms they’re taking advantage of a loophole in the registrar contract. A registrar can release a domain back to the registry without incurring a financial penalty if they do so within the first 5 days of registration – it’s the methodology used by domain tasters.
So it won’t cost NetSol anything if I don’t register the domain name, but it will cost me significantly more to register the domain via NetSol than via my registrar of choice (several hundred percent in fact)

They’re also abusing the WHOIS details.

If you look at the registrant field you should see the contact for the registrant, but instead you see the first part of their nefariously abusive advert informing us that we can get the domain chez Netsol.

If you were to try to do something like this with many of the ccTLDs, such as .be you’d find your registrar credentials being revoked very quickly, as warehousing is explicitly forbidden in the registrar contract.

I’ve been involved in this industry for quite some time. I may not particularly like Network Solutions, as they have a rather charming history of being “bold”, but for a registrar of their size and history to run a scam like this is abhorrent. I’m quite simply disgusted.

In typical corporate manner NetSol have responded to the uproar by releasing a statement (oddly enough it’s not on their main PR site!) explaining how they are actually protecting their customers!

Now I would never pretend to be a legal expert, however I know from talking to clients and colleagues that a lot of people do domain searches on various registrar sites with no actual intention of purchasing and with no previous business relationship existing.

Unless I am mistaken and I’d be delighted if someone were to correct me, conducting a search for a domain name does not make me a customer.
I would have to actually purchase something from Network Solutions to be converted from “pros
pect” to actual “client” (customer).
In a free market I should be able to check the pricing and availability of an item, be that a domain name or a DVD with as many vendors as I choose and make my purchase once I am fully informed.
It may not suit me to buy from the 1st, 2nd or 3rd vendor I “visit”.
I might not want to make the purchase today, but that does not remove my right to choose my supplier.
Network Solutions, however, have decided unilaterally to make that choice for me. By so doing they have removed choice from the equation and in so doing they are denying registrants of a basic right – the right to choose their supplier (registrar).
If you follow this story on other domain news sites you’ll probably see people calling for ICANN to take action. They won’t. Even if there are people in ICANN who would like to take action it’s not that simple. There’s nothing to stop Network Solutions from doing what they are doing except that most powerful element – the power of the market itself.

Other coverage of this story:
Domain Front Running by Registrars Continues to Draw Attention
NSI Accused of Domain Front Running
Domain Registrar Network Solutions Front Running On Whois Searches
Network Solutions steals domain ideas; Confirmed!

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