Bad Taste: Another Way ICANN Blew Domain Registration

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2006-06-08 Print this article Print

Opinion: Speculators have learned to abuse the Grace Period in registration to engage in "Domain Tasting." Whether it's good for registrars or not, regular people lose out.

ICANN is widely disliked, all over the world in fact, for a variety of reasons. Now another ICANN blunder has come to light, and it is exacerbating the takeover of the domain registration process by sleazy speculators. My big gripe with ICANN is that the only rights they seem concerned about protecting in the domain registration process are those of trademark holders. I dont have a problem with protecting those rights, its just that they should also make some provision for the rights of domain name owners and make some token effort to protect the system against domain name speculators.

"Domain Tasting" is the latest unintended outcome from that lack of care. It all begins with a feature called "Create Grace Period," mandated by ICANN for global registries such as .com (managed by Verisign), .org (managed by PIR), and so on. This is a five-day period in which a registrar may delete a just-registered domain and get a refund of the registry fee.

Speculators have figured out how to use this feature to register domains, publish them with many advertising links, and then evaluate which are promising enough to keep. The trick is to find the ones that users are likely to hit through a typo, at which point they will see the ads. This practice has led to a federal cyber-squatting lawsuit by Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman against domain name registrar Dotster.

Im not surprised. When I wrote about Dotsters involvement with the theft of the domain name, I noted that they had such professional names as and for sale on their home page. They are probably named as the target in the lawsuit, as opposed to the actual owner of the domain because the domains are registered privately. The suit also accuses Dotster of responsibility for the situation simply for ignoring the close resemblance to the trademarks (such as

While Im leery of Dotster and other players in the domain industry who have grown fat off of this and other abuses of the domain registration process, its also true that registrars cant do much about Domain Tasting, since Create Grace Period is mandated by ICANN. Of course, all sorts of rules are also mandated by ICANN and widely broken by speculators, such as the requirement to use only accurate information in the contact fields.

Whenever I write on this subject, I get a few e-mails from speculators who fancy themselves the equivalent of real estate developers. They flatter themselves. Domain speculators, even to the extent that they dont infringe on other peoples trademarks, exploit a hole in the registration process at little or no cost, remove large numbers of domains from the open market and add no value to them. This cant be in the public interest, and its up to ICANN to take measures to alleviate the situation.

Create Grace Period, at least as implemented, is obviously a big mistake and needs to be corrected quickly. There may be some middle ground, such as a smaller registry fee for withdrawn names, but Im beginning to wonder. In the past, Ive criticized ICANN and Verisign for the growth of registry fees; maybe the answer is higher registry fees and, with them, higher domain name costs. That might put a monkey wrench in the economics of domain speculation.

Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983. He can be reached at Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest security news, reviews and analysis. And for insights on security coverage around the Web, take a look at Security Center Editor Larry Seltzers Weblog.
Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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