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 panix.com domain name, I noted that they had such professional names as killbush.com and hairyarmpits.net 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 nehmanmarcus.com).
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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