Reforming the DisGrace Period

Another step has been taken on the long, plodding path to maybe addressing the problem of Domain Tasting. 

ICANN GNSO has been studying the problem of Domain Tasting for months now in their usual thorough manner. I wrote about the study several months ago and said I expected no prompt action. They have gotten to the point of issuing an initial report. This report discusses the input received by the GNSO during the study.

Domain tasting is the practice of scamming the AGP or "Add Grace Period," which is a five-day window after the registration or "Adding" of a domain. A registrar can allow a registrant to "undo" the registration in that time period.

The intent is to allow mistakes to be corrected, but tasters use the AGP to "monetize" the domains in that time period. If the returns on the domain are promising they can allow it to stand and add it to their domain portfolio. If not, they can delete the registration.

As the report notes "...domain tasting makes up the majority of domain transactions today..." (actually, it attributed this statement to the arguments of the BC or "Business and Commercial Users' Constituency," one of the interest groups providing input to the report. This is shocking in a way, but I've seen numbers before that imply it.) The BC also points out that Domain Tasting has succeeded in growing the overall domain market, and this too is a reasonable claim.

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Domain tasters sometimes steal your whois domain lookup requests in order to get names to register.

Click here

to read more.

This added growth makes domain tasting in the interest of the registries, especially VeriSign. Even though the registries end up canceling many more domains than the register through domain tasting, their margin on actual registrations is so large that they can afford to eat many tasting transactions, the marginal cost of which is just about nothing to them, in order to get several dollars a year of registry fees for the occasional new domain.

The registries themselves or at least the registries for gTLDs—which are the TLDs like .com, .org, .and losers like .museum, anything that's not a country code—are another constituency, the RyC or gTLD Registry Constituency. They aren't opposing action, but they are urging that no stone be left unturned in the study of the matter before action is taken, and that action be as minimal and non-intrusive as possible.

In other words, they're trying to stall so that they can milk whatever money they can out of domain tasting before the gravy train pulls into the station.

The IPC (Intellectual Property Interests Constituency) complains, as one would expect them to and as is obviously the case, that domain tasting facilitates typosquatting and other schemes to skirt the letter and spirit of intellectual property laws. They also point out, as I have many times in the past, that smaller companies and individuals whose interests are harmed in this way don't have the resources to mount a UDRP proceeding to protect their property.

Thanks also to the IPC for pointing out that normal users are harmed by the proliferation of false hits in search engine results because of the large number of phony domains being used.

The ICANN ALAC (At Large Advisory Committee) also weighed in, unambiguously, against domain tasting. The ALAC's job is to advocate at ICANN for the interests of ordinary individual Internet users. ALAC is concerned about the confidence of users in the DNS with so many suspicious domains, and also for its long-term stability. I'm more impressed by their more general arguments that it's inappropriate and harmful and should be eliminated.

The NCUC, or Non-Commercial Users Constituency, which represents "civil society organizations," shares the concerns of many other constituencies, including the concern for trademark infringement. They seem to be put off by the fact that Domain Tasting is used largely to game the system, and suggest that a modest restocking fee would address the problem by ending the free ride.

I've made the same suggestion for quite a while and pointed out that many registry agreements with ICANN allow the registries to impose this fee unilaterally, as PIR (Public Interest Registry), the registry for .ORG, has already begun to do.

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Three years ago a prominent domain name was stolen, revealing huge flaws in the domain registration system.

Click here

to read more.

Finally, the ISPC, or Internet Service Providers and Connectivity Providers Constituency, complains about the support calls they get because of domain tasting and the extra strain it puts on their DNS servers.

In lieu of the restocking fee, many constituencies argued that perhaps the portion of a registration which goes to ICANN, 20 cents USD, should be retained even in the case of a delete. Twenty cents per domain would probably be enough to kill off the vast majority of tasting. Speculators would have to be more picky about names they register.

If this is an easy way to effect real change, then I'm for it, but I don't see any reason to believe this will happen quickly. In fact—and I hope I'm wrong about this—I think this time in 2009 we can expect the state of affairs to be much the same, although much further study will have been done. The ICANN fee retention idea, in the end, won't happen, because only ICANN makes money off of it. Some scheme will have to be devised that buys off the registries.

But how can anyone without a direct interest in the perpetuation of tasting argue against the removal of the Add Grace Period? Obviously it is rarely, if ever, used for its intended purpose; it exists to be abused, and ample evidence exists to demonstrate this.

Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983.

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