Some weeks ago, ICANN published information about a practice called "Domain Name Front Running". We covered the subject in Domaines.Info.
What is DN Front Running? Simply put, it's the notion that when a prospective domain name registrant does an availability search on a domain name without actually registering it, a third party is able to somehow intercept the search and register the name for itself.
This has been the naming industry's Loch Ness monster for years. An urban legend that no-one's actually ever been able to prove.
Pretty much ever since we started INDOM, I've had people ask me if searches done through our search engine could be "caught". Let me repeat here was I've always told people: INDOM's search engine is not screened. It deals with each search request in real-time by connecting to the relevant registry directly.
I also remind people that access to our search engine is free and you don't have to log on to use it. But for those who are still worried, I point out that they can also use the search engine after they've logged on as an authenticated INDOM customer. Just create a customer account (it's free, quick and you don't need to buy anything) and get the added security of searching through a secure, private, interface – the customer account you've just created!
We're not the only ones who've had to put people's mind at ease over Front Running. Nearly every other registrar I've ever talked to about this agrees that, even though they've never been able to identify a clear case of it, they've certainly had to reassure customers about it.
Anyway, if people are worried about Front Running in the first place, then the topic should be investigated. There's nothing worse than an unproven rumour, a crocodile in the sewer that everyone "knows" about, but no-one's actually seen.
So I was very happy, towards the end of last year, to see ICANN taking a closer look.
So far, there's hasn't been any… until the company that used to hold the monopoly on .COM, Network Solutions, decided to provide some.
The naming community is up in arms after a story came out that Netsol actually Front Run themselves! Proof was provided that if a name is searched for using Netsol's website but not registered, Netsol register it themselves immediately. Netsol have admitted this. NetSol's VP and Chief Policy Counsel Jon Nevett, (I know Jon personally as he's also the chair of ICANN's registrar constituency, of which INDOM is a member, and he strikes me as being an honest and fair person), told our friends at DomainNews.com that the system was meant as a "security measure to protect our customers."
In my view, they were doing exactly what they should be doing as the Internet's technical guardian: keeping an open mind, evaluating it using science rather than superstition, and calling on the community for hard evidence.
Now I'm going out on a limb here, and I'm prepared to be lambasted by the cynics out there, I actually believe this was done with the best intentions. But I do agree that the net result is disastrous. I wouldn't be surprised if no-one searched for a domain name through NetSol's site ever again… Perhaps if they'd given people the choice, or at least told them that's what they were doing, this would have been considered as a service rather than an abuse everyone's freedom of choice.