Chutzpah

posted 16 September 2003

As of this morning, there is no such thing as a "domain name not found" message, at least for .com and .net addresses. Verisign, the company in charge of administering these top-level domains, has pointed all the unoccupied domain names in the world to their new search engine, complete with sponsored links. This is BIG. This is a change to the way the web works, and in the way people expect to use the web. It is also a HUGE commercial opportunity for Verisign: how many times a day do you think people mis-type a domain name? Well, now they get that many hits.

Of course, who it'll really piss off is Microsoft. Since version 5, Internet Explorer's default behaviour when it can't find a domain name has been to redirect the user's browser to MSN search -- this has had the effect of making MSN one of the biggest search engines. As of this morning, Internet explorer will not get "domain not found" errors -- they'll get Verisign's new site. So MSN's traffic will have just fallen through the floor.

The balls Verisign have to even consider hijacking, let me remind you, ALL THE UNREGISTERED .COM ADDRESSES IN THE WORLD, is just staggering. It's like waking up in the morning to discover the government have paved over the countryside. Side effects of this move include:

  • You agree to their terms of service simply by visiting their site. You visit their site by making a mistake. Verisign are forcing you to enter into a legal agreement by accident. That's illegal in, well, everywhere.
  • It breaks spam filters. Many anti-spam and anti-virus services check the e-mail comes from a valid domain name as a simple way of blocking fake e-mail. Now there's no such thing as an unregistered domain anymore, these services will fail.
  • It breaks the DNS standard. It's not even supposed to be technically possible to do what Verisign are doing; they have modified their software to allow it. Since they have an obligation to provide a DNS service, and what they are providing is no longer technically the DNS standard, it is again illegal.
  • All e-mail sent to non-existent domains goes to them. They don't even have to do this, but are doing it anyway. All e-mail sent to non-existent domains will go through Verisign's servers, where they will be able to store the messages, harvest e-mail addresses, or whatever else they fancy.
  • There are any number of other technical problems caused by this move.

I. Am. So. Angry.

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