I’ve tried to be charitable to Verisign in my reading of Site-Finder-gate. Even then it seems quite clear that they were deep within the grey areas of their contract with ICANN, and that they knowingly acted against the spirit of the Internet that they’d been entrusted to build. That said, I respect the hustle — Verisign were, and continue to be, a publicly traded company with a responsibility to deliver value to their shareholders, and this quasi-bait-and-switch was a pretty inspired way to do it.
Just days after Verisign launched the Site Finder Service, ICANN wrote a strongly worded letter ordering them to disable it. Verisign complied, but not without writing a strongly worded letter of their own, in the form of a lawsuit. Verisign argued that ICANN overstepped their bounds in trying to control their activities, and ICANN argued… that Verisign overstepped their bounds in performing those activities.
When you type google.com into your browser, the domain is split into parts by the “dot”, from right to left. The first part is “com”, so your computer checks the root zone file to see which registry manages the .com TLD. It then checks with this registry to see where the next part, “google”, points to. The registry returns the IP address 18.104.22.168, and your computer can then ask Google to send their homepage over.
The dispute was over the innocently-named Site Finder Service, launched by Verisign in 2003. With traffic to every .com domain going through Verisign, the Site Finder Service redirected anyone accessing an unregistered domain (via a typo, for example) to a Verisign website with sponsored links. The company argued that this was more useful to Internet users than seeing a generic error page. Whatever their reasoning, this made Verisign the de-facto owner of every unregistered domain (what else does it mean to own a domain?), and skyrocketed them from 2,500th into the top 10 most visited websites. The best part? Verisign launched this without running it past anyone.
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