ICANN Hears Litany Of Problems Caused By Site Finder - InformationWeek

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Software // Enterprise Applications

ICANN Hears Litany Of Problems Caused By Site Finder

The concerns expressed indicate that VeriSign could have trouble reintroducing the modifications it made weeks ago to the Internet's architecture.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Experts told the Internet's primary oversight body Tuesday of technical problems created when VeriSign Inc.--a controller of most of the world's Web addresses--made changes affecting computer users who mistype the address of some Web sites.

The concerns expressed during the unusual meeting suggest that VeriSign, which manages all addresses ending in ".com" and ".net," could run into difficulty reintroducing the modifications it made weeks ago to the Internet's architecture.

The company agreed last week to temporarily suspend those changes under the threat of legal action from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, an international regulatory body. Tuesday's meeting was organized by the group's committee on Internet stability and security.

VeriSign has launched a campaign to defend its so-called "Site Finder" service, which directs mistyped E-mail and Web-site addresses to a search page it controls. The company acknowledged it activated its new service Sept. 15 without permission from the Internet's oversight body or U.S. government regulators.

VeriSign earns money each time a computer user visits its new search site and clicks on some sponsored links. But it has declined to say how much it expects to earn, citing regulatory restrictions on such disclosures in the weeks before its next public financial filings.

"We as a company absolutely do not want to cause harm. We want to be good citizens," said Charles A. Gomes, a VeriSign vice president. Gomes pledged that VeriSign will give advance notice to Internet users before making future changes but said the company was worried about disclosing sensitive or proprietary corporate secrets.

David Schairer, a vice president at XO Communications Inc., said VeriSign's changes substantially increased the amount of unsolicited E-mails delivered to Internet users, set off alarms at technology firms monitoring for dormant Web sites, caused confusing error messages in some software programs, and steered international surfers to a Web page available only in English.

"It becomes a tax on the Internet," Schairer said. "All of us will see increased support costs, increased network costs. It has become sort of a chronic background hum that we all need to worry about."

VeriSign has argued that the overall stability of the Internet didn't suffer during the three weeks when its service was active and that some other organizations offer similar search services.

"It's proven the fact that the Internet hasn't, in fact, broken," said Russell "Rusty" Lewis, a general manager at VeriSign.

Another expert, Paul Vixie of the Internet Software Consortium, said technical solutions by other companies to resolve some problems associated with Site Finder were "getting down the slippery slope of instability," and he cautioned "this could really turn into a big mess."

In demanding the temporary suspension of the service, ICANN determined that VeriSign's changes "considerably weakened the stability of the Internet."

The Commerce Department, which formally approved the contract with VeriSign to manage many of the world's Web addresses, has not commented publicly on the dispute.

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