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[  Your Web Site  ]

The Domain Game....
April 8. 2000
By John Ford

In recent months, there have been a number of stories of disturbing irregularities in the way the domain name registration process is being handled by several major ISPs.

In one case, a British provider has been accused of logging searches for available domain names and then secretly purchasing potentially-profitable names before users have time to register them.

Many major ISPs, hosting services and web consultants provide forms which make it an easy matter for users to check Internic databases to determine if a given domain has been registered.

Nearly all web sites store this information in one way or another, generally in server log files which store all such requests made to a web site. This means a web site operator has almost instantaneous access to any information processed using a form.

The recent case came to light when a British man noticed that a domain name that had been available the night before was taken when he tried to register it the next morning. Out of curiosity, the man checked Internic records and found the domain name registered to the ISP he had used to run the search. Suspicious about the coincidence, the man later submitted a series of domain names using the ISP's service.

All were registered to the provider within twenty-four hours of his search. The outraged man posted his story to Usenet, prompting a series of similar charges from other users.

While such practices are not technically illegal either in the United Kingdom or in the United States, they represent an ethical dilemma for Internet Service Providers.

The escalating value of domain names presents a real temptation for some, especially to smaller ISPs and web consultants, many of whom are struggling for survival in an industry dominated by larger players.

The case also raises general questions about the confidentiality of the information users submit through web-based forms. Many web sites offer similar services, employing forms to offer a wide variety of services, ranging from medical advice to advice on securing a low-interest home loan, creating an obvious potential for abuse.

With legislators hesitant to make any laws which might affect the remarkable growth of the Internet economy, the responsibility for regulating such practices falls on the industry itself - a sensitive issue the industry has proven by and large unwilling to confront.

The lesson for Internet users?

Unless a web site specifically states information you submit using a form will be kept confidential, you should assume any information you input will be treated as though it is in the public domain.

And the safest method of registering your domain name?

Go directly to the source - don't rely on a middleman. Use an authorized registrar like Network Solutions or



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