New Policy Aims to Curb Web Site Name Abuse

By Brian Krebs Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 30, 2008; 2:01 PM

Consumers and businesses may soon find it easier to register an attractive Web site name, now that the nonprofit organization that oversees the global domain name system has agreed to a policy change.

In a meeting last week, board members of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers voted unanimously to make the Web site name registration process more expensive for "domain tasters," who take advantage of loopholes in the process to register -- and profit from -- millions of domain names without paying for them.

Under the current rules, domain registrars have up to five days to sample domains before committing to purchase them, typically at a cost of around $6.25 per domain. An additional 20-cent surcharge per domain goes to ICANN, but the group has always refunded that fee if the registrar failed to purchase the domain within five days of claiming it.

Until now. The new policy would not refund the 20-cent fee.

The idea behind the so-called "add grace period" was to allow people who made a spelling or other mistake to get their money back and return the domain. But some registrars have built their entire business around abusing that well-intentioned policy, snatching up millions of domains at a time and only paying for and registering a tiny fraction of them that earn enough money through pay-per-click advertising traffic to justify the registration cost.

John Levine, former member of ICANN at-large advisory committee and author of "The Internet for Dummies," hailed the board's decision, calling it a win for consumers and businesses who are merely looking to register a decent domain name.

"What domain tasting means is that at any one time there are millions of domains that are not really registered but not really available either," he said.

Levin said he believes the policy change will, once implemented at the registrar, effectively kill the domain tasting business.

"Remember, most tasters only keep about one domain for 100,000 they taste, but until now the tasting cost them nothing," Levin said.

Using Levin's example of 100,000 domains bought in bulk, tasters would lose 20 cents on every domain they taste but do not register. That means the cost of that transaction could suddenly jump from the cost of the single domain name they may decide to keep, to $20,000.

To date, most domain tasting abuses have been committed by a relatively small number of registrars. According to VeriSign, which manages the dot-com registry, the top 10 domain tasting registrars deleted more than 45.4 million domain names out of a total 47.8 million total deletes for all of dot-com and dot-net domains deleted in January 2007.

"It will kill domain tasting because this is a practice that is predicated on the ability to get rid of a vast majority of the [registration] fees for free, and tasters aren't going to be able to get rid of the loser domains for free anymore," Levin said.

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