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VeriSign shuts down controversial Site Finder

October 6, 2003

VeriSign Inc. says it will suspend its controversial Site Finder service after the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) threatened legal action on Friday.

VeriSign, the directory provider for .com and .net domain names, said it would temporarily turn off the service mere hours after ICANN made its statement that the Mountain View, Calif.-based company should shutter Site Finder. "If VeriSign does not comply with the demand by 6 p.m. PDT (pacific daylight-savings time) on Oct. 4…ICANN will be forced to take the steps necessary to enforce VeriSign’s contractual obligations."

VeriSign agreed to do as told. "We will accede to the request while we explore all of our options," said Russell Lewis, executive vice-president of VeriSign’s naming and directory services group. ICANN said it is responding to complaints that Site Finder, and the technology behind it, makes unstable the Domain Name System (DNS), which is crucial to the Web’s workings.

VeriSign turned on Site Finder in September. If a Web surfer misspells a universal resource locator (URL) in a browser’s address field, he’s directed to the Site Finder page and offered a search function, as well as a list of similar URLs. For example, if the user types "," he’ll come to Site Finder, where he’s presented with another option: "" for Cisco Systems Inc.

VeriSign said Site Finder would prove useful tool for Web surfers. But others, including the Internet Architecture Board, ICANN, and many industry observers, said the service upsets the Web’s underpinnings. They pointed out that Site Finder essentially makes every .com and .net domain name legitimate, which wreaks havoc on programs like spam filters that rely on knowing if a domain name exists or not. Naysayers also said the service adversely affects e-mail transmission, and impedes Web surfing.

"I don’t think the implementation of Site Finder respects the integrity of the DNS (domain name system)," said Jesse Dougherty, Vancouver-based director of development at ActiveState Corp., an antispam firm. VeriSign maintains that Site Finder helps people navigate the Internet.

"There is no data to indicate that the core operation of the Domain Name System or stability of the Internet has been adversely affected" as a result of Site Finder’s implementation, Lewis said. VeriSign has put together a technical review committee that "will assist…in the long-term implementation of Site Finder."

"The next several weeks will be a test as to whether innovation will occur within the Internet infrastructure," Lewis said. "The fact is that while the Internet has been used for innovative purposes over the last decade, the core infrastructure has suffered from lack of innovation.

VeriSign will argue vigorously for innovation because it…has implications for the vitality of the DNS system." Some Internet observers decried Site Finder as an act of hubris on VeriSign’s part. "I absolutely think they should shut it down," said Elliot Noss, CEO of Internet registrar Tucows Inc. in Toronto. "I question their right to do it…The operator of the .com and .net registry should not engage in behaviour like this."

Others, however, were less concerned with the service’s implications. "I can see how if a company makes money on tech support, if they lose an e-mail, that’s an issue for them," said Kam Mohammed, manager of IT at Totten Sims Hubicki Associates, an engineering consulting firm in Whitby, Ont. "We’re not a service like that, so it’s really not a concern for us at this point."

Source: IT World Canada

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