February 19, 2009

New Low! Network Solutions Now Selling Ads on WHOIS

Greetings. I had to perform a WHOIS domain search a few minutes ago. Since it led to a dot-com address hosted at Network Solutions I didn't necessarily expect to find much of value. As you may recall, Network Solutions routinely claims all manner of rights and restrictions over WHOIS use. They also constantly are pushing private registrations in a manner that morphed from a legitimate service for occasional use into a routine haven for spammers and phishers, and a risk to network stability.

But never mind all that for now. I accessed WHOIS through my local command line interface, since I just wanted whatever facts were available, not all the decorations. Imagine my surprise when I was greeted with what amounted to a "This Space Available For Rent!" promotion along with the listing.

I can't find the exact date that this got started, but I haven't heard anyone mention this before -- and the press release I dug up looks very new. Given the volume of WHOIS searches I do, I'm sure I would have noticed this earlier if it hadn't just gotten going.

Network Solutions has turned WHOIS into their own creepy version of the "Yellow Pages" directory. Here's what I actually found stuffed in the middle of current WHOIS listings:

Promote your business to millions of viewers for only $1 a month
Learn how you can get an Enhanced Business Listing here for your domain name.
Learn more at http://www.NetworkSolutions.com/

The actual Network Solutions Press Release makes it clear that NetSol now considers WHOIS to be a "value proposition" that they've transformed from its traditional role "which has no marketing value." Oh, by the way -- take a look at the actual URL for the press release -- see the funny characters in there? NetSol stuck a "registered trademark" character after their name in the URL! Isn't that just too cute? And the URL won't work if you remove the mark -- I just checked.

In fact, they're actually pushing both their ad service and private registrations at the same time -- suggesting that you can hide your administrative address from the public but still promote your business! I kid you not.

I won't belabor this here, except for one point, one question, and a thought.

First, the continuing pattern of WHOIS mutations is an utter perversion of what WHOIS is supposed to be, and is putting key information critical to the continued stable operation of the Internet, and protection of consumers, more and more out of reach.

And secondly -- I'd appreciate it if someone with a deeper understanding of the contractual relationships between NetSol (and other registrars for that matter),
ICANN, and the Department of Commerce would confirm for me that Network Solutions' deployment of this service is entirely within the bounds of legality. In fact, let's apply this test to all registrars and their handling of WHOIS, not just NetSol.

Finally, as a thought experiment, if NetSol's latest ploy is legal, what can we do to change that state of affairs or otherwise get WHOIS back onto the track of being an open and free, useful and accurate resource for the global Internet community -- not a cash cow being promoted as a cloak for the unscrupulous.

Enough is enough of WHOIS exploitation.


Posted by Lauren at February 19, 2009 04:35 PM | Permalink
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