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Domain Frontrunning: A Ghost In The Machine

ICANN finds no evidence of existence

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The domain frontrunning issue isn’t exactly an open-and-shut case. In fact, it’s more like an X-Files case. ICANN can’t find evidence the practice really exists, and the one entity who says he has proof won’t provide that proof.

It’s not like enacting policies against ghosts, exactly. You don’t need proof of the existence of frontrunning to enact a policy against it. But in this case, proof might have helped Network Solutions not look so bad.

Last month, NetSol came under fire for automatically registering domains that customers had searched for on their site and then jacking up the price of the domains for a four-day period. NetSol defended the practice as protection against frontrunning, which is the practice of registering a domain someone is searching for and then jacking up the price.

At least NetSol’s protection fee was a set price, $34.99 for four days worth of protection, just until they could return the domain within ICANN’s grace period.

News of the Network Solutions controversy came to light just as ICANN’s Security and Stability Advisory Committee (SSAC) was closing a study on frontrunning. Instead of helping NetSol’s case, the findings of the study hurt it a bit. SSAC found no evidence of frontrunning in the 120 complaints submitted.

SSAC explained that in most cases people only thought they were original. But in a world of 6 billion people, originality is officially an illusion. Just because somebody steals your domain name, it doesn’t mean you’re all that clever.

Steve Crocker, chairman of SSAC Steve Crocker,
chairman of SSAC

"25% we judged to be highly sought-after names," said Steve Crocker, chairman of SSAC, "and so while somebody thought that just because they asked for it, somebody must have jumped in front of them, it was the kind of name that one could predict from regular traffic that it would be caught up very rapidly….And we encountered zero cases that were clear cases of front running."

In fact, three-quarters of the cases they looked at appeared to be "tasting and secondary market activities." "It does not look like there is an active front-running activity."

A fifth of the plaintiffs didn’t supply enough information to investigate, and a tenth simply had let their registration lapse. Crocker did acknowledge a lack of trust in the domain marketplace due to the idea of front running and a host of other unsavory practices like domain tasting.

That’s not to say frontrunning doesn’t happen, only that SSAC could find no evidence that it did. This puts NetSol in a rather awkward position, considering the registrar based its whole frontrunning protection service on the existence of frontrunning.

Network Solutions’ Jon Nevett spoke at the meeting, saying that frontrunning certainly did exist, and they had evidence that it did. But when asked to provide that evidence, Nevett refused based on confidentiality agreements with clients. 

"We have enough customer information that we researched," said Nevett, "and we have had conversations that were done under confidentiality agreements that I can’t specifically talk about.  But yes, we were comfortable enough that the front running existed and comfortable enough to take this action."

He also disagreed with the notion that there was no originality in domain searches. "So we did a study of all the names that were reserved and then purchased during that four-day period, and over 90% of the searched names were purchased by the same customer."

Jay Daley, CTO of Nominet Jay Daley,
CTO of Nominet

Jay Daley, CTO of Nominet, remained skeptical and didn’t hide it. "But if you don’t share the data, nobody’s going to believe you. I mean, if you have that data there of provable front-running, if you have a video, CCTV, a man sitting there, that man is front-running, great. We need to see it. Because we have done extensive searches through our registry, through every single complaint, and there is not a single case of front-running we can prove.

"My view on it is that the world is just much smaller than people believe that the world is and that the same stimuli affect all of us, and there are so many people looking for good names, there’s just too many coincidences."

At this point it’s like listening to a person who believes in ghosts argue with a person who doesn’t. Nevett didn’t let up, either, asking Daley to explain how customers would be approached after searching for a domain and offered the domain at an inflated price.

Daley, a good scientist, asked for Nevitt to give him the information necessary for him to find out, which, obviously, wasn’t going to happen.

What everybody did seem to agree on without evidence: If frontrunning is going on, information necessary for it to happen is somehow leaking from registrars or ISPs. 

Domain Frontrunning: A Ghost In The Machine
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  • http://www.mediaviper.com Clint Dixon

    Haha

    SSAC is full of crap.

    Last month I picked up a ton of domains without giving the thieves a chance to grab them.

    Premium keyword terms that will seal my top google rankings for concert tickets and ring tones markets I am now moving into.

    an example of these from a while ago

    lasikeyesurgery.com, buyflips.net, adsenseoffers.com

    like taking candy from a baby and the big shots never see me grabbing them.

    I never do a search for the term till I am ready to toss it in the cart and secure the purchase.

    Trust nobody and take no quarter…..

     

     

     

     

     

    • Guest

      That is how I finally purchased the domain I wanted for the price advertised.  I did not search for it or check to see if it was availbale, I just bought it.  wonders of wonders, it was mine!

      The checking for availability is how they snag it from you!

    • http://www.chantillylaceinn.com Guest

      Interesting – I will keep this in mind when purchasing.

    • Guest

      lasikeyesurgery.com – you don’t own and haven’t owned

      buyflips.net – not woth reg fees

      adsenseoffers.com – TRADEMARK proplems & you don’t own this one either

      You’re getting by the big shots because you’re buying names that are worthless.

      Keep plugging away – your registrar loves you!

  • Fozzy

    It’s odd.

    When you look at purchasing Airline or Concert tickets, often (at some point) those tickets are removed from the electronic circulation for a matter of a few minutes, while you decide on what you want to do with your transaction.

    That is a pratice to prevent others from purchasing said tickets while you’re (slowly) finishing the transaction.  That sounds similar to what’s going on here, except for the underhanded and unethical pratices of….

    1. jacking the price up on you do to
    2. holding the domain name hostage much longer than reasonable expected.

    I’ve got no problem if a similar policy of transaction protection exists that takes the domain off the market for a matter of minutes (5 mins) to give someone slow the chance to type their CC information for the purchase, but jacking up the price?  That’s unethical insider trading like pratices.

    Is it happening?  Of course it is.  You’d have to be naive to say there isn’t *some* company doing this or an underhanded employee working for said company who’s insider trading. 

    However, for the most part I think there’s a lot more companies out there who are not doing this and a lot of complaints are simply like the article states, misunderstandings.  Your favorite domain name isn’t there *not* because someone stole it from under your nose, but because someone thought of it a long time before you did.

    Cheers,
    Fozzy

  • C Gaytan

    5 year ago I tried to purchase several different domain names.  I was told they were available but by the time I went to check-out they were unavailable.  So I went and entered them into my browser and was told they were not in use.  Tried them again five days later and was told they were available to purchase.  I immediately bought the one I wanted most.  When I went for the other 4 they were not available again.  They are not in use to this day, but they are available for purchase.  No one ever launched a web site with any of the 4 names I wanted to purchase.

    And someone wants proof that front running actually happens?  Give me a break.  It has been going on since the dawn of the internet.

    • Beverley

      On a lighter note!

      I am a web Designer. It still amazes me that after 5 years of NOT USING NETWORK SOLUTIONS and their rediculous prices for Domain registrations, they STILL send out renewals for the domains I transferred  away FROM THEM to the OWNERS of the domains. 

      The owners think it’s a LEGITIMATE renewal and pay it without even realizing that NETSOL had no right to their information or their address in order to send them that renewal.  They DON’T hold the domain names and have no right to offer to do so.

      What is this type of business scamming called?

       

       

       

  • http://www.chantillylaceinn.com Guest

    Hi Jason:

    I am learning so much about SEO – particularly from your articles.  I appreciate the easy reads.  My question, is there a book or on-line class you recommend I can buy/read?

    I own an overnight lodging in Eureka Springs, Arkansas but I also know HOW IMPORTANT my webiste is to bring me the business I need to stay viable. 

    I am pretty much self taught and pay for AdWords to help me.  I am struggling with back links because I know they need to be relevant to my business.  Nonetheless, if you have a recommendation, I would really appreciate it.

    Thank you!!!

    Susane Gruning

     

  • Victor Ouellette

    I did a search on GoDaddy on my own name DrOuellette on or around my birthday last year, July 27. I was going to give myself a birthday present. Two weeks late I tried to register but, this Robert Leverton fellow had bought my name on August 7 and was willing to sell it to me for about $100, if I recall correctly.

    I would never use GoDadday again for any domain searches. I think GODaddy sold my name to this Leverton fellow.

    I’ll bet if you check out this Robert Leverton fellow you will find he owns a lot of names. Of course, he would probably think that his tactics are just good business procedures. I think it is called corruption.

  • http://www.giselagiardino.com.ar Gisela Giardino

    It´s so true. FRONTRUNNING IS GOING ON. I didn´t know that the practice even had a name: "frontrunning". It happened with my name. I am a web designer and my website is giselagiardino.com.ar, one day I decided to finally purchase the .com domain, just to have it, because each time I went to godaddy to register something for a client, as my account has my name, the "suggested" automatically to get that domain.

    Alright. One night I took it. Until the checkout, when I couldn´t solve a problem with the creditcard and the trasaction was lost. The other day, less that 24hs after that I came back with another card. The domain had been registered! (when for years they had "suggested" me about it, because it was available). I wrote to them to complain, I was furious. They washed their hands one time over another. They said they were not responsible, they could do nothing about it, blah blah…

    I waited till the domain registration expired the next year to register it, I wouldn´t, by no means, have tried to "negotiate" to get it with those thieves.  

    So, that thing mentioned in the article, that Jay Daley say about a "small world of coincidences" is a lie. There´s is no coincidence here. It waws my name and no one ever had registered it until I made the search and almost concrete the purchase.

    This "practice" (stealth stealing) suck, and people who try to disguise it using silly aurguments suck even more. 

  • Guest

    I got a taste of NetSol’s practices about a month ago. I was meeting with a client and we did a search on NetSol. About a week later, after the client decided to go with us and had signed all the paperwork, when we tried to register with our registrar (not NetSol) we discovered that the name was unavailable and had been registered by NetSol the same day we had searched it. When I searched in NetSol the name came up as available. I found that I could pruchase it from NetSol for $34.99. Puzzled, I called NetSol to find out what was going on here since I doubted it was a coincidence they happened to register the same name I was searching on their site on the same day I searched it. I was told the blah, blah frontrunning protection blah, blah story. I said I’m not interested in registering the name with them (that we use a different registrar) and the guy offered to release it. I was able to buy it from our usual registrar at an uninflated price. However, how many end-users don’t realize they can ask to have it released? How many just go ahead and buy it from NetSol? I think it is unethical at best and crimial at worst.

  • andy

    IT happens, when i come up with a new name and then check and it is free and the i go to redgister it and it is taken (with in 60 to 90 seconds) IT HAPPENS godaddy.com , cheapnames, mydomaine, it happens!!!

    • http://www.nitenet.net/PHPizabi Leslie Posey

      This has happened to me several times

      I have no movies of it just on hands experience

      web pro why dont you run a front page for this subject

      do some tests and expose the ones doing it

      then send out a news about your findings

      I think i will do the same on my sitehttp://www.nitenet.net/wbnews/examples/example_rss.php

      expose the truth GUYS

       

       

  • http://www.russian-fairytale.com Paul McCormack

    I dont search for the name in case someone "SNAKES’ it from me before I can buy it. Whether the practise of frontrunning exists or not doesnt factor into it for me. TRUST NOONE.

    Business is business. If you have a domain that you want, tell noone & dont search for it until you are ready to buy.

     

    Forwarned is forarmed

  • Dude

    It;s  not limited to Network Soultions.   Looked up a few names to see if they were available, next day they where gone.  Bought by DOMAINDOORMAN, LLC.

  • http://www.lotzofgifts.com Furdadz

    Here’s the thing. Network Solutions is 1 of a few registrars that charge a premium for their domains, and their new protection method is not front running it’s just common sense. Say you own a clothing store, a customer comes browses through your clothes, tries them on, and then goes next door to your competitor to buy the same thing they just shopped for at your store. It’s the same thing with the protection measure. Network Solutions is protecting their shop from browsers and people just using their resources. Let me ask you this why would you search for a domain at Network Solutions and then buy it at a discount place? The reason is network solutions is the safest name in the business. You can trust them rather than the shady discount place that you never heard of that offers it for 1.99. I know network solutions is expensive however you get what you pay for. So I guess the point is if you don’t want to deal with it, search some please else. It pisses me off how people complain about it, when if they were in network solutions shoes they would do the same thing protecting their business. If you search for a domain on their site you are using their servers, their resources, and it’s probably costing them something (no matter how small of an amount) for you to search there. So I guess the point is if you don’t like it don’t use their site don’t wine like a baby cause you can’t trust the discount place. Use the shady place you never heard of that crawls their site and buys the domains you don’t. So you get what you pay for. Personally I use network solutions for my domains. I started off with them because they are reputable and I know that if I have a question someone will be there to answer my stupid questions. Recently I searched for a domain there and they locked it. They told me that they didn’t buy it they just placed a 4 day hold on it so incase I wanted to buy it I could. Being that I am their customer I appreciate that. If I would have searched for it on another site and not bought it then and there someone else “meaning that registrar” would have bought it. It’s happened to me before. I did a search on my last name on a discount site. I was going to buy it but because I held off on it cause the place was a crap whole I lost it. They registered it and I had to settle for the .net version. So think of this when you look for your next domain and make the choice for yourself, and by the way the domain I looked for it’s now available for the general public to register any ware.

    • Victor Ouellette

      Excuse me Mr. Furdadz, but your logic is not logic it is what is called a Red Herring to throw people off track. Lets review. If I go into a clothing store and LOOK at a T shirt then put it down and go into another store then I cannot look at that same T shirt. If we make the analogy that there is only  ONE of those T shirts in existence, but it can be bought at an any store and that store will get it for me, then we have the correct analogy. Now I go into Networks Solutions and LOOK at their T shirt. Then I go into Best Buy and decide to buy that very T shirt I looked at in Network solutions. However, network Solutions SAW me LOOK at the T shirt and thus, knew I was interested. Then THEY buy that very same T shirt and offer to sell it to me for 3 or 4 times the cost. That is not good business it is corruption. It is how that store gets a bad name. It is corruption pure and simple and would not be tolerated in any retail store.

  • Victor Ouellette

    In our society We function on the principle that people OWN their ideas. That is what copyrighting is all about. Once you write it, you own it. This domain name stuff should be the same way, but obviously unscrupulous people have infiltrated these companies that regulate the naming system. There just isn’t any defence for frontrunning. I think, if I recall correctly, a President of the US once said “I am not a crook.” Ah, but he was. These companies likewise. A person should have the right to their own name.

  • http://www.theghosttracker.org brett bode / TheGhosttracker.org

    i’ve never heard of frontrunningand am glad you posted the article about it. i came home a couple of weeks ago and went to my site to see how many hits ive got while i was out. to my suprise all i found was my domain parked on a site i had nothing to do with. turns out my domain had expired and someone instantly registered it. i was never notified of my domain expiring and now had to purchase a .org and start over. when i contacted the new owners of theghosttracker.com they told me that i could have it back for $150.00..WTF these assholes need to be stopped! THANKS FOR SHEDDING NEW LIGHT ON WHAT HAPPENED TO ME!

    your friend!

     

    brett bode

    theghosttracker.org

  • Kate

    I also have never heard of "frontrunning" (and I’ve been running websites since the mid 1990s). And there’s nothing more annoying than articles which discuss some obscure topic and take it for granted that everyone knows what is being talked about.

     

    • http://www.pci-express.info/ Olin Coles

      Just last week I was shopping for new domains to use for expansion projects to an existing site.  My host doesn’t offer a bulk search option, so I used Network Solutions.  After discovering three very clever .com names available, I went back to my host so I could register them.  To my complete surprise, all three were now registered to Network Solutions… but were available for sale!

      That sure seems like clear-cut front running to me, just on a four day level.  Burn in hell Network Solutions!

  • http://www.cosmiccostumes.com Guest

    Absolutely, it happens constantly. I have hundreds of domains for my business. Never, ever, ever do a search unless you plan on buying at that very momnet. By the next day, sometimes hours later, it will be gone. The weird thing is, some times, if you wait exactly 1 yr. it is mysteriously available again. So don’t tell me it doesn’t exist. The truth is out there and somebody is cashing in. 

  • http://www.nameregistration.com.au BareFootTech

    One issue seems to have been missed in this discussion.

    Why would anyone pay netsol their regular regfee let alone the inflated  price for the domains. You can actually register / check / renew at one of the Thousands of over registrars/resellers that DON’t frontrun and are actually glad to have you as their customer.   In Australia ,Where I am based  , Frontrunning is illegal under our "restrictive trade practice" & "privacy" Laws. My reseller site www.NameRegistration.com.au doesn’t record any WHOIS search Data.

    One possible solution  to NetSol’s practise is to have an  array of automated Bots check for  millions of randomly generated extra long names.   NetSol ‘s system will soon be clogged with lot’s of useless names.

     

  • http://www.glinn.com KeyWestDan

    If there is a domain I want and am not going to purchase immediately, I will not use a registrar to do a search. I will first see if there is a domain with the name using my browser, and if not, then I will do a WHOIS on it.

    If I am searching for domains at the registrar I am always prepared to register them immediately. I used NelSol once upon a time, but not for years though still have a few domains there. I use godaddy, basicreg and yahoo and have never had a domain go unavailable once I put it into my shopping cart.

    I have been registering names since the beginning and had 3 character domain names. Those went with my ISP when I sold it. 

    What is funny though, is that I have so many names that sometimes the idea or concept doesn’t work or the site doesn’t get developed for some other reason. It has had no traffic. So I let it expire and of course some spectulator immediately snaps it up. Ho ho, it is worthless.

     

  • http://www.escv.com Robert M Gardner

    I have caught both NetSol and GoDaddy doing this. Sometimes my clients like ot take the time to see what is available before asking us to register the domain for them. 

    I have personally caught both registrars doing it and the result was that the domain could ONLY be registered by them. When doing a search at any other registrar showed the domain was already taken, but a search on their domains shows it aailabe – thus almost forcing the end user to use that registrar.

    I CALL THIS UNFAIR BUSINESS PRACTIE AND HAVE FILES A COMPLAINT WITH ICANN and plan in filing one with the FTC as well.

    IF YOU WANT THIS TO STOP – jump on board and start filing complaints to the FTC and calling them as well. If they get enough complaints they will by-pass the discussions ICANN is having and look into this as an unfair business practice an make it illegal.

    YOU HAVE TO DO YOU PART TO STOP THIS!

  • JB

    This happens not only with domains.

    Our phone company has a website to check if DSL is available on a specific phone number. (not all exchanges in our rural area have DSL available).  A few days later, they phone to sell you DSL service.

    I don’t really mind if some business person buys up sensible/popular domains (with names of current events, movie stars, etc).  That is just like buying property in a good part of town.  The problem is if my real-estate broker shows me a property, knows I am interested, and buys the property so they can sell it to me for a higher price. 

    Just as other types of agents are bound (stock, real-estate, travel, etc), there should be (maybe already is) legislation that they act in trust/good-faith for their clients as they are given privileged access to domain ownership.  Then, all that remains is to prosecute those who are actually performing insider trading against the regulations.

    They locked up Martha Stewart with a lot less evidence and for only a single transaction (in the stock trading world).  If these domain registration companies have automated the process and made it policy, then the entire board of directors can and should be jailed.

    A good business climate exists because we have laws to protect the smooth and legal functioning of our transactions.  Once there is corruption, business will suffer, and we will all pay in the long term.

    JB.

     

     

     

  • http://www.impossiblemachine.com E Terrapin

    A more obvious definition of frontrunning is the absence of valuable websites to the everyday user.

    Eucaleh

  • Guest

    It’s not rocket science. 

    When a company is given the privilege of being a registrar there are certain conditions in an agreement with ICANN.  If any of these are being broken/breeched, then a complaint can be filed.

    Perhaps there is no "rule" against this, so ICANN should be petitioned to put that rule in place – THEN we could file a complaint when the rule is broken.

    Take a look at the Registrar Accreditation Agreement. (http://www.icann.org/registrars/ra-agreement-17may01.htm)

    If you don’t like the current regulations, there is a project underway to update the agreement.  (http://www.icann.org/topics/raa/)

    Don’t be an idiot and expect ICANN to figure out why xyz wont work on your site or why somebody else got a better deal than you, this is about updating the registrar contract for the future.

    If you want to participate, then send a very clear and concise comment of what you would like to have added to the agreement.  Presumably you (in this forum) would like a specific regulation that "accredited registrars may not register or reserve unregistered domains that have been referenced in any way through their business with an exception of no more than 15 minutes to allow payment processing once a potential client has indicated they wish to register the domain.

    This would allow them to reserve it during payment processing.  Alternatively, if the name is mentioned in any business dealings of that company, either by searching on their website, using their whois, phone support, failed order, etc, its is then instantly off-limits to the registrar.

    This would prevent registrars from being in competition with the people they are supposed to be serving and is the same a legislation within other industries.  If they want to get into domain brokering business, then start another, seperate business.