Test Indicates Domain Front Running a Non-Issue
Domain front running is when "insider information" is gathered by a party from monitoring attempts by an Internet user to check the availability of a domain name, and then that info is used to by that party to register that domain name.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) got Internet security guru Ben Edelman to conduct a study on this practice after some concern had been raised. Edelman conducted ten months worth of research, only to find no evidence of this actually happening.
Edelman conducted three rounds of testing with over 600 tests. He formed a list of sites to be tested based on top organic search results (using Google and Bing) for domain-related search terms like "register a domain," "check whether a domain is available," "domain availability," and "get a domain name". He then checked whether each site provided a domain search function, and discarded ones that did not. Further details on the testing strategy can be found here (pdf).
In his report, Edelman says:
My tests offer no evidence of front running. Not one of the domains I requested, in any of the three rounds of testing, was registered during the seven?day period during which availability was checked twice each day. Furthermore, at the time of conclusion of the second round of testing, not a single domain from the first round of testing was registered. At the time of conclusion of the third round of testing, not a single domain from the first round of testing was registered. One domain from the second round of testing (performed in September 2008) was ultimately registered in February 2009, but in circumstances that do not suggest squatting (individual registrant, bona fide non?advertising content posted, approximately 5 months between my prior request and the registrant’s registration).
Edelman does acknowledge that his testing doesn’t prove that front-running is non-existent. In fact he makes it quite clear that his test failed to find evidence, but it is quite possible that it is occurring through other means. Either way, it looks like it was a noble attempt at researching the issue.