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What Is Wrong With Domain Tasting

  • To: <rfi-domaintasting@xxxxxxxxx>
  • Subject: What Is Wrong With Domain Tasting
  • From: "Dominik Filipp" <dominik.filipp@xxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 18 Sep 2007 16:07:56 +0200

Exclusionary Practice

Domain tasting can be considered an exclusionary practice as it is
highly monopolistic activity giving registrars an unprecedented
privilege in effective speculation with domain names for free. Domain
names can only be tasted by registrars thanks to AGP as part of
registrar-registry agreement; registrants and/or other parties possibly
interested in the same activity are excluded from the participation.
This means, all valuable domain names are kept in possession of tasting
registrars or their affiliate partners. Standard registrants are
subjected to a permanent pressure to buy domains from involved
registrars at high prices producing additional expenses for registrants
and significant revenue for tasting registrars together with exploiting
parked names equipped with PPC advertising. Considering all the apparent
indications, it is believed that tasting registrars are building their
private domain portfolios and thus act as high-class registrants owning
valuable names, which is not only discriminatory towards standard
registrants but also a violation of basic rules and good-faith practices
the registrars should abide by as mentioned in the RAA.

Shift in Overall Understanding of Domain Market

By introducing and unleashing the domain tasting phenomenon the domain
market is apparently directed towards speculative area to the detriment
of the existing registration paradigm. Instead of supporting
well-developed and rich-content web sites the Internet is being
constantly flooded by a huge number of pure advertising sites. This
would not be patently wrong; it could even prove a natural evolution
trend if all domains were legitimately acquired. However, the
speculative for-free tasting mode incredibly encourages the increase of
dummy sites, which would otherwise never occur in such large scale.
Thanks to millions of tasted domains daily the Internet is becoming a
world-wide-dump (wwd) of advertising spots.

Confusing Mixed Registrar-Registrant Role

The tasting registrars are de facto becoming high-class registrants
collecting most of otherwise available names as well as many valuable
and premium names; and thanks to a shady, non-transparent loophole
called AGP, most of them for free.
The high-class registrar-registrants have gained unprecedented advantage
in acquiring domain names in comparison to standard registrants. They
pay wholesale price for names, have direct access to deleted names and
can actively participate on massive name speculations in a for-free
mode. Something that standard registrant can just dream of. The role of
registrar is becoming unclear and suspect leaving the legitimate scope
of interest and responsibility derived from the RAA agreement behind.
The overall confusion around registrar role is multiplied by absence of
efficient supervision over registrar activities. So far, there is no any
effective legal enforcement to avoid such malicious behavior. For
instance, many tasting registrars do not even bother about pretending to
target the tasted names to fictitious registrants. The registrar company
name is directly written in the WHOIS record registrant field (SnapNames
phantom registrars), which proves the warehousing practice explicitly
prohibited by the RAA; still some others do not provide any WHOIS record
related to tasted names, or even disallow the WHOIS service at all. All
without worrying about the legal consequences such activity would be
facing if only effective oversight was likely to take into effect. No
wonder the tasting effort has reached such enormous degree.

Permanent Domain Drought

Due to millions of tasted domains daily the registrants have no
opportunity to find and register a name of interest in legitimate way.
This, particularly, is valid for .COM and .NET names but other gTLDs are
similarly affected not in that large volume though. Instead of
supporting legitimate use of domain names by their target audience -
registrants, domain names are being vastly misused for speculative
purposes and retained in possession of suspect registrar companies (or
their direct affiliates) that, besides, are not entitled to act this
This, if not rectified, could be considered an essential failure in
achieving the ICANN's mission goals.

Abuse Tendencies

Domain tasting extremely encourages various fraudulent activities such

1. Phishing and pharming. During the AGP period a tasted name is
attached to a fraudulent web site mirroring the content of a trustworthy
organization to fool users in order to grab their credentials. 5 days is
long enough to get some fallen victims to this practice but after
elapsing the AGP period the name automatically disappears, often making
effective investigation hard or impossible; especially, when considering
that the 5 day period can be insufficient in filing a valid history

2. Spam. After 5 days the spam domain name disappears and another name
is being tasted in order to fool mail filter-out criteria while still
delivering the same advertising content. For the same reasons as
mentioned above possible investigation experiences the lack of domain
name owner evidence.

3. Domain name mining and WHOIS lookup tracking. Interesting domain
names, subject to possible tasting are being harvested in different
ways. Various web client add-on components track typed in names, suspect
domain resellers track the WHOIS lookup traffic on the web and
immediately register those found valuable. Moreover, some registries are
eligible (by the respective registry agreement) to track the overall
lookup traffic and use it for commercial purposes (e.g. Verisign).

4. Trademark Infringement. The tasters taste domains with trademark name
variations, or use trademark-based typo domains believing to gain more
traffic while showing PPC (pay-per-click) advertisement related to the
trademark business. As discovering such a name and applying for verbal
or formal complaint against the taster takes time a significant amount
can be earned during the tasting period. Moreover, in case of possible
complaint the taster eventually lets the name expire and thus covers its

Technical Stability and Trustiness Concerns

The technical instability concerns caused by domain tasting are still
subject to long-term discussions. Although it does not seem the tasting
effort could significantly endanger the stability of the Internet in the
near future, it can become likely when a larger number of domains are
affected by the tasting, particularly, during expired domain deletion
time when hundreds of registrars are sending many thousands of requests
per second in the hope of grabbing the names of interest.
However, much more endangered is the registrant's trust in the Internet
as a safe place for their domains as well as the trustiness of honest
registrars. Registrants are often confused by what is going behind the
scenes not knowing their favorite names are being tasted or otherwise
speculated with, and can virtually be available if they knew the tasting
mechanism details. Or they become victims of data mining and WHOIS
lookup tracking. On the other hand, honest registrars are at risk of
being identified with dishonest practice of tasting registrars, which
might shed bad light on the domain registration process as a whole.

In case of this issue ICANN is facing a significant challenge to
recognize which way to go. Either by supporting standard registrants
building developed rich-content genuine web sites, or by supporting the
speculative approach introduced and unleashed by domain tasters and
domain speculators. Both ways are, regardless of ethical aspects,
possible. However, in the latter case, to stay fair and honest, ICANN
should allow everyone to participate on domain tasting under the same
conditions as there would be no more difference between the tasting
registrars and the standard registrants.

Dominik Filipp, a GA list member

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