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New TLD guidebook bans domain front-running

Kevin Murphy, November 15, 2010, 00:19:33 (UTC), Domain Registries

ICANN’s newly published Applicant Guidebook for new top-level domain operators contains a draft Code of Conduct for registries that, among other things, bans “front-running”.

The code, which I think is probably going to be one of the most talked-about parts of the AGB in the run-up to ICANN’s Cartagena meeting next month, is designed to address problems that could arise when registrars are allowed to run registries and vice versa.

Front-running is the name given to a scenario in which registrars use insider information – their customers’ domain availability lookups – to determine which high-value domains to register to themselves.

While there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that such practices have occurred in the past, a study carried out last year by researcher Ben Edelman found no evidence that it still goes on.

Front-running was however held up as one reason why registrars and registries should not be allowed to vertically integrate, so the AGB’s code of conduct explicitly bans it.

It also bans registries accessing data generated by affiliated registrars, or from buying any domains for its own use, unless they’re needed for the management of the TLD.

Integrated registries will have to keep separate accounts for their registrar arms, and there will have to be a technological Chinese wall stopping registry and registrar data from cross-pollinating.

Registries will also have to submit a self-audit to ICANN, certifying their compliance with the code of conduct, before January 20 every year.

The code is currently a six-point plan, which, given the past “ingenuity” of domain name companies, may prove a little on the light side.

There’s lots more discussion to be had on this count, no doubt.

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Comments (8)

  1. …as people miss TLD Front Running ?

    only ICANN Staff know what TLDs are going to be popular ?

    as ICANN Staff constantly leaks to outside insiders?

  2. ICANN Remote Participation in LA and SF offices with STAFF !!!

    http://forum.icann.org/lists/bc-gnso/msg01549.html

  3. Louise says:

    The trouble with Ben Edelman’s research is that he reviews domains in the zone file; see: Measuring the Perpetrators and Funders of Typosquatting, section 3.1, paragraph 1, and as Neustar, PIR, & Afilias’ letter to ICANN, REGISTRY AND REGISTRAR SEPARATION POLICY – The Registrant Pays the Check, paragraph 2, page 6:

    “On a related front, ICANN recently released reports that touted both the “end” of domain tasting and the non-existence of front running. But the third party used to conduct the survey on front running, though reputable, reached its conclusion by reviewing zone file data notwithstanding Network Solutions’ previous disclosure that its practice was to withhold registration data from the zone file after registering the names in question. Simply put, they looked in the wrong place to see if front running had occurred.”

    On the topic of Ben Edelman, he mischaracterizes individual domain investors as “typosquatters” and “cybersquatters,” perpetuating the stereotype that Registrants of more than one developed domain are the scapegoat for typo- and cybersquatting, which stereotype domainers are not coming together and proactively rectifying in the public eye, while Registrars remain blameless! See the first two paragraphs of Ben Edelman’s study, linked to, above. So he loses credibility to me on that account.

    Surely ICANN, with its passing of Verisign’s BTAPPA, Bulk Transfer After Partial Portfolio Acquisition of dot com and dot net, which allows Registrars to trade in partial portfolios or domain sponsorships, so that individual Registrants can wind up at a Registrar not of their choice, counts on negative public perception of domain owners as “cybersquatters” and “typosquatters,” to effect its evil purposes, that of enriching its Insiders: Verisign, and the major Registrars, besides itself.

  4. David Henderson says:

    Who do I report front-running and/or cyber-squatting to? What are my legal options in this situation:

    1-Went to Network Solutions website.
    2-Searched four (4) available domain names.
    3-Called Network Solutions.
    4-Confirmed availability.
    5-Proceeded to purchase, all four domains.
    6-First, second, third – Confirmed.
    7-Fourth, within one (1) minute – Taken!

    Whois look-up showed the owner as:
    Robert Logan (Robert Logan Hosting)
    Attempted to contact. No reply. Phone was
    out of service on many attempts.
    Business info was unavailable. Incorrect.

    This was in 2009. We waited one year to see if it would expire, because it was obviously an attempt at forcing us to buy back. After the year was up, we tried again. This year we were able to reach
    Mr. Logan, and he says he is working on a business for it, and did not admit to anything fishy. But, it was obvious to anyone listening in on this conversation, that he was busted. We have consulted a corporate attorney on this matter recently, and most likely will be seeking litigation, if we are left with no other options.

    I hope it wont be too timely and expensive.

    Any opinions on this matter?

    Thanks, in advance.

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