New Google policy will combat 'domain name tasting'

A controversial practice enables some domain name registrars to make short-term gains from registering domains that others might want. Now Google -- the vehicle for their revenue -- says it wants to do something about that.

The problem is somewhat serious, though Google is far from the first to point it out: Domain name registrars have displayed a tendency to register DNS names for themselves, based on recent searches conducted by users of their public WHOIS databases. They don't have any intention of keeping these DNS names longer than the typical five-day grace period, but during that time, they can deploy those fake pages that pretend to be search portals.

Those fake search portals rack up millions in advertising revenue for DNS registrars who partake in "domain name tasting." Over the weekend, the Associated Press confirmed a report from noted Google watcher Jay Westerdal stating Google is planning to implement policies that disable DNS registrars' ability to use AdSense advertising in "tasting" operations.

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Bob Parsons, the CEO of the largest DNS registrar, GoDaddy, wrote a lengthy missive against the practice in April 2006. "Millions of good .COM domain names - on any given day over 3.5 million and climbing - are unfairly made unavailable to small businesses and others who would actually register and use them in ways for which the names were intended," Parsons wrote. "Many times businesses accidentally let their domain names expire. When they go to renew them, they find they have been snapped up - and taken away with a huge expensive hassle to follow - by an add/drop registrar."

Registrars such as GoDaddy perform services on behalf of their clients which include periodic checks of specified domain names to see when they are about to expire. But oftentimes, other registrars make use of those periodic checks to determine which DNS names others out there are waiting for. In some cases, these may include look-alike or sound-alike DNS names.

"I think this is a return of the 'Be Good' motto Google had a few years ago. Google has been quietly enabling this practice for years now," Westerdal wrote last Friday. "This is a smart policy move on Google's part to ward off impending litigation that might have hit them in the coming months."

While Google says its new policy will take effect next month, Westerdal wonders exactly how this will be enforced. For instance, will the company simply refuse to supply advertising to domains that are five days old or less -- the length of the typical grace period? Or will the company actually "sample the tasting," somehow, to algorithmically determine which DNS names are being tasted and by whom, and more selectively exclude them from being served by AdSense.

If it's the latter, we might not hear the last of this, as some registrars may call into question Google's right, if you will, to refuse service to anyone.

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