Verisign: The Stink From Crossing a Domain

Siva Vaidhyanathan and I have been discussing the big stink related to the “Verisign thing.” Regardless, of the technical issues involved, the stink is, in part, a smell arising from a contentious issue crossing the boundary of an expert (technical) discipline into general public discussion.

Previous to this change by VeriSign, which is a for-profit entity providing a “public service”, if you typed in a non-existent URL or email address (e.g., perhaps it was mistyped), the network would usefully tell you so. Now, every non-existent domain is an advertisement for VeriSign. The practical effects are substantive but non-cataclysmic. Of course, it is also extremely “offensive” and a response from an expert domain (e.g., technologists) to such an event is often implied (from the experts) or inferred (from the larger public) as cataclysmic. This change abuses technical principles for Verisign’s gain, will disrupt some Internet applications and services, requiring retrofitting (e.g., the ISC BIND patch) or a lessening of quality of service (e.g., lost/confused email), but not in any way that an ordinary end user would perceive it as a specific problem traceable to VeriSign.

This is why I’ve always felt guilty for largely ignoring all of these issues involved with domain names, ICANN, and VeriSign. There are real problems here, but the stench involved from the participants and shit thrown in public as a public proxy for the technical substance makes it unappealing.

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