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Judge to Verisign: Stop the Shenanigan's

Tuesday, May 28, 2002

Well, it appears that there just may be some justice in the world yet. A judge ordered Verisign to stop sending out deceptive "domain expiration" notices. The direct mail campaigns succeeded in tricking many consumers into renewing their domains with Verisign and, in many cases, switched hosting providers, resulting in downed and unreachable Web sites. We posted some pictures of these notices on our Web site a couple months back as warning to our customers.

The History
Verisign purchased Network Solutions a couple years back. Network Solutions maintained the "phone book" for the Internet, a database which basically translated domain names like "c4.net" into numeric Internet addresses. Network Solutions' already tarnished name was completely ruined in the process as Verisign attempted to migrate the Network Solutions database, farmed out their tech support to the Philippines, and just in general botched the whole mess.

In the meantime, ICANN, who more or less governs Network Solutions/Verisign in regards to this database, opened up the playing field, allowing companies like BulkRegister to register domains on behalf of consumers at greatly discounted prices. However, Verisign still maintains the central database.

And that's where the problem arises. Verisign has, for all intents and purposes, a list of all their competitors customers. Verisign knows their names, their addresses, their e-mail accounts, where their domains are hosted, etc. Using this information, Verisign began sending out bulk mailings to competitor's customers when their domain was about to run out. Customers unwittingly filled out these forms, not realizing that the small print on the reverse side made Verisign the registrar for their domain and, in many cases, switched the user's hosting company to Verisign partner.

Though the Verisign partners were more than willing to start billing for these new found hosting customers, they didn't bother actually setting up the Web sites. So, VeriSign not only stole back customers who had purposefully left them for greener pastures, but brought down their Web sites in the process. Way to go, Verisign. That's the way to do business.

The practice is analogous to outlawed Phone Slamming, in which a consumer's telephone service is changed without their permission. Verisign, of course, believes that customers gave them their silent consent by paying the "bill." The courts, it would seem, disagree.

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