The controversial practice of domain tasting, in which large numbers of domain names are registered automatically, tested for effectiveness in collecting additional traffic, and the vast majority then cancelled before the registration fees become due, now seems to be having an impact on the average domain name registrant.
For example, it has been suggested by some commentators that the increase in registry fees due to be implemented in October this year by the VeriSign registry, which controls the .com, and .net generic top level domains has been brought about by the enhancements to VeriSign's registration systems necessary to cope with the flood of automated applications by speculators.
VeriSign itself has been quoted as saying that domain name inquiries have increased from 1 billion a day in 2000 to 30 billion a day in 2007.
Domain tasting is only possible because the registration contracts in seven of the current top level domains (.biz, .com, .info, .name, .net, .org, and .pro) provide a period of grace (usually 5 days) before the registration fee has to be paid. Tasters register huge numbers of names automatically (some may be expired or relinquished names, some may be new but phonetically spelt or perhaps misspelt) and then test them by one of several methods, for example seeing how much pay per click ad revenue is generated by hits on those sites.
Hits may result from users putting deliberate entries into their Web browser address bar, or just as likely from typos, or just from typing in a well known word into the address bar. The names that pay their way in terms of revenue generated (that is revenue > the cost of the name registration) are paid for, the others are rejected by the taster.
Originally the grace period, introduced at the turn of the century, was to allow registrants to correct errors they may have made in their registration. However, VeriSign reported for the month of January this year that the top ten registrars for .com and .net domains that engage in domain tasting were responsible for 95% of all deleted .com and .net domain names.
Even more telling, the ratio of tasting registrations that are deleted to other registrations, appears to be in the order of 150 to 1, and some claim it is as high as 200 to 1. Put another way, figures published in January this year for the .org domain showed 99.4% of names were deleted during the grace period, with only 0.6% proceeding to registration!
Other estimates are that this practice (and a less common one called "domain kiting", whereby the registration is automatically re-applied for immediately following the expiry of the grace period, to avoid the need to pay registration fees) result in 2-4 million domain names being tied up every day.
Clearly the operational load on the registry systems caused by domain tasting is cause for concern, but there are also many other unwanted commercial side effects of this practice, for example possible consumer confusion, and increased costs to regular businesses in registering defensive names and having their staff or consultants monitoring the situation.
Perhaps of more concern, it has also been suggested that the automatic nature of the systems employed and their anonymity facilitate both trademark abuse and criminal activities like phishing (creating a replica of a webpage to fool the user into divulging private and secret data) and pharming (re-directing a website's traffic from the legitimate website to a false website in order to steal private and secret data).
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) which regulates domain names has recognised the need to investigate the practice and recently issued a request to the internet community to provide information to assist it in its fact finding mission (http://www.icann.org/announcements/announcement-2-10aug07.htm).
This investigation is welcomed, particularly at a time when ICANN is proposing to allow the introduction of new generic top level domains.
Interestingly, the practice of domain tasting appears to be facilitated through only a small number of the approximately 600 ICANN accredited registrars. It is thought the number could be as few as 18, and the generic top level domain which is most affected is, not surprisingly, the .com domain, but it is becoming more of a problem in .net and .org, and is apparently emerging in some country code top level domains as well.
Business owners, in particular, who want to use the Internet to promote their business would welcome the increase in available names and the reduction in customer confusion that may result from a crackdown on domain tasting. As the World Intellectual Property Organisation has noted this year, "the evolution of the domain name registration system is causing growing concern for trademark owners" as it is creating "greater opportunities for the mass, often anonymous, registration of domain names without specific consideration of third party intellectual property rights" (http://www.wipo.int/portal/en/news/2007/article0010.html).
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.