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ICANN tries and fails to find evidence of domain name front running

An ICANN study of more than 600 domain name registrations has found no evidence of front-running, the deceptive name registration process that has long been suspected but not proved by the domain name community.06 Aug 2009

Some people who have tried to register domain names that they previously enquired about have found those names taken between the enquiry and the registration attempt. They have accused registrars of reserving enquired-about names for profit, a process called front running.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) commissioned research to discover if front running was really taking place.

Internet security expert Benjamin Edelman made over 600 requests to register domain names on three occasions over the course of a year. His tests were carried out at a total of 200 domain name registration sites. In none of those cases was a domain name registered by someone else between the enquiry and Edelman's attempt to register it.

"My tests offer no evidence of front-running," said Edelman's report. "Not one of the domains I requested, in any of the three rounds of testing, was registered during the seven day period during which availability was checked twice each day."

"Furthermore, at the time of conclusion of the second round of testing, not a single domain from the first round of testing was registered. At the time of conclusion of the third round of testing, not a single domain from the first round of testing was registered," said Edelman.

Edelman said that his research did not prove that front running did not happen, just that he did not find any.

"My methodology cannot prove that front running is not occurring or that front running has not occurred in the past. Rather, I have simply failed to find evidence of current front running via the test scenario I used," he said. "It is possible that front running occurs based on leads from web sites I did not test or based on data sources other than web sites."

ICANN has previously investigated claims that front running was taking place, but has also found in the past that there was no evidence of it.

It had asked internet users to submit examples of the practice and received just 120 examples.

"Of the 11.21% of cases involving domain name renewal difficulties, several parties either claimed they did not receive notice in advance of registration expiry or the details of a case illustrated that the party did not understand the terms of registration in general and the Redemption Grace Period in particular," said the review.

"If the claims reviewed by [ICANN] are representative of all claims, acts frequently interpreted as domain front running often prove to be side effects of domain name tasting and other secondary market activities," it said.