Front running has long been rumoured to be in operation by unscrupulous domain name registration companies. They are alleged to monitor what addresses users search for but do not immediately buy. They then buy that domain to sell to the enquirer at a profit, according to reports.
But a committee of ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) has investigated 120 supposed examples of the cheating and found no wrongdoing.
ICANN's Security and Stability Advisory Committee (SSAC) asked users to submit examples of front running and launched an investigation into them. It has just reported the results and says that it found no evidence that it takes place.
"SSAC has insufficient information to conclude that domain name front running is practiced in any appreciable measure by parties who provide query services," said its report. "We base this assertion on the claims submitted to SSAC and from our own statistical analysis. The claims we reviewed do not disprove the possibility of domain name front running entirely."
The committee used approximately 120 submitted cases of supposed front running and analysed how they came about. "Given the millions of domain names registered during the same time period as the public call for comment, this figure is not extraordinarily large… but the perception appears broader and more troubling than the reality and should not be treated lightly," said the report.
It found that all of the cases where domains were snapped up were due to factors other than front running.
"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," it said.
"If the claims reviewed by SSAC 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.
The committee said that its analysis of the sheer volume of domain name activity would shock most internet users, and that this itself is an explanation for some of the phenomena attributed to front runners.
"Of the 1.4 billion attempts to register domains, only 3.3 million were satisfied, suggesting that, on average, 333 attempts are made to register a domain name for every fulfilled domain registration," said the report. "It is thus very reasonable to conclude that any given label is not as unique as internet users might imagine…a very large number of attempts are being made to register not only a considerably smaller set of labels but an even smaller subset of names that are "interesting"."
Major domain seller Network Solutions has run into controversy in the measures it introduced to combat front running. It locks a domain for five days after it has been searched for so that the domain can only be bought from it.
It said that this was an anti-front running measure, but users accused it of indulging in the very practice it was claiming to fight, given that it locked customers into buying the domain name from it in those five days rather than one of its competitors.
A spokeswoman told OUT-LAW.COM that it was working on a technological fix that would mean that only the initial enquirer could buy the domain name within those five days.