Features

Engine trouble

National

Issue: "California's new governor," Oct. 4, 2003

VERISIGN SAYS ITS NEW SEARCH ENGINE PROVIDES A VALUABLE SERVICE for wayward Internet surfers; others say it provides VeriSign with an unfair advantage, and they're slapping the company with an antitrust lawsuit.

At issue is a VeriSign website called Site Finder. VeriSign is in charge of the master registry for all ".com" and ".net" Internet domain names, and beginning last month the company started redirecting those who type an unregistered address into a Web browser to Site Finder for help.

The new site is a bland Yahoo clone featuring a search engine and Web directory. It comes packed with sponsored links that pay VeriSign a commission for directing traffic their way. VeriSign claims that people enter nonexistent addresses about 20 million times per day and that Site Finder is a more helpful service than a generic error message.

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That's not enough for Site Finder's critics, who raised a firestorm of protest. Anti-spam consultants complain that the site's redirection feature short-circuits programs that block junk e-mail, and software developers are looking for ways to block the site.

Florida-based Popular Enterprises, which distributes a toolbar called SmartBrowse, went further, filing a $100 million antitrust suit against VeriSign. Popular says that Site Finder takes away revenue from its paid-search business and that VeriSign is abusing its authority, which was granted by the Clinton administration.

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