Technical Responses to Unilateral Internet Authority: The Deployment of VeriSign “Site Finder” and ISP Response


Technical Responses to Unilateral Internet Authority: The Deployment of VeriSign “Site Finder” and ISP Response. (October 2003) With Jonathan Zittrain.

Much of the day-to-day functioning of the Internet is thought to be “self-governing”: Engineers operating Internet systems at participating institutions (including ISPs) make daily decisions that help keep traffic flowing efficiently, without having to forge formal agreements with each other and without having to adhere to formal rules set out by a governing body. For those functions that are thought to require centralized coordination, organizations like ICANN have come to exist, and ICANN’s proper scope of “jurisdiction” remains in tension with the prior self-governing model. Arguments about the need for, and proper scope of, centralized coordination in part depend on the reliability and effectiveness of these informal self-governing alternatives.

A recent action by the registry of domain names ending in .COM and .NET — the creation of a “Site Finder” service to which Internet users are now directed if they ask for any unassigned name — has provoked reaction by ICANN as well as by individual network engineers and the institutions that employ them. As ICANN’s policy reaction is still unfolding, we sought to find out just how much the summed actions of the Internet engineering community affected Site Finder’s adoption. In the absence of any reaction, Site Finder would function for nearly all users seeking .COM and .NET names. However, as network engineers choose to adopt certain “patches,” Site Finder’s functionality is blocked for users of the corresponding networks. With help from data gathered by Alexa through users of its toolbar browser plug-in, we find that several large networks have already blocked Site Finder and that approximately 9% of users likely therefore no longer receive Site Finder content. We find particular evidence of blocking of Site Finder by networks outside of the United States — most notably, much of China.