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Antitrust Suit Filed Against VeriSign

A rival claims that the search service is taking revenue from it in redirecting Web traffic.

September 20, 2003|From Associated Press

NEW YORK — An Internet search service that was launched this week to redirect Web surfers who mistype addresses became the subject of a $100-million antitrust lawsuit filed by a rival.

The federal lawsuit was the latest attack on the Site Finder offering from VeriSign Inc., a company that directs much of the Internet's traffic through its control of directories for two of the most popular domain names, ".com" and ".net."

Popular Enterprises, which has a similar service it says was superseded by Site Finder, said it was losing revenue it would have received from directing traffic to Web sites that pay for search listings.

A spokesman for VeriSign, based in Mountain View, Calif., said Friday that the company would not comment on the pending litigation, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Orlando, Fla., where Popular is headquartered.

VeriSign has defended the service it launched Monday, saying it gave Internet users help finding what they were hunting for instead of a generic error message. The company estimates that people mistype ".com" and ".net" names some 20 million times daily.

When someone types a ".com" or ".net" address for which no Web site exists, VeriSign's directories pass on the request to Site Finder, which returns a list of likely alternatives. A search box also is provided, and VeriSign gets revenue, which was not specified, for its use.

"As the emotion and the fiction passes away, the reality we'll all be left with is: You'll be getting to where you're looking for quicker," VeriSign spokesman Brian O'Shaughnessy said.

Critics have complained that the new service gives a private company too much control over online commerce and lets it profit from an essential monopoly over ".com" and ".net" names.

VeriSign's Site Finder is similar to referrals offered to users of America Online, the Internet Explorer browser from Microsoft Corp. and the free SmartBrowse toolbar from Popular.

What's different is VeriSign's status as master keeper of ".com" and ".net" directories. In that position, it can intercept mistyped addresses before services from AOL, Microsoft or Popular kick in.

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