On the Soapbox

Hey, Verizon, turn off your &#^@% wildcard!

Saturday, June 30, 2007
Keywords: Technology, Rant

I made a typo this evening and was confused when I found myself staring at a red page with Verizon's logo and a search box. It took me a few seconds to realize that some time today, Verizon had set up a DNS wildcard that was redirecting incorrect web addresses to their search portal, complete with a "helpful" message telling me that the address I entered was invalid and that perhaps I should search for what I was looking for via their search engine.

First, I wish that companies that try to pull this sort of unethical perfidy would stop trying to claim that they are providing "services" aimed at "helping" their users. That is pure, unadulterated bullshit. Modern browsers, by default, will do a search for what you typed into the address bar if a DNS error is received. There is, therefore, nothing to be gained from loading up Verizon's search page. In fact, there is much that is lost. First, if you type "szdmfewo.com" into the address bar, Internet Explorer will automatically search for that term once it receives the DNS error. Verizon does not even do that. It just takes you to a search page without even so much as pre-filling the search form. Thus, for novice users, Verizon's "helpful" scheme is actually less useful and even confusing for novices who are so used to the automatic search that they use the address bar as a sort of search box. For intermediate users, browser-based error search respects user choice. For example, you can configure it to use your favorite search engine. Verizon does this group of users a disservice by taking that choice away from them. And as for advanced users, the very idea of this sort of DNS hijacking through the improper use of DNS wildcards is an anathema. We may have programs or scripts that rely on being able to correctly detect DNS errors in order to function. We prefer seeing error pages when we do something wrong instead of some glossy hand-holding mechanism. And more than anything else, we bristle at the very notion that someone else butting in, reducing our choices, and changing things in a way that breaks the specifications under which the Internet functions. In other words, I'm fucking pissed.

To add insult to injury, Verizon has carefully hidden away all information about how to contact them for feedback. I was finally able to find a way to e-mail them--via an online form that limited the message to 70 bytes. Perhaps Verizon is aware of the torrents of unanimous protests and complaints after VeriSign and Earthlink tried DNS wildcarding. Verizon does offer a way to "opt out" of this system through a DNS server that they provide. However, these instructions are buried and are understandable only by people with a fair amount of technical proficiency. Their solution is not very elegant, either. The routers that Verizon provide their DSL customers get the DNS server addresses by DHCP, which means that they cannot be changed. Thus, in order to use the "opt out" server, each individual device on the network must be changed to use a hard-coded DNS server, which reduces the usefulness of DHCP on the network, eliminates the benefits of the router acting as a local network DNS cache, and is just a bloody pain to do. Also, Verizon provides only one DNS server, which means that people who opt out of this "service" of theirs will lose DNS redundancy.

As for the search engine itself, it is actually a meta-engine created by InfoSpace. It queries Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, and Ask and aggregates their results. So the big search engines end up doing all the work while InfoSpace and Verizon, like leeches, reap all the advertising profit (no doubt the reason behind this "service"). InfoSpace, by the way, is a shady company responsible for such fine flotsam as Dogpile and Zoo.com. Envious of the advertising revenue of the major search engines but can't compete with them? Easy: just shove your leech engine down the unwilling throats of your customers, disrespecting and disrupting the Internet experience of your customers, and profit not from having a good product or serving your customers, but by abusing power and leeching. Despicable. Utterly despicable.

This entry was edited on 2007/06/30 at 01:45:08 GMT -0400.