Verizon Defends Redirecting Typo Traffic

Verizon is standing by its program of redirecting typo traffic to their company's own search page, and claims that the redirects are valuable ways to help their users search the Internet.

Although Verizon has been implementing its redirect program on a trial basis in several Midwestern states since June, it came under particular scrutiny earlier this week when ConsumerAffairs.com reported that mistyping URLs while using Verizon's FiOS service results in getting redirected to Verizon's own search engine. This led to some accusations by Web journalists and bloggers that Verizon was "shamelessly hijacking web browsers" and was trying to "goose up their revenues via advertising."

Verizon, though, says its program is designed first and foremost to assist its customers in their Web searches, and it notes that other ISPs, such as Cox and EarthLink, have also recently introduced redirect services.

But while Verizon insists that its redirect program is a tool that helps users find their desired URLs, many of the results provided in the redirect often have seemingly little to do with the original mistyped URL. For instance, a redirect from the URL www.comsumerafairs.com (a misspelling of www.consumeraffairs.com) will suggest searching for the term "sumera," but will also provide a list of "other topics," such as beauty products, jewelry and movies.

Verizon won't say whether it benefits financially from the increased traffic that gets redirected to its search page since it "does not provide financial details of specific services or products." Verizon's search page is powered by Yahoo, the search engine company it partnered with in 2005 to offer a fully integrated DSL service to customers in 28 states.

The practice of redirecting typo traffic to company-run search pages first became controversial in 2003, when VeriSign unveiled its SiteFinder program, which redirected mistyped URLs ending in .com or .net to the company's own site-searching engine. VeriSign eventually suspended the program under pressure from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

Verizon notes that it does have an "opt-out" procedure that allows users to ditch the redirect service if they so choose. A Verizon spokesman says since the program's rollout in June, the company has seen "an extremely low opt-out rate" and that it has "received few, if any, complaints about the service."

Even so, some Verizon DSL and FiOS users have questioned why the company can't offer the redirect program as an "opt-in" service instead of making it the default option."

"I definitely think it's kind of shady," says Lee Revell, a Unix systems administrator from New York whose Verizon DSL home service began implementing the redirect program two weeks ago. "It seems like the kind of thing that should be decided at the application level and not unilaterally imposed by the carrier."

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