AOL domain-name madness

A screw-up in the Internic registry of Web addresses makes one man's life a living hell.

By Andrew Leonard
July 21, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)
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Last week, Scott Angello learned first hand the dangers of cutting-edge business models in the Internet economy. Angello is an aspiring domain name broker -- an entrepreneur who registers new Web page addresses and then resells the names at a premium. But shortly after registering the name of an adult-oriented Web site in mid-July, Angelo suddenly found himself listed by the Network Solutions Internic domain name registry as the administrative contact for America Online.

Ever since, he and his wife have been hunkering down under a barrage of misdirected e-mail and phone calls. The experience hasn't been pleasant -- Angello says he has received death threats and been accused of hacking into computers.

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"I'm feeling pretty vulnerable," says Angello. "My wife is crying, I'm going to miss work, I may have to move out of my apartment. But I didn't do anything wrong, I'm just the victim."

It may all have been a big mistake, although no one is sure exactly what happened. According to Brian O'Shaughnessy, a spokesman for Network Solutions, Angello was never actually listed as the administrative contact for AOL. Instead, when Angelo was registering another site name, a portion of his e-mail address was listed in the spot in the Internic registry reserved for the last name of the site's contact person. Instead of "Angello," that spot read "aol.com." So if a Web surfer searched the registry to find a contact person for aol.com, Angello's name popped up, in addition to the legitimate contact information for AOL.

Angello swears he input the information correctly, and that there must have been a mistake on Network Solution's end. But he said he's just about given up trying to get the mistake changed after spending a week struggling to get through to someone at Network Solutions -- not once, he says, has he been able to get a representative for Network Solutions on the phone. As of 6 p.m. on Tuesday his name still appeared in a search of the Internic for aol.com.

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Whoever is to blame, the story offers a deft illustration of some of the wackier aspects of the new Net economy. Angello, who has a day job as a furniture design consultant and is also a licensed real estate broker, only got started as a domain name broker a few months ago; he says he's only been involved with the Internet for the last four or five months.

"Basically what we were doing," says Angello, "we were going through Network Solutions to register domain names which we would later resell." Angello says he and his wife registered a wide variety of sites, including "internetsitesales.com" and "judaicmusic.com."

"But from our research we discovered that an enormous number of new adult online sites are coming online every day, some 40 to 50 new adult sites every day," says Angello. "Registering them for $70 for later resale seemed to make damn good sense."

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But then, on July 9, the fateful misstep occurred. While registering the Web site domain name amateuradultmovie.com the contact information was somehow mixed up.

At first Angello didn't realize what was happening. He started receiving a heavy load of strange e-mail, which he says he automatically deleted -- thinking the new messages were a creative form of spam. Then his wife began to receive strange phone calls from people convinced that she was an official America Online employee.

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The affair soon became a nightmare. Angello started receiving e-mail accusing him of having hacked into other people's computers. One message, says Angello, contained a flat out death threat. He believes that anti-AOL miscreants are using his accidentally public contact information as forged cover for their activities, and he's getting blamed. He's desperate to escape the mess.

"First we wrote e-mail," says Angello "and called through the normal channels for technical support -- but we couldn't get in touch with anybody at Network Solutions." Increasingly desperate, Angello began to work his way through the AOL bureaucracy, but even though he had more success in contacting AOL representatives, he has as yet been unable to resolve his troubles.

Despite the disaster, Angello says he hasn't given up on the business of domain name brokering.

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"It's a pretty smart concept, I think," says Angello. "It's like a real estate broker -- there are a lot of people out there that are really using Network Solutions very creatively daily, and [buying domain names] is literally a better investment than buying stock. That's why we've been buying up a number of different domains. We don't want to be tagged as nothing but porn sites, but we are looking for what there is supply and demand for ... Like any other red-blooded American, I want to make money."


Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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