From the recent spate of domain name "hijacking," you'd think it was easier to steal someone else's domain name from Network Solutions than to register a new one yourself. In the most over-the-top virtual heist, a thief armed with a fax machine and a lot of chutzpah lifted 1,300 domain names registered to Meckler Media, including the invaluable Internet.com, simply by politely requesting their transfer.
Embarrassing as this latest theft may have been to Network Solutions and Meckler Media -- after some wrangling the company got its domains back -- it's even more personally galling to me. Because while a clever faxer can apparently walk off with hundreds of domains he or she doesn't own, the bureaucracy of Network Solutions for years has exiled me from my own domain.
Back in August 1996, I registered my first domain: Katharine.com. I admit, it's unoriginal to register your own first name, like a cheesy virtual vanity plate. But back then, it seemed cuter and more whimsical than it does today.
Don't try to go to the site though, because I still haven't done anything with my eponymous domain name, not out of modesty or lack of creativity or being too "busy," but because I haven't been able to get access to it. Although I continue to pay my registration fees, I've been persona non grata at my own little home on the Web.
I registered Katharine.com two jobs ago, when the only e-mail I had was a corporate account: Katharine@wwire.net. (This was in the pre-free-Web mail days; there was no Hotmail, kiddies.) The problem is that e-mail is the only way that Network Solutions would verify that I am who I claim to be; and I don't have that e-mail address anymore. In the rush of taking a new job, I forgot to change my domain name contact info before I left my old job -- and its e-mail address. The company I worked for when I registered the domain, Women.com, doesn't use the wwire.net address for e-mail anymore, so there was no hope of having a sympathetic techie there hook me up with my old account just to satisfy Network Solutions' verification system.
Since then, I've moved and changed phone numbers, so all the contact information on the "WHOIS" database about Katharine.com is hopelessly out of date. Say, Katharine Hepburn or former Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham decided that they needed my first name more than I do. Alas, they wouldn't have been able to contact me with their multimillion-dollar buyout proposal.
Don't think I haven't tried to convince the Network Solutions people that I am Katharine. My in-box is now full of dated form e-mails from Network Solutions explaining why the changes I've requested cannot be completed: "It appears that the request that we have received was not submitted from an appropriate e-mail account," scolds the form. Uh, no duh.
Repeated calls to customer service, where I moldered on hold interminably, didn't help either. I was told to send faxes proving my identity on letterhead. I promptly made up some homegrown letterhead and faxed away, but got no response but the same form e-mail.
After running around in circles with the Kremlin-like processes at Network Solutions, you'd think I might be inclined to take advantage of all that free-market competition that ICANN supposedly introduced to domain-name registration last year, and just transfer to a competing registrar like Register.com. But, of course, I can't do that unless I can prove to Network Solutions that I am who I claim to be.
When I griped about my plight to Network Solutions spokeswoman Janine Dunne, she joked, with a laugh: "That sounds like pretty good security," apparently grasping the lovely irony that Network Solutions is enjoying a firestorm of criticism for the domain hijackings, while I, a customer of Network Solutions, jump through hoops trying to get ahold of my own domain.
But then, minutes later, I am on the phone with the very genial and helpful Craig Gordon, a disarmingly can-do kind of guy with the improbable title "escalated customer service supervisor (acting)," which he gives more informally as "supervisor for escalated issues." He's apparently the person who has to deal with problems that have really gotten out of control, or journalists who might be inclined to whine in public about their frustrations with the company. After being hand-held through some online forms and still more faxing, Gordon called me back directly to tell me that my information had been updated.
Maybe the moral is: if you're locked in a black hole of bureaucracy, pose as a pesky journalist and then see what kind of service you get. It's one way to work the system to be the master of your domain.