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Like many ISPs, Comcast is rolling out a new DNS redirect strategy, euphemistically called a "domain helper."
Usually misspelled URLs send web surfers to error pages, but DNS redirection takes advantage of those mistakes, redirecting viewers to ad covered portals when they mistype or get a URL wrong. It's a passive advertising strategy that has garnered a wide amount of critics but continues to grow in popularity with ISPs searching around for revenue streams.
Comcast is positioning its decision to show more ads and slow down web surfing as an additional "service" available to customers. Let's take a look at Comcast's opt-out policy to see how helpful this plan will actually be for consumers.
Aside from the fact that ads targeted at mistaken are not likely to have high click through rates, ISPs continue to implement DNS redirection under the rubrick that having ads is likely to make more money than not having them. Earthlink, Verizon and Bell have all rolled out DNS redirect plans.
For its part, Comcast wants to let that its customers know that this is going to help them. After less than a month of trial (which appear to have gone swimmingly), Comcast is rolling out DNS redirection to its customers nationwide.
They announced their new service in early July with a page titled: "Domain Helper service: Here to help you." Wow, that sure seems...helpful.
The company offers a quick explanation of why DNS is so awesome:
Despite the fact that web addresses are easier to remember than their IP address counterparts, sometimes you mistype an address. Let’s say you type in http://www.comtcas.com (instead of http://www.comcast.com). Normally you then sit and wait for the Web browser to time out, then you receive an error message that the site does not exist, and then you have to retype the correct address.
With the Domain Helper service we are testing now, we will instead help direct your Web browser to an easy-to-use page with suggestions and links to get you back on track. We also provide a seamless search experience on this page, which is powered by Yahoo!, so you can find relevant search information, or simply perform another search.
But what if you don't want to stare at a whole bunch of ads just because you barely misstyped something? Comcast has thought of that too!
"We also understand that sometimes customers want to surf their own way, without the assistance of services like Domain Helper, so we offer an easy way to opt-out right on the Domain Helper search page.
Funny, you'd think if there was an easy way to opt-out to a policy, the company would just go ahead and clue you in on how to do that. But Comcast has provided no link to their opt-out page.
That's ok. They provide the link on another page which explains "Domain Helper National Rollout Begins." There Comcast helpfully explains that after a successful market trial (less than a month in seven states - what were they testing?), Domain Helper is going nationwide. Awesome! But again, Comcast totally understands if customers don't totally love the service. And here they've provided a way out:
If customers do not wish to use this service, they can use our easy to use opt-out located here: https://dns-opt-out.comcast.net and we'll be making the opt-out process easier in the future.
Here's the thing. That link doesn't work! Wow. Thanks for being so thoughtful, Comcast. How much easier are you going to make opt-out in the future?
Users aren't too happy about Comcast's decision. The first post garnered 150 angry user comments. Including this one:
"This is such a terrible idea, I don't know where to begin. By your own admission it takes 10 minutes and 2 days to opt out of this travesty."
DNS ridirection makes a lot of people angry, and serving ads to an audience that has mistakenly arrived at a website is not the most reliable revenue source, but ISPs are increasingly adopting the practice.
According to Ars Technica:
Despite the negative response that the issue always draws from the techheads, DNS redirection is like an addiction that the industry can't shake. Because it's a source of "free revenue" and doesn't draw nearly the same sorts of privacy complaints as do URL-sniffers like NebuAd and Phorm, Internet companies continue to try redirection.
That won't stop customers from complaining. Among the angry comments on Comcast's post this week, is this one:
"Domain Helper" -- nonsense! "DNS Hijacker" is more like it. We can always count on Comcast to do the wrong thing.
But it looks like as long as DNS redirecting brings in a few dollars for them, ISPs will continue to do it.