Epic.org domain renewal comes at a bad time

There's never a good time to lose control of your Internet domain name, but for advocacy group the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), there could have been better times. The group's Epic.org domain name expired the day before it filed a legal challenge to Google Inc.'s plan to buy DoubleClick Inc.

Supporters searching for more information about the complaint on EPIC's Web site on Friday were met with a holding page featuring 40 or so sponsored text links for related keyword advertisements managed by Google.

The complaint, filed Friday by EPIC, the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (US PIRG), calls upon the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to block the US$3.1 billion deal unless the organization obtains guarantees from Google and DoubleClick that they will protect Internet users' privacy.

Luckily, the Web sites of the other parties to the group's legal challenge were not affected, with the full text of the complaint on the CDD site.

EPIC Executive Director Marc Rotenberg's initial reaction was one of disbelief: "We've been running a Web site for a dozen years, and the day we go after Google, our domain expires?"

Rotenberg's first explanation -- "We've been hacked!" -- was contradicted by the entry in the Whois database of domain name registrar Direct Domains, a subsidiary of Tucows Inc.

The Whois database records who owns each domain name, and includes details such as their name and address, and the dates of various transactions concerning the domain.

In the case of Epic.org, first registered on April 18, 1994, the registrant is still listed as "Electronic Privacy Information" at the organization's usual street address in Washington, D.C.

A call to Direct Domains' technical support line revealed that the domain expired Thursday night, with the address of the holding page propagating through the Internet's DNS (domain name system) to replace that of the EPIC site by the time the group filed its suit Friday morning.

EPIC staff moved to renew the domain on Friday morning, according to Direct Domains -- and should mark their calendars for April 19, 2009, when it will next expire.

Later, Rotenberg ruefully admitted: "It may have expired. It was a remarkable coincidence."

It will still take some time for this latest change to propagate through the world's DNS servers and for service to return to normal, Direct Domains' technical support operator advised. But meanwhile, with a little ingenuity, those seeking information from EPIC's Web site can still find it in the cache of Google's search engine.

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