Subscribers to Verizon's high-powered fiber-optic Internet service (FiOS) are reporting that when they mistype a Web site address, they get redirected to Verizon's own search engine page -- even if they don't have Verizon's search page set as their default.
The change has been advertised by Verizon as a way to help users reach the site they were trying to get to, but some are concerned that it's done more to gain revenue from advertisements placed on the Verizon search site.
"It was the very first thing I noticed when Verizon finally got FiOS installed here the other day. Very annoying and hardly in the spirit of net neutrality, eh?," wrote one Webmaster World user, who originally had Google set as his default search engine.
Verizon first rolled out what it calls its "Advanced Web Search" for FiOS subscribers in the Midwest in June 2007.
The search redirects a mistyped Web site address, such as "comsumerafairs.com" rather than "consumeraffairs.com", to Verizon's own search page, containing a list of similar Web site addresses and advertisements powered by Google rivals such as Yahoo and Ask.com.
Verizon, or any other Internet provider that uses a similar system, could generate revenue from the users visiting the pages, even if they don't click on the ads--or if they never intended to visit the site in the first place.
Technology forums such as Broadband Reports and WebMasterWorld are reporting that Verizon has now extended its "Advanced Web Search" feature to FiOS subscribers in Maryland and Virginia as well.
"How common is this - ISPs profitting from direct navigation failures? If it isn't then this is likely the wave of the future," wrote one peeved Web surfer.
If you don't want to have your search results interfered with, Verizon has set up an "opt out" procedure to reset your DNS settings. Make sure to follow the directions carefully and run several test searches with mistyped addresses to make sure you get the right--or wrong, in this case--result.
The Shape Of Things To Come?
Using mistyped domain names to redirect users to search pages full of ads has been tried before, by Internet providers such as Cox and Earthlink.
In order to redirect the user to the search sites, the user's Domain Name Service (DNS) settings are altered, which can interfere with previously set network security and safe Internet browsing features.
It also raises the question of whether or not an Internet provider that automatically redirects a user's searches without telling them will also shape the results they do get, such as filtering their searches to get specific results.
Preferential results from Internet providers is a prime concern for supporters of "net neutrality," the principle that all content on the Internet should be accessesd freely and equally. Supporters of net neutrality believe that Internet providers may redirect users from their preferred Web pages or content to content the provider favors--such as redirecting a user from Google's search page to Verizon's.
Although Verizon opposes net neutrality, it has also said repeatedly that it would not block content or favor its own offerings over rivals--although it now appears to be doing just that.
The telecom giant recently got into hot water over its blocking of text messages from abortion rights group NARAL, leading to a quick reversal.