Web surfers accidentally hit porn sites

Web surfers on the lookout for information about NASA's Pathfinder mission to Mars were in for a shock if they mistakenly pointed their browsers to "www.nasa.

Web surfers on the lookout for information about NASA's Pathfinder mission to Mars were in for a shock if they mistakenly pointed their browsers to "www.nasa.com." A tiny New York company with a sense of humour registered that particular domain name and used it for a pornographic site. The real National Aeronautics and Space Administration was not amused.

Executives at Network Solutions Inc., the firm that doles out Internet addresses for the National Science Foundation and InterNIC, today confirmed they shut down nasa.com at the request of NASA and Federal Trade Communications officials, who complained that the site unfairly appropriated the NASA name.

"Unless NASA agrees to let them use it, they will never be able to use that name again," said David Graves, Internet business manager at Network Solutions. NASA and FTC officials cited a 1958 federal law prohibiting the use of the NASA name in conjunction with a product or service in a manner indicating the agency supports the product or service, he said.

While the site did not pretend to actually be endorsed by NASA, it still violated the spirit of the law by using an Internet address that could be expected to make some users think it was dedicated to space exploration issues, Graves said.

Officials at the company that had registered the nasa.com domain, Host Networks, of Hewlett, N.Y., could not be reached for comment today.

The practice of registering slightly off-kilter Internet addresses in order to draw in users who might misspell the names of more popular sites is becoming more common, Graves added.

"It's happening more often, but it seems to be increasing at the same rate as the overall number of domain registrations," he said. Network Solutions now processes more than 100,000 domain name applications per month.

For example, an Internet surfer who mistakenly types in "www.yahhoo.com" in an effort to access the Yahoo! search engine will be delivered to a porno site. A spokeswoman for Yahoo! Inc. said the company is aware of the site, but said it's unlikely the company will take any legal action against its producers.

Any brand name or trademark name enjoying legal protection in the United States or other countries is honoured by Network Solutions, which will put domain names "on hold" while legal disputes between parties arguing over the names go forward, said company spokeswoman Aggie Nteta.

"We don't get involved in the nuances of the disputes themselves," Nteta said. If a trademark owner presents proof of ownership to Network Solutions, that's enough for the company to pull down a site that is using the trademark name without its owner's permission, she said.

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