Is Comcast 'Hijacking' the Web From Bad Typists?

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Comcast this week is rolling out “Domain Helper” nationwide, according to the company’s blog, after the MSO began testing out the service last month in several markets.

Here’s what it does: The service performs a domain name server (DNS) redirect if a subscriber requests a Web site that doesn’t exist — e.g., www.mutlichannel.com — so that instead of a browser error message, Comcast returns a page of search results through a deal with Yahoo (which, it seems, will soon be from Microsoft’s Bing).

Comcast also features sponsored links on the DNS redirect pages. And so the outcry was predictable, with several tech blogs accusing Comcast of profiting from “DNS hijacking” (see these posts from Ars Technica, TechSpot, TheRegister and Slashdot).

Not everyone thinks Comcast’s Domain Helper is a wholly despicable business. DSLReports’ Karl Bode, for one, notes that Comcast has been doing a good job of letting users opt out, with the operator even pointing advanced users to the IP addresses of DNS servers that won’t perform redirection.

“While these services aren’t particularly liked by ‘Net ‘purists’ and are largely a money grab, at least Comcast’s going about the money grab the right way,” Bode writes.

I guess I’m not really a ‘Net purist, because DNS redirects showing search results instead of unhelpful error messages don’t cause me to gnash my teeth with outrage. It’s worth noting that several other ISPs also engage in DNS redirection for mistyped URLs, including Charter, Cox, Cablevision and Verizon.

And Google does it, too. I have the Google Toolbar installed in my browser, and when I typed in “http://www.comtcas.com” the screen below popped up.

So, is this an example of Google “hijacking” the Web? I’ll point out that the feature was activated by default, without my explicitly opting-in.

Let me know what you think.

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