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OpenDNS and Firefox Search

Doc asks why opendns has broken the search from the address bar feature of his firefox. The problem is that the address bar fail over to google relies on the dns request failing, but opendns requests never fail. Instead, if an opendns server gets a request for a non-existent address, it display the opendns search/advertising page instead. That’s how they make their money. One of the many side effects of this behavior is that when you type ‘cotcaro’ into the firefox address bar, firefox first tries to lookup ‘’ and ‘’. On a normal dns server, those lookups would fail, and firefox would then try a search for ‘cotcaro’. But with opendns, the name lookup never fails. Instead, it returns the address for the opendns search/advertising page. So firefox doesn’t get the chance to fall through to the search.

I’d advise Doc not to use opendns in any case. In addition to creating ugly side effects like described above by breaking the dns protocol, it makes its money by selling information about its clients to other companies in the way that all search / advertising companies do:

We are affiliated with a variety of businesses and work closely with them in order to provide our services to users. We will only share personal information with affiliates to the extent that is necessary for such affiliates to provide the services. For example, when a website visitor searches on OpenDNS, the IP address and query are shared with OpenDNS’s advertising partners.

The given example may describe what almost every search engine does to make it money (search on google, google displays some ads for other companies, when you click on one of those ads, the company gets your ip address and the term you searched for). But the language in the clause allows opendns to sell any of your personal information to any of its customers “to the extent that is necessary .. to provide the services.”

Update: language edited slightly to make clear that opendns just seems to be selling information about its clients in the same way that other search / advertising companies do.


  1. Hal — We have never EVER sold any data about OpenDNS customers to another company.

    Two things you seem to miss:

    1) We let you revert your address bar behavior. Just login to your account and disable the OpenDNS proxy. The vast majority of our users like it as it makes shortcuts work reliably and gives people their custom guide page. It’s using YDN right now for results, but we hope to switch it to BOSS. If we knew of an API to use Google, we’d obviously love to give our users that choice too.

    2) We have never sold, nor do we have any intention of selling any customer data ever. You have completely taken that line from our privacy policy out of context. All that means is that when you click an ad, our advertising partner (Yahoo) will see your IP address and the typo you made that resulted in you seeing the ad you clicked on. Nothing more.

    And of course, you can disable logging if you’d like. We provide all logging for your benefit, to show you your stats. If you don’t want it (it’s off by default) we don’t store any logs about your DNS patterns.

    Please update your post accordingly.

    Posted on 07-Sep-08 at 11:12 am | Permalink
  2. Doc Searls wrote:

    I understand why the failover works. What I don’t understand is why it suddenly started to work that way. In the past, the address bar also served as a google search bar unless I typed or pasted in an actual URL. The search default was I’m Feeling Lucky — which was a trip directly to the site Google thought was requrested. Otherwise it went to a Google search. Now Google is gone and there is only OpenDNS. For example, if I type in “searls” it goes straight to an OpenDNS (actually, Yahoo) search for searls. Why the change? That’s what I don’t get. I also don’t get how to un-change it. Where is the Firefox setting for address bar behaviors?

    Posted on 07-Sep-08 at 12:06 pm | Permalink
  3. Doc — nothing has changed on our end in months.

    If you go to about:config in Firefox and look for keyword.url you can change that to whatever you want.

    If you want to stop us from responding to address bar search requests, login to your OpenDNS account and turn off “OpenDNS proxy.” Note that if you do that, shortcuts and other typo correction features will start to break.

    Posted on 07-Sep-08 at 12:25 pm | Permalink
  4. hal wrote:


    It sounds like the problem is that your network setup got changed somehow so that you are now using opendns as your dns server. Most likely, whatever isp you are connecting through has changed to using opendns as their default dns server. So the change didn’t happen in firefox. It happened in your underlying network configuration as pushed to you by your isp, and firefox is just making the change apparent.

    To verify this in windows, go to the command line and type ‘ipconfig /all’. If the dns server listed is opendns, that’s the issue. To get the search as address bar fall through working again, you’ll need to manually change your dns server back to some non-opendns dns server (or call and complain to your isp and get them to change back to a non-opendns dns server for their network).

    Posted on 07-Sep-08 at 12:26 pm | Permalink
  5. hal wrote:


    I’ve edited the text slightly. At the end of the day, yahoo gives you money in return for information about what websites your clients are browsing for. That qualifies as selling your clients’ data. The exception in your privacy policy further allows for a large range of behaviors to which many folks would object. It seems to me, for example, to allow you to affiliate yourself with NebuAd for the purpose of providing more targeted advertising to your clients. There’s a broad range of such possible objectionable activities that fall under the rubric of affiliated advertising services.

    What’s most troubling about opendns is that the system is opt-in and opaque to most users, as strongly indicated by the fact that the very bright and technology savvy Doc Searls can’t figure out why his firefox has suddenly broken. That he can opt-out by signing up for an account on your system and wading through the preferences is completely beside the point. A quick look at the search page shows a tiny ‘why am i here’ link in the top right that doesn’t explain at all that opendns has injected itself into the dns process. It’s one thing for someone to visit yahoo voluntarily and submit his info to them. It’s another for the opendns search page to be injected into the browsing session via a deep and opaque mechanism.

    Posted on 07-Sep-08 at 1:02 pm | Permalink
  6. silencer wrote:

    On both my desktop AND the brand new acer one netbook I bought YESTERDAY, suddenly my firefox searches ended in OPEN DNS GUIDE.
    I was able to get my searches unhijacked by this ‘setting’, back to google.
    I am quite mad about this. Why did OPENDNS hack my firefox browsers?
    Secondly, NOW if I type in a site manually, instead of a 404 I am getting redirected to OPENDNS GUIDE. I do not have any settings left to change.

    Is there a lawyer launching a class action lawsuit against this company, as I would like to write a statement for court about how they took over my browser and cost me several hours of time and I STILL can’t get rid of it?

    Posted on 13-Nov-08 at 12:58 am | Permalink
  7. Neil wrote:

    No one should “have” to sign up at opendns just to get there browser working as it used to.

    As an IT professional this has really infuriated me as it acts just like any twopenny browser hijacker out there, changing my browsing experience without my say so or permission.

    Can’t think of a better way to alienate people from your product than to force it on them and tell them they can get around it by signing up!

    Just like the scumware that infects peoples machines telling them they have multiple viruses and the like that can only be removed by paying them $19.99 for their virus removal software (which only removes their hijacker.. sometimes)

    Posted on 05-Dec-08 at 1:49 pm | Permalink
  8. Michael wrote:

    I like OpenDNS and have used it for a long time. But now, some of the time, an unresolved IP brings up Yahoo instead. What happened? OpenDNS is there sometimes.

    I think OpenDNS is rather clever. I hate how Yahoo pays to hijack the installation of other programs.

    Posted on 21-Dec-08 at 8:45 am | Permalink
  9. H. P. Organthruster wrote:

    David Ulevitch of OpenDNS wrote that you can “just login to your [OpenDNS] account and disable the OpenDNS proxy”.

    Well, I’d like to echo Neil’s comments above that being forced to create a user account on a service you don’t wish to use in order to disable it is beyond ridiculous, it’s contemptible. Long term you will irritate almost everyone.

    In addition, any company whose privacy policy opens with “collects potentially personally-identifying information” is asking for trouble when it suddenly starts collecting that information without your knowledge.

    In a word, awesome.

    Posted on 29-Apr-09 at 9:04 am | Permalink
  10. bob wrote:

    All you have to do to get around OpenDNS typo behavior and still use it as a filter, is to simply, add no redirect add on to firefox. This fixes all the nasty things by opendns, verisign, ect…. and still lets you use their service.

    Now you may say, but, you are stealing revenue if you do this. I say I wouldn’t touch those ads anyway. And its only my computer, the rest of my roommates still have the ads.

    Posted on 12-Jul-09 at 5:58 pm | Permalink
  11. o wrote:

    This is the add on that are you searching

    Posted on 15-Aug-09 at 3:08 am | Permalink
  12. DUST wrote:

    David Ulbitch you are scum for hijacking my comp with your garbage then making me have to signup just to disable opendns

    Posted on 27-Oct-09 at 1:51 pm | Permalink