WHOIS is something that’s been with us since the 1980’s, ever since those early days of the internet. WHOIS is the system whereby the companies that register domain names (domain name registries, GoDaddy would be an obvious example) not only take the personal information of those people and companies registering domain names, but also list that information in publicly-accessible WHOIS directories, making the information easy to find through free WHOIS search tools. Transparency has always been at the heart of the system.
So why exactly are the domain name registries so wedded to WHOIS? Simple, they’re contractually required to do it. The domain name registries acquire their authority to register domain names from the international body that’s responsible for the entire domain name system, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). ICANN has licenced a large number of domain name registries to register domain names and it is one of ICANN’s requirements that they all follow WHOIS.
WHOIS is regarded as a very important, if not invaluable, tool for those involved in, inter alia, enforcement activities, security research, WHOIS data analytics and journalism. An obvious example who be brand enforcement – anyone wanting to find out who is behind the online counterfeiting of a brand would start off by establishing who registered the domain name through which the counterfeiting operation is conducted. WHOIS unfortunately also has a negative side, in that the information it contains is also a source of great interest to spammers and hackers.
So on balance WHOIS is laudable. Although it is worth bearing in mind that secrecy is still available at a cost – domain name registries do offer users an option of hiding data, but they do need to pay for that privilege.
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