Today’s Wall Street Journal discusses the fight over Whois privacy.
The article on the front page of the Marketplace section starts by discussing how the American Red Cross and eBay use the Whois database to track down scammers:
Last fall, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the American Red Cross used an Internet database called “Whois” that lists names and numbers of Web-site owners to shut down dozens of unauthorized Web sites that were soliciting money under the Red Cross logo. Online marketplace eBay Inc. says its investigators use Whois hundreds of times a day to pursue scamsters. Insurance giant Transamerica recently used Whois to trace the owner of a Web site purportedly in the Middle East but actually U.S.-based — that was selling insurance by infringing on the Transamerica trademark.
It discusses how proposed rules would allow Whois to list only a technical contact for each domain name. A technical contact could be a web hosting company rather than an individual owner.
This would make it difficult for trademark owners to send cease and desist letters to people they think are cybersquatting. Trademark owners would have to skip this step and go directly to a UDRP or get a subpoena. This could be bad for domainers, as typically the issue can be worked out at the cease and desist stage.
The Wall Street Journal article says that registrars would benefit from the Whois changes because more people would be willing to register domains. But it doesn’t address how the registrars are making millions from offering Whois privacy services. That revenue would completely disappear (although it is already being marginalized as registrars start offering privacy for free).
At last week’s Domain Roundtable, ICANN CEO Paul Twomey commented on Whois privacy. From my previous entry:
Twomey suggested that many people in the room are probably on the side of more privacy, not less privacy, in the Whois database. Twomey posed the question “what is your true business need for more privacyâ€. Without taking a side on the issue, Twomey urged that domainers look at the long term implications of privacy. He noted the importance of offering access to such information to law enforcement. If law enforcement doesn’t have access to this information and something big happens – say terrorism in which having access to this data is crucial – governments might make snap judgments that will hurt privacy even more.
I understand the need for privacy in certain circumstances. One way registrars sell Whois privacy is to tell domain registrants about the spam their email address will get if it’s listed in Whois. I recently changed the Whois email address for many of my domains to a unique email to track Whois spam (I’ll post about the results of my experiment later). But I also get dozens of calls to my number listed in Whois each month from people trying to sell me things. I propose that all email addresses in Whois be forwarding addresses. For example, domainnamewire.com would be something like firstname.lastname@example.org. This would allow ICANN or another body to track the biggest offenders of Whois spam.
If Whois requirements are changed I hope that registrants still have the option of listing themselves (other than as a technical contact). Whois is used frequently for unsolicited domain purchase offers. None of us would like to see those disappear!