FTC defends availability of Whois, and you should too.
The debate over availability of Whois information continued this week during the Morocco ICANN meeting. FTC Commissioner John Leibowitz presented several examples of how Whois helped the FTC shut down fishers, scammers, and various illegal activities. This is a hot topic, and ICANN CEO Paul Twomey discussed at Domain Roundtable the pros and cons of making this data available .
Most domainers would like to shut down public access to Whois. But there are a number of reasons why the domain community should support open access to accurate Whois information:
1. It allows people to contact you about buying your domains and vice-versa. How many times have you wanted to buy a domain and the only way to contact the owner was to look up the domain in Whois? I’m shocked when people owning quality, generic domains hide behind Whois privacy as it makes it more difficult for buyers to contact them. (Unless they really don’t want to sell.)
2. You can research research buyers and sellers. If you are buying a domain on DNForum, it often makes sense to check the identity of a seller through Whois before completing a purchase.
3. It provides a verification mechanism for domain exchanges like Afternic and Sedo and domain parking services.
4. You can still use a Whois privacy service under the current “open access” policy if you have a true need for protecting your identity. (Privacy services are also being debated.)
There are some obvious drawbacks to having an open Whois system. Perhaps the biggest is the amount of spam and phone calls you get by having your information open to everyone. Sadly, the Whois database is misused by some of the world’s biggest companies, including Yahoo, for sales purposes. But there’s any easy way to fix this. ICANN could create an e-mail forwarding system for Whois e-mail addresses. For example, I could register my domain using my true e-mail address and ICANN would mask it to be firstname.lastname@example.org. This masked e-mail would automatically forward to my real e-mail address but allow ICANN to track abuse. You could also change this masking address if it became favorite prey of spambots. ICANN could do a similar thing for phone numbers but this would be expensive. Phone numbers are probably not necessary and could be hidden for use only my law enforcement.
This isn’t a simple debate, but domainers should think through the consequences before jumping on the Whois privacy bandwagon.