- Every year, millions of individuals, businesses, organizations and governments register domain names. Each one must provide identifying and contact information which may include: name, address, email, phone number, and administrative and technical contacts. This information is often referred to as “WHOIS data.”
- WHOIS service is not a single, centrally-operated database. Instead, the data is managed by independent entities known as registrars and registries. Any entity that wants to become a registrar must earn ICANN accreditation.
- WHOIS data is key for fixing system problems, maintaining Internet stability, and enhancing the accountability of registrants.
- The “one-size-fits-all” disclosure of identifying information may also expose registrants, especially individual registrants, to potential spam, phishing, and identity theft.
- Due to its implication in privacy, data protection, policing, security, and malicious use and abuse, WHOIS matters to end users, especially individual registrants.
What is WHOIS?
When you register a domain name for your website, you are required to provide your identifying information, which may include: name, address, email, and phone number. This information is part of your “WHOIS” data (not an acronym), which also encompasses the technical, billing, and administrative contact information associated with your domain name.
When registering a domain name, you are required to provide accurate, complete identifying information based on the requirement from the registrars (companies that sell Internet domain names) and update it promptly if there are any changes during the term of your registration period. Failure to do so may result in your domain name being suspended or canceled.
Independent registrars and registries (organizations that operate generic top level domains) under contract with ICANN manage the WHOIS data. Required by ICANN’s Affirmation of Commitments they provide unrestricted, public access to this information. Anyone can use free WHOIS look-up site like this to identify you, the registrant (the domain name holder).
Why WHOIS matters to you?
WHOIS matters to you because 1) you are obligated to provide and maintain accurate, complete WHOIS data and 2) the data is publicly available.
What are the implications?
On one hand, WHOIS data is key for fixing system problems, maintaining Internet stability, and enhancing the accountability of registrants. Accurate WHOIS data can protect you by assisting law enforcement tracking down registrants who may be posting illegal content or engaging in phishing scams for example.
On the other hand, the disclosure of private information via WHOIS may also expose you to potential spam, phishing, and identity theft. Hence, some registries and registrars offer privacy or proxy services that show only the contact information of the service to shield registrants from revealing their true identities in the database.
What is ICANN’s role in WHOIS?
In 1982, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) published the protocol for directory service, which formed the basis of WHOIS. ICANN inherited the WHOIS protocol in 1998 and took over the responsibility of implementing measures to maintain timely, unrestricted, and public access to accurate and complete WHOIS information.
To carry out this responsibility, ICANN has developed and implemented consensus policies to set up the basic framework that directs how the WHOIS service is operated. As the WHOIS protocol remains largely unchanged since 1999 in spite of its expanded uses, ICANN has had to modify WHOIS requirements over the years and assess specific issues periodically via a WHOIS Policy Review Team performed by volunteer community members, including our At-Large members. Specifically, ICANN’s Generic Name Supporting Organization (GNSO) works to develop new policies to address each issue, as appropriate. ICANN’s advisory committees, including the At-Large Advisory Committee (ALAC), provide advice to revise and refine WHOIS policies.
What are the WHOIS policies?
ICANN has adopted several consensus policies over the years to improve WHOIS services. Click here to read a comprehensive explanation of WHOIS related policies, practices, and procedures.
As the evolution of the Internet ecosystem has created challenges for WHOIS in every area, the GNSO has initiated a series of studies in several key issues to reform existing policies and develop new policies. Click here to learn about the issues.
How the At-Large community has contributed to WHOIS policies?
Advocating for the interests of registrants like you, we advise on reviews and studies related WHOIS, with a keen focus on the accuracy issues and privacy rights. Through publishing Policy Advice Statement, participating in WHOIS Policy Review Team and cross-community working groups that handle issues such as privacy and proxy services accretion, and speaking in teleconferences and meetings, we influence WHOIS related policy and make the end-users’ voice heard.
How can you get involved?
Want to get involved in WHOIS policy development and voice the interests from end-users? There are several ways for you to engage through At-Large.
Despite your membership in the At-Large community, you (in fact, anyone!) can volunteer for our Registration Issues Working Group by sending a message to email@example.com. You will be participating in conference calls and mailing list discussion about policy issues. If you just want to be an observer in the group, simply subscribe to its mailing list.
- Learn more about At-Large Working Groups
- Learn more about Other Ways to Get Involved in WHOIS-related Policy Development