The confusing definition is that WHOIS data is information stored in a WHOIS database that ICANN regulates. But, what is WHOIS and what type of data does it’s database carry? For starters, WHOIS is not an acronym, but rather a pun for ‘whose domain name is this?’.
Simply put, WHOIS is an example of a protocol that receives queries from the public regarding a domain name, then fetches and displays the response from decentralized registries around the world. The protocol was established in 1982 and to this day is a free service where users look up the identity of those who own a given domain name and their location.
One can also look up for IP addresses or use domain tools to look up for a domain name(s) very quickly. But, looking up for a domain name in a manual way is tedious, especially with so many domain registrars scattered around the world. And this is why we have WHOIS today.
What information is collected and stored in a WHOIS database?
These databases store the names and addresses of both the domain name sellers and the buyers, as well as administrative and technical addresses. Additional data includes name servers, the registration date of domains, the expiration date of domains, and any updates made on already registered domain names.
Two ways of storing WHOIS data
With minimal details
Data stored with minimal details comes with limited access and includes only the date of domain name registration, contact of domain name seller, and name servers.
With extensive details
This data in this model is unlimited and includes everything regarding ownership of a given domain name. This means that one can access information such as contact details of the domain name owner and name servers.
Aside from that, information such as the registration date of the domain, place of domain name registration, and the expiry date of the domain name is also found in this database model. This is, of course, on top of the technical, domain owner, and administration addresses.
Why is WHOIS data important
There are many purposes for the information within WHOIS databases, and below we describe some of the most important ones.
Domain name availability
By looking up a domain name in WHOIS, one can ascertain if the name is available for purchase or already taken by another person. If already taken, one has to try out another alternative.
WHOIS data can help in the arbitration of a dispute regarding ownership of domain name(s) or other internet resources among concerned parties. All one needs is to check the WHOIS database for relevant information.
WHOIS data is vital because ICANN, which monitors and maintains the allocation and use of the domain names, can regulate its usage and status.
Intellectual Property rights
WHOIS data is critical when it comes to bringing to light those behind misuse or infringement of copyright, trademarks, and intellectual property in line with the existing laws. To avoid registering IP, trademarks, or copyright that could already be owned by someone else, professionals can verify the information they have from WHOIS data.
Fighting online crime
The internet is awash with hateful groups that spread propaganda, conspiracies, racism, violence, and other criminal vices. The groups mentioned above have websites with domain names.
WHOIS data helps law enforcers to catch up with such groups and apprehend them. Also, their domain names could be seized and terminated if found guilty.
Establish reliability and credibility
WHOIS data offers the public a chance to verify the credentials of online businesses if in doubt before making any purchase or long term commitment. One can establish through WHOIS data if the business exists physically by checking where the domain name is registered, the name of domain name owner, and physical addresses.
People have lost large sums of money to fake companies that they could not contact for a refund. So WHOIS data in that respect is worth an arm and a leg!
Criticism against WHOIS data’s lack of privacy
Lack of privacy for some domain owners who do not want their domain names and contact details floating around on the internet is an issue. WHOIS data lookup is free of charge, and basically, anyone can access it for whatever purpose.
One can not rule out data falling into the wrong hands and for fraud, particularly spammers, impersonators, hackers to name but a few!
WHOIS data privacy solution
Several domain name sellers or if you like, registrars now offer proxy services for a small fee. Proxy services mean the domain name seller(registrar) details will pop up in a WHOIS search instead of the domain name owner’s (registrant) contact details. Proxy services are also known as private registration.
Through proxy services, one can stop spam mail and keep your credentials private and safe. However, it is good to know that the domain name seller could be forced by the law to release information if any need arises.