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How to Protect Your Privacy When You Register a Domain Name in WHOIS

Chandal Nolasco Da Silva
Unsplash image of locks

There are over 342 million registered domain names worldwide, and you can look up every single one on a public database called WHOIS.  

When someone registers a domain name, their personal contact information will be added to WHOIS. This means that your name, address, email or phone number could be found by anyone searching the database—unless you opt for private registration.

For peace of mind, many people choose to buy their domain name from a registrar that will automatically protect their identity.

To help you understand why using a hosting provider can be a great way to maintain your privacy, we’re breaking down what you need to know about WHOIS and why you want to protect your personal information.  


What Is WHOIS?

WHOIS is the public online listing of every registered domain name in the world. By searching WHOIS, you can find out who owns any domain. 

Domain name ownership and registration is regulated by The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). You can search WHOIS by visiting the ICANN’s WHOIS Lookup.

Screenshot of ICANN WHOIS site

When a new domain is registered, a new record is created in WHOIS. Each record contains all of the contact information (including name, phone number, address and email address) for the company or person who registered that specific domain.

These records include details for the registrant (the domain owner) and the registrar (the organization or commercial entity that registered the domain name) as well as important dates, like the creation date and expiry date of the record, and nameservers.  The record also shows contact information for administrative and technical needs should that be someone different than the registrant. 

Below you’ll see the result from searching Web.com in WHOIS. Note that our contact information is protected because we used a registrar that offers private registration. 

Screenshot of ICANN WHOIS results for web.com

What WHOIS Does

While WHOIS may seem like a simple database, the data it houses is extremely valuable. 

First off, the WHOIS database helps reinforce the stability and security of the internet by making contact information available to network operators, internet service providers and incident response teams.

This information can help safeguard against fraud and make it easier to track down malicious spam or phishing scams. It can also support law enforcement combating cyber crimes and the abusive use of information.

What’s more, WHOIS helps regulate the registration of domain names and supports inquiries related to ownership, such as trademark clearances, which can ensure intellectual property is appropriately protected.


How Private Is Your Information in WHOIS?

Since ICANN requires contact information be provided for every registered domain, anyone can access WHOIS to check the status of a domain and get the contact information provided in the database.

Many domain registrars offer proxy services, which means the organization doing the registration is the one providing their contact information to WHOIS. 

With private registration, there isn’t a 100% guarantee of privacy because registrars have to follow the law and may be required to release the information under specific circumstances. Your personal information will, however, be hidden from general searches. 

It’s important to note that there are exceptions to the rules for certain domain extensions:

  • .us – Owners of a domain with the .us extension do not have the option to make their information private.
  • .ca – Canadian law automatically protects those using this extension, meaning domain registrants are not required to have their contact details publicized. This rule only applies to individuals, not corporations. 
     


Choose a Registrar That Protects Your Identity

The fact that information in the WHOIS database is readily available to the public raises some valid concerns about protecting your privacy. 

One of the best ways to protect your information is to register your domain through a registrar that offers the option to do so privately. This means the registrar will provide their name and information as the contact information that appears in the WHOIS database.

Private domain registration is often considered an add-on service, so you may have to pay an additional fee that’s separate from the cost of your domain registration. 

If you’re wondering if paying for private registration is worth it, consider how much you value your privacy. Do you want your phone number and address on WHOIS for anyone and everyone to see? The low cost typically associated with private registration is a small price to pay for protection. 

Case in point, ex-White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer personal’s contact information, including his home address, email and phone number, were found and then shared publicly using WHOIS records. 

Sean Spicer personal info from WHOIS

By using private registration, you’ll be able to protect your identity, and you won’t receive unwanted solicitation. After all, it’s fairly common for certain types of technology service providers to use WHOIS to find potential customers.

Software engineer Victor Algaze chronicled what happened when he didn’t use private registration. He was inundated with calls and emails from service providers who scrape WHOIS for contact details. 

Victor Algaze spam calls screenshot

Now that you know more about WHOIS, you can make an informed decision about how to protect your online privacy. Finding a registrar that offers WHOIS privacy protection is one of the best ways to protect your personal information. The peace of mind you’ll have is well worth the small cost for privacy. 

Looking for a registrar that can ensure your identity is protected? Web.com offers a variety of services related to domain registration and web hosting.  


 

Image Credits
Featured Image: Unsplash / Rubén Bagüés
All screenshots taken by the author, July 2019.
Image 1, 2: via ICANN 
Image 3: via Mashable 
Image 4 via Victor Algaze on Medium 

Chandal Nolasco da Silva author bio