Domain Registration, the WHOIS Directory, and Your Privacy

Sometimes, staying out of the spotlight is a good thing

By Jesse Wilson

Staying Out of the SpotlightSo you’ve taken your first step towards getting your business online by registering a domain name. Congratulations are in order! You’ve now stepped onto a virtual stage that has the potential to exponentially expand your audience. However, you need to be prepared to deal with the paparazzi waiting just outside the door. Here’s what you should know about registering domain names, the WHOIS database, and your privacy.

WHOIS: Don’t worry, it’s not another acronym

In 1982, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF for short) published a protocol that was used to create a directory of users on the ARPANET, which was the predecessor to our beloved Internet. That directory contained the contact information for anyone who requested to send data over the network.

Today, the WHOIS system is in place to ask the question, “Who is responsible for this domain name or IP address?” Every domain name that’s registered must have a record of the person or organization who registered it (i.e. the registrant). That record must be publicly available and includes (among other things) the name, address, telephone number and email address of the domain’s registrant. 

Your contact information and the WHOIS directory

Public, WHOIS information is really a good thing. It’s one way that domain name owners are kept accountable. If a registrant is using a domain to send spam, link to malware, or point to abusive content, there is an easily accessible record of who’s responsible for it. It’s also another place where a website/business can have its contact information listed, which can sometimes help their customers get in contact with them. Not to mention the bragging rights!

Unfortunately, it’s not only nice people like you and I who have access to this information. Nefarious types like spammers, identity thieves and Internet antagonists (aka trolls) would like your contact details, too. They can gain access to them by simply looking up your domain name on any WHOIS look-up website. There are also services that watch for and list new domain registrations, which makes it that much easier for such people to find potential targets.

Making your information private

To help fend off the unpleasant things that can happen when your contact details are published, registrars often offer a supplementary WHOIS privacy service. Such services allow the registrar to be a proxy for the registrant. They publish the registrar’s contact information on the WHOIS directory, and keep the registrant’s information private.

Ideally, this kind of service should be purchased when you register your domain. This stops the information from getting indexed or cached by WHOIS look-up websites and search engines. However, in most cases it can be purchased any time after the domain is registered.

It’s important to keep in mind that not every type of domain is eligible for such privacy services. Some domain extensions (like .US) don’t allow registrants to obscure their contact information. Others (like .UK and .CA domains) provide their own privacy settings. In general, if privacy isn’t offered when you purchase the domain, then it most likely isn’t allowed by the domain’s registry.

Jesse WilsonBio: Jesse Wilson has been educating customers with GoDaddy since 2009. He’s spent the majority of that time assisting customers with technical issues via email and over social media channels. He has background experience in industries ranging from human services to construction. Jesse enjoys helping people reach that “aha” moment of understanding complex issues. He loves spending his free time with his family, creating websites using WordPress, and playing tabletop or PC games.