Using WHOIS search tools, it’s possible for anyone to check the ownership of a specific domain name. Whenever a new domain is acquired, the registrant must log their details with the domain registry responsible for overseeing that particular TLD. This is a legal requirement, and a website cannot be launched until these obligations have been met.
What information is available through a WHOIS search?
Registering a new domain typically requires you to submit postal and email addresses, together with your name and a contact phone number. This information is then added to a public directory and listed alongside the domain name. Anyone with an internet connection is able to view it anonymously. However, this may be a concern for privacy-conscious individuals or those who have previously had personal information scraped off other directories and sold on by blackhat marketing firms.
It may be possible to prevent this by making your WHOIS listing private. However, this does depend on the conscience of the domain registry responsible for a particular TLD. Popular domains like .com or .co.uk are overseen by honorable organizations with sympathy towards our desire for privacy. Conversely, some registries (including the ones behind .io and .us) don’t support identity cloaking. Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do about this, other than purchasing a different TLD for your next website!
How to make WHOIS information private
As the body responsible for overseeing domain registries, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, has imposed a number of stipulations around domain privacy. Companies can’t request anonymity, neither can the owner of a trading or advertising-oriented website. However, private individuals with no obvious method of revenue generation through their website are entitled to ask for WHOIS privacy. This generally involves a customer’s details being substituted by those of a proxy. Enquiries from the public can be forwarded on via the proxy, while the company responsible for selling the website – such as WestHost – will already have the customer’s details on file should any issues arise.
Your identity can be cloaked by individual TLD registries, as well as third-party providers including WestHost. We are currently running an offer where domain privacy is included free with any .com domain purchase. Existing customers can add it for just $10 per year, by logging into their control panel. However, because online content is constantly being archived, this will only affect new searches through WHOIS. Historic contact data might still be visible online, if people know where (and how) to search for it…