Science & Technology

WHOIS On First?


Right now, anyone can look up the real name of the owner of a website on the WHOIS database. You can see, for example, that this site is owned by the Reason Foundation (surprise!). This is a handy tool when people start behaving badly online, but also means that when Fido registers, anyone who's interested can find out that he is, indeed, a dog.

Recently, this convention has been challenged by privacy advocates:

A panel on Internet names voted Wednesday to conduct further studies on the databases containing names, phone numbers and other private information on domain name owners, deferring long-simmering questions over whether such details should remain public.

The committee of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, which oversees Internet addresses, also rejected a proposal to give Internet users the ability to list third-party contacts rather than their own private data in the open, searchable databases called Whois.

So no decision yet. Should the ICANN offer true anonymity to domain owners? I'm torn. I don't think there's an absolute right to privacy here–you can choose not to own a domain, and simply lurk anonymously on other people's sites, thus protecting your privacy. As far as I know, Blogger doesn't require ID to start a blog, so the existing structure of the Internet is not really even throwing up serious barriers to those who would like to anonymously produce content. On the other hand, I like the idea that I might be in a flame war with a dog and have no way of knowing it and that dogs who are enemies of the state could build truly anonymous online empires. Your thoughts?

More on Internet privacy here and here.