Last Call for Whois Comments

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2007-01-11 Print this article Print

Opinion: It's not a good sign when the criminals and the lawyers are on the same side of an issue; there may be no good solution to the problems of Whois service rules.

Who would have imagined that so much business and so much abuse would center around Internet domain names? Certainly not the designers of the system, including those of the Whois service, which reports on ownership and some other data on domain names. But an effort to reform the process is underway, and you have just a few days left to get in your opinion. Whois, like so much else of the Internet, was designed in an era of hippie trust amounting to naiveté. Of course it would have been better and, like, beautiful, man, if we could just trust users with ownership and contact information for domain names. But instead, the administration of the Domain Name System has turned into a disaster for everyone except those who abuse it, and much of the trouble stems directly from the free availability of this information. I suspect that one of the earliest sources for spam address harvesting was Whois, and it also provides the foundation for most examples of domain name theft.
Larry Seltzer thinks theres more evidence that the domain registration system is failing to serve the publics interests, and its going to get even worse. Click here to read more.
And then theres the general issue of privacy. Is it right that, in order to acquire and use a domain name, a user should have to disclose his or her address, phone number and e-mail address? In fact, Internet rules, promulgated by those great folks at ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), require that Whois data for a domain be accurate and up to date. There are very good reasons for keeping that information accurate and up-to-date: This is the contact information that will be used if an attempt is made to transfer your domain to a different registrar, and it may be up to you to deny the request. Other attempts to contact you, for reasons legitimate or otherwise, may go to these contact points. Faced with the abuse that comes from addresses being freely available, including spam and junk mail through the postal system, some people give false contact information. This is a bad idea. Even just putting a "nospam-remove" in your name could cause problems you might regret. So, some time ago ICANN formed a Whois Privacy Task Force. Actually, there seems to have been more than one Whois Task Force, and the discussions go back to 2003. But there is a Preliminary Task Force Report on Whois Services, Nov. 22, 2006, and the public comment period ends on Monday, Jan. 15. The first big "uh-oh" comes from the conclusion, up top, that the task force was, on the one hand, unable to agree on the purpose of Whois records or what data should be published, and on the other did agree that the current system is inscrutable and that any changes to it will be problematic. In other words, whatever we do will impinge on someones interests. Next page: The case of OPoC vs. Special Circumstances.

Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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