How to remove WHOIS database information and protect your online privacy

As part of the overall process of providing Internet governance, the WHOIS database is required to contain accurate contact information for domain name registrants. The original intent of gathering this information was to assist network administrators. This information was to be used to identify and repair problems, while preserving the stability and integrity of the Internet.

However, this information is increasingly being used in an unsavory fashion. Because of the personal nature of this contact information, many people feel that the WHOIS database violates privacy laws. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), though, continues to require accurate information to be entered. As a result, many individuals and businesses search for ways to remove themselves from the WHOIS database as a form of privacy control. This article discusses how to remove WHOIS database information and protect your online privacy.

Understanding the WHOIS database

The WHOIS database publicly displays contact information such as the registrant’s name, address, telephone and fax numbers and email address.

Although helpful to network administrators, this information is also exposed to the prying eyes of spammers, stalkers and others who may use the information nefariously. Even if the information isn’t used for corrupt purposes, its public display is considered by many to be a personal privacy intrusion. 

Many people feel that displaying this information infringes on free speech because it essentially prevents anonymous expression on the Internet. Others simply object to the fact that everyone — including governments, attorneys, law enforcement officials, employers and consumers — has access to this information. In fact, because the data are available globally, some even consider it to be a national security risk. Displaying this information could even contribute to identity theft and other forms of fraud.

Regardless of these facts, ICANN continues to enforce its ruling that this information must be accurately recorded. In fact, if a domain is discovered to have missing or inaccurate contact information, the domain owner could actually lose the rights to use it.

Nonconventional removal of WHOIS information

For those companies and individuals who prefer to keep their contact information private, there are nonconventional yet viable options.

Removing this information or entering erroneous information is one solution that domain owners sometimes resort to in an attempt to protect their privacy and online reputation. However, this method does put domain name owners at risk for losing their domain name if somebody reports the missing or inaccurate information. Additionally, missing or false information can make it appear as though the person or company has something to hide. As a result, many companies and individuals who are simply trying to protect their Internet reputation unintentionally end up damaging it instead. 

Watch out for this common mistake in learning how to remove WHOIS database information and protect your online privacy.

Using a WHOIS privacy service

In order to avoid running into problems with ICANN, many domain owners turn to WHOIS privacy services.

These services, frequently offered by domain name registrars, provide individuals and businesses with a method to prevent the display of their contact information. When these services are used, the domain owner’s personal contact information is no longer visible. Instead, the WHOIS database simply lists the name and contact information of the privacy service used. Because this contact information is indeed accurate, at least for the privacy service, it satisfies ICANN’s requirements.

Should you use a service to hide your information?

Privacy services have become increasingly popular among those who wish to protect their contact information. However, there are issues to consider before deciding to use one of these services. Although you’ll certainly protect your contact information, the public may wonder what you have to hide. If you have a legitimate business or website, using these services could potentially cause people to wonder about your Internet reputation. In fact, if you customarily send out newsletters or other email communications from your domain, hiding the WHOIS data could cause your communications to be flagged by spam control organizations. Additionally, customers are often more hesitant to shop online on websites that purposely hide their contact information.

Before making the decision to use a service, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons. Instead of protecting your online reputation, you could find that you’ve inadvertently damaged your online credibility instead.

Protecting privacy

For individuals who maintain one or more websites as a hobby, using a privacy service could make the most sense. Consider this viable option in assessing how to remove WHOIS database information and protect your online privacy.

Of course, it’s always possible that ICANN will change the rules of the game at some point in the future. However, until things change, domain owners who wish to protect their contact information must think creatively. Your reason for registering the domain, as well as your desire for privacy, must factor into the solution you choose.

For businesses that wish to avoid spammers and scammers, using a separate email address used only in relationship with the domain registration could be the solution. Registering a separate business name to use as the owner of the domains could also be effective. Some people even resort to having an unlisted phone number, used only for their domain registration.

While some of these methods may seem extreme, they can definitely be effective. When considering the options, the need for protecting one’s privacy and online reputation often comes out on top.