ICANN gives “thick” Whois the green light


ICANN’s board has approved rules that will force all new generic top-level domain (gTLD) registries to adopt a “thick” Whois model.

Registries using such a model provide information about both a domain name and its registrant through the Whois protocol, rather than just a domain name, which “thin” models hold.

“Thick” models are seen as better for tracking down cybersquatters.

In a resolution on February 7, the board backed recommendations made last October by the head of ICANN’s policy-making body for gTLDs.

The council of that body, the Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO), voted unanimously that “thick” Whois “with a consistent labelling and display ... should become a requirement for all gTLD registries, both existing and future”.

The GNSO council also backed a review of laws applying to moving data from a “thin” to “thick” model that have not already been scrutinised. This is because of potential privacy issues associated with the change.

Should any privacy issues emerge that require additional policy review, the council said at the time, ICANN should take “appropriate” action.

Verisign, which operates domains such as .com and .net, is the only gTLD registry to maintain a “thin” model. Under such a model, registrars manage registrant data and provide it through their own Whois service.

With the “thick” model’s approval, ICANN’s president and the implementation review team, a specialist Whois team, are required to implement a new Whois policy.

The changes are a “step in the right direction”, said Nick Bolter, partner at Edwards Wildman Palmer LLP.

“But it doesn’t mean that it is necessarily easy to ascertain who is responsible for websites,” he said. “There is still the significant issue of false data.

“The other issue is people using privacy services, which is a ‘black hole’. You can send as many cease-and-desist letters as you like to privacy services ... I have never ever received a response to those letters,” he said.

Formal discussions on reforming Whois date to 2012, when the GNSO council launched a policy development process on the use of “thick” Whois by all gTLD registries.

This article was first published on 12 February 2014 in World IP Review

ICANN, whois protocol, thick whois, thin whois, gtlds

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