The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (“ICANN”) manages the Internet name and address system. Two recent public announcements from ICANN are of particular interest.

WHOIS Studies and Privacy

Typically there is a WHOIS searchable database for each generic Top Level Domain (“TLD”) such as .com, .net and each country code TLD such as .ca. The database can be consulted online to ascertain if a domain name has previously been registered in that TLD. In addition, the relevant register must collect and maintain accurate and up-to-date contact data for each domain name holder.

The existence of accurate and up-to-date contact data for domain name holders is important to law enforcement agencies, trade mark lawyers and journalists since it is the only way to ascertain who is responsible for websites or domain names that infringe a trade mark owner’s rights. On the other hand, there are those who object to the release of this information for privacy purposes, including the fact that the information can be used by spammers.

ICANN has established a committee that has been examining this issue for several years. The committee recently rejected a proposal to give Internet users the ability to list third-party contacts rather than their own private data in the WHOIS databases. They also voted to conduct further studies on the databases, deferring long simmering questions over whether such information should remain public.

Domain Name Frontrunning (Snatching)

Another ICANN committee is considering the opportunity for a person with some form of insider information to track an Internet user’s preference for registering a domain name and pre-emptively registering that name. It seems there have been a number of instances where an individual making an availability check of a domain name has found that third parties have purchased the domain name and wish to sell it to them.

The committee acknowledged that a perception exists within the community that monitoring or spying is taking place when would-be registrants check the availability of a domain name. However, the committee decided that additional study, including a review of documented incidents, should take place.

The committee has advised that checking the availability of a domain name can be a sensitive act which may disclose an interest in, or a value attributed to, a domain name and suggested that domain name availability look-ups should be performed with care.