ICANN Opens GNSO Whois Study on Privacy/Proxy Abuse for Comment

ICANN has opened the Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO) Whois study on privacy/proxy abuse for public comment. Performed by the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), this study is one of many commissioned by the GNSO to examine the current, disparate, and often maligned registration directory service, and aims to measure the hypothesis that “a significant percentage of the domain names used to conduct illegal or harmful Internet activities are registered via privacy and proxy services to obscure the perpetrator’s identity.” 

According to ICANN Senior Policy Director Mary Wong, who published a preview of the study last week (ICANN Blog: Results of the GNSO Whois Privacy/Proxy Abuse Study), the preliminary findings support the hypothesis by demonstrating a “significant, above-average rate of privacy/proxy use for domains engaged in illegal or harmful online activities such as online sales of counterfeit goods, unsolicited commercial bulk email, cybersquatting, phishing and more.

Some of the initial NPL findings are:

  • More than half of sampled unlicensed pharmacies used privacy/proxy services to register their domain name, in contrast to less than 10% of licensed pharmacies.

  • Almost half of sampled advanced fee fraud cases used privacy/proxy services to register their domain name.

  • 83% - 93% of domains engaged in harmful or illegal activities could be reached by the Whois provided contact information when privacy and proxy services were not used.


MarkMonitor and our clients have long championed the accreditation and restriction of privacy and proxy services, to ensure that only those individuals and organizations with legitimate, non-commercial reasons to shield their identify online can do so.   However, as evidenced by the study, those engaged in illegal and harmful activity online can hide behind fake or incomplete Whois information just as easily as they can hide behind privacy and proxy services.  Accreditation and overhaul of the privacy/proxy system is just one step toward a much needed overhaul of Whois.

This study, which supports our belief that privacy and proxy services are being abused by cybersquatters and other wrongdoers on the Internet in order to escape detection and consequence, is especially important and timely.  The ICANN Community is considering the initial recommendations of the Expert Working Group on New gTLD Directory Services (EWG), which has been tasked with fixing the current, broken system and/or replacing the Whois system entirely.  MarkMonitor comments on the initial recommendations of the EWG can be found here.

MarkMonitor is currently reviewing the full study for public comment.

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Alison Simpson
With more than 13 years’ experience in the domain industry, Alison has managed all aspects of Corporate Domain Managem... More