I think GDPR has made domain investing more challenging for the past few years. Despite the fact that GDPR regulations cover Europeans and European companies, some registrars have opted to block public WHOIS data across the board, while allowing registrants to opt out if they wish. Domain registrants in the US have been largely spared by this, but that is going to change in a couple of months.
As I shared on Friday evening, GoDaddy is planning to remove public Whois records in June. I am disappointed with this because Whois records offer valuable information about domain name registrants which can be used to inquire about domain name purchases, perform due diligence on a prospective purchase, and to do general research about domain registrants.
Putting politics aside (please), I want to share how GoDaddy Whois records provided insight into domain registrations for New York Times journalists investigating anti-lockdown protests:
— Lee Fang (@lhfang) April 21, 2020
Although this particular investigative research focused on politically charged domain name registrations, it would not be limited to politics. Domain registration information can be used to investigate criminal activity, business news and acquisitions, sports and entertainment deals, and other important news topics.
Yes, many people spend the extra few dollars for Whois privacy, but obviously some do not. In addition, DomainTools provides a valuable resource with its historical Whois tool, but that is only helpful if there are public Whois records available at the outset, otherwise these Whois records can not be indexed for future investigative research.
When the largest domain registrar in the world removes public Whois records by default, we are losing a valuable resource. Obviously, my interest is primarily related to buying and selling domain names (and tracking domain name sales), but there are other reasons for why I think it will be a major net loss when Whois records disappear.
Notably, I do not think GoDaddy is making this decision in order to keep inquiries within its own walled garden. I understand there are changes on the horizon, particularly related to the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). Regardless of why public Whois records are being eliminated, I think the loss of them will reverberate well beyond the domain investment space.