December 5, 2002 2:55 PM PST

ICANN urged to scrutinize domain claims

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The standards body for Internet domain names should ratchet up efforts to ensure the accuracy of domain-name owner data and eliminate bulk marketing that uses domain-name information, according to recommendations of an Internet task force.

The recommendations of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) task force stemmed from discussions over Whois, a database for the .com, .net and .org domains that contains contact information of people who register Web sites.

In a document published Nov. 30, the task force called for requiring domain-name registrants to review and validate contact information when renewing with a registrar such as VeriSign or Go Daddy. The task force also proposed stricter rules for those seeking to re-register a domain name once it has been deleted because of false information or because the registrant did not respond in time to an inquiry.

Under current ICANN policies, registrar organizations are encouraged, but not required, to verify information from people who have submitted false information. The proposal would mandate that registrars verify contact information before making the customer's Web site and e-mail operable again.

Verification could take the form of a document with proof of address, said ICANN spokeswoman Mary Hewitt. "This would be a second step," she said. "You'd have to verify" the contact information.

The report also proposes that ICANN eliminate any bulk marketing involving access to Whois data. Already, marketing based on Whois data is limited. A third-party organization buying Whois data from a domain-name registrar can only send mass, unsolicited marketing to those who were already customers of that organization. The proposal is open for public comment until Dec. 8.

ICANN's task force report comes amid continuing concern about Internet fraud. In May, Reps. Howard Berman, D-Calif., and Howard Coble, R-N.C., introduced a bill that would imprison people for up to five years for providing false data when registering a domain name on the Web. Privacy advocates, though, say individuals or organizations may have legitimate reasons for placing anonymous data on the registries. For example, attorneys or nonprofit organizations might wish to set up domain names on behalf of someone else or give anonymous information to protect sensitive or private information.

Another ICANN task force has addressed a different controversy related to domain-name registration: the ability of consumers to switch from one registrar to another. During the task force's deliberations, registrars raised fears that a transfer system could lead to abuse, where customers agree to switch providers without fully understanding the transaction. But the task force concluded that "registrants are entitled to transfer their registration from one registrar to another, and the process to do so should be easy, fluid, transparent and inexpensive."

The task force arrived at 29 policy recommendations, including a requirement that registrars must provide an e-mail address for use by all other registrars and registries concerning transfers.

ICANN manages domain names through contracts with domain-name registrar companies. ICANN's board of directors next meets Dec. 14 and Dec. 15.

 

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