Online Brand Protection in Times of GDPR — Now What?

The discussion about ICANN and its handling of the latest privacy law is ongoing, but one thing is for sure: the effects of GDPR on the WHOIS database are severe. Registries are announcing the (partial) disappearance of domain registration information left and right and have made it difficult to find the owner of a site. So how can you continue your online brand protection in this era of privacy legislation?

Until last month, the WHOIS data for a domain name included the registrant’s name, email address, phone number and often even email. In other words, it was the perfect database for you as an Intellectual Property professional, to find those with bad intentions and reach out. It could even help you build a case against them if direct contact failed. 
 
Now that same database is a sea of unknowns and snippets of information. Some registries will continue to publish email addresses of domain registrants, whereas others in the industry choose to redact all WHOIS information and only offer you a contact form to get in touch. But what kind of criminal will respond to a takedown request received through a contact form?
 
The disappearance of valuable information in WHOIS records makes the database significantly less useful. You might spend hours looking for a domain name’s owner only to find that all you have to connect is a fill-in form. It is time to move on from WHOIS and look for other methods that can support your work.

Photo by Dayne Topkin on Unsplash

So What Can You Do?

We know it’s easier said than done, but you need to find other ways to determine website ownership and uncover contact details of potential bad actors. Luckily, there are still several tools that can help you get an investigation underway:

1. Reverse Domain Check
Often you need the first nugget of information to start your research. A website like yougetsignal.com is a good starting point and finds websites with the same IP address as the domain name you enter. If one of these sites has WHOIS information available, it can take you to the person you are trying to find.
 
Or, you can use the SpyOnWeb tool. It is a free method to get DNS information, Google Analytics IDs or IP addresses based on a domain name you already have. It is a small step, but it can provide you with the data you need to continue your inquiry.

2. Archived Websites
Sometimes looking back is a good thing: the Wayback Machine from Archive.org shows you what a website looked like in the past.
 
A previous edition of a site can help you determine contact details — but it is a long shot. The domain has probably changed hands multiple times since then, and any information you find may not connect you to the current owner. It is worth a try, but keep all this in mind before you reach out.

3. Brand Monitor
You can probably find quite a few websites, and their owners, if you combine Google with the tools mentioned here. But it can take you hours or even days to uncover only a few sites. As a busy professional who needs to find websites such as counterfeit online stores as soon as possible, this process will take up too much time.
 
That is why Dataprovider.com developed Brand Monitor. It is a unique dataset of pre-filtered potential counterfeit domain names that includes over three million websites. You can use it to search for a brand name and choose from over 150 filters to narrow your search. Brand Monitor is a powerful asset for any Intellectual Property professional who is looking for infringing activity on the web.

The Future of the Web

It is still unsure what effect a lack of WHOIS information will have on the Internet. We do know, however, that it has become harder for cybersecurity experts, law enforcement and intellectual property professionals to keep the web safe.

So whether you agree with GDPR and its implications or not, you need to find another method to keep your business and its customers safe. For more information on Dataprovider.com’s Brand Monitor tool and how we can help your brand protection strategy, please contact us via info@dataprovider.com.