Who Owns That Website?

Category: Search-Engines

You may need to know who owns or operates a Web site. Most people don't realize that domain registration information is easily searched by using free publicly available databases. Here's how to get the name and contact info for (almost) any website...

WHOIS Database lookups

How to Find the Owner of a Website

So you want to find out who's behind a certain website. The reason could be an online store whose customer service hasn't been satisfactory, and you want to call a higher-up. It might be someone who is using your copyrighted work or even pictures of you without permission, and you want to "have a word with him" via phone or attorney. Whatever your reason for wanting to know who is behind a Web site, there are tools that can help you find out. Unfortunately, there are also tools that help people hide from you.

If the Web site has a "contact" or "about" page, you should look there first. Reputable businesses with nothing to hide and no one to hide from generally put their business name, street address, phone number, and even names and titles of executives right there. That's not to say that someone is disreputable just because they don't put all this personal info on a Web page for everyone to see. A personal, non-commercial Web site will often be missing such information. Then you can turn to the WHOIS database to learn who owns a site.

When a domain name is registered, certain contact information must be submitted to the registrar. This includes names, postal mailing addresses, and phone numbers of the registrant, technical, and administrative (billing) contact persons. Often they are all the same person. Generally, the "registrant" contact is the person who registered the domain and quite possibly the owner of the Web site that uses the domain name. All of this information goes into a database that can be searched using the "whois" protocol.

Web-based user interfaces make it easy to search the whois database. There are many whois Web interfaces on the Web. One of the most popular is maintained by Network Solutions. You just enter a domain name or a Web server's IP address (if you know it) and up pops a record such as this:

Registrant: FreshPasta.com, Inc.
400 Warren Lane
Inglewood, CA 90302

Administrative Contact:
SMULOVITZ, JASCHA jascha@freshpasta.com
310-753-4118 -- Fax: 310-419-0000

Domain servers in listed order:

In this case, you can see the contact information for the owner of the website, including postal address, email, phone and fax. The domain servers point you to the company that is hosting the site, or providing their Internet connectivity. If you are unable to make contact with the website owner, you have the option of contacting this upstream provider. If the problem is serious, they may be able to put some pressure on the site owner to take corrective actions. Note that the website shown above was picked at random, so don't assume anything positive or negative about this company.

Private WHOIS Records

You may query a domain name in the WHOIS database and get something like this instead:

Registrant Contact:
Whois Privacy Protection Service, Inc.
PMB 368, 14150 NE 20th St - F1
Bellevue, WA 98007

In the second example, the owner of barkingunicorn.com has paid Whois Privacy Protection Service, Inc., to be his "agent of record," the public identity of the owner of the domain. Inquiries addressed to the contact agent will be passed along privately to the owner of the domain, who may or may not respond. The agent of record is required to give up the owner's contact information only in response to a court's order.

Many people hide behind agents because they wish to avoid spammers, telemarketers, and postal junk mailers; ex-lovers, would-be lovers, stalkers, and plain old psychos who don't like what's published on a Web site. They may also hide because they're crooks and ne'er-do-wells. You can't assume anything from a private whois record except that the owner does not want his or her contact info published.

Do you have something to say about whois lookups? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Who Owns That Website?"

Posted by:

29 Dec 2009

A very well designed program to determine WHOIS information has been written by Karen at
http://www.karenware.com/powertools/ptwhois.asp .
You can simply use it for what it can do, or to appreciate it further, you can review her past newsletters about the program.

Posted by:

Joe M
30 Dec 2009

I think it can't be stressed enough that private registration does not mean wrongdoing! Too many people these days think "well, if you've nothing to hide...." WRONG! I pay extra for private registration on a domain I have, like you said, to keep the spammers away. While it's not directly related to your article, I think it's also important to note that it's worth signing up for automatic renewal of domain names to keep the greedy companies from trying to steal your domain if it should lapse!

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