As previously reported, NSI stopped its WHOIS database from disclosing when a domain name was originally registered and whether the address is temporarily suspended, or in NSI parlance, "on hold." NSI, which is in the midst of a major backlog in processing orders, took the action on Tuesday, with no announcement to the public.
A spokesman today said the changes are designed to make it harder for individuals to abuse NSI's automatic order processing system.
Since the beginning of the year, an unprecedented number of people have been flooding NSI with requests for popular domain names that are on hold. These so-called speculators hope that by automatically requesting a popular site every few seconds, there is a better chance of obtaining it once it opens.
"We think it's one step to help minimize the impact of some of the spamming that we've been seeing," said NSI spokesman Chris Clough. He declined to say whether the change would be made permanent.
Over the past few days, email discussion groups have been buzzing about the move, which has been sharply criticized by some. Chuck Gomes, an NSI employee who frequently posts to the groups, defended the decision.
"There does not seem to be any reason why third parties need to know the anniversary date or status of domain names for which they have no association and, if they do feel they need this information, they could contact the registrant to request this information," Gomes wrote.
Gomes's email was NSI's first public acknowledgment of the change.
Critics, however, maintain that that they need the information to help serve their customers. When disputes arise over who was using a particular brand name first, for instance, knowing when a domain name was originally registered is vital, they say.
"One of the most contentious areas of domain registration is NSI's domain dispute policy, which places the date of registration as the linchpin in determining (along with other criteria) whether a challenge under that policy may be initiated," one participant argued.
Critics also complained that the move came unannounced, causing programs that automatically parse the database to fail when the fields were excluded.
In interview and in complaints posted online, critics claim that it is taking NSI two weeks or longer to process orders in some cases. NSI's Clough acknowledged the delays and said the company had 70 people working last weekend to correct the slowdown.