Private domain name registration provides a way for a person or business to keep their contact information private. When registering a domain name the owner must provide a name, address, email address, and phone number. Under normal domain name registration policies this information is made public through WhoIs. There are a number of reasons that a domain owner’s information is made public, there are also a number of reasons a domain owner may not want his/her contact information made public. In this Pros and Cons of Private Domain Name Registration article we will take a look at both sides of the domain privacy debate to help domain owners decide which solution is best for him/her.
Domain Name Registration and WhoIs
First, let’s cover a little about domain name registration and why it is necessary. A domain name is the customizable part of a URL, or internet address. For example google.com, cnn.com, irs.gov; these are all registered domain names. A person starting a personal or business website may choose a domain name that includes the business name, family name, or something that represents the product, service, or content that the website features. Domain names are currently managed by ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), a non-profit private corporation that is responsible for ensuring stable and secure operation of the global Internet system. When a domain name is registered, the registrar maintains the domain owner’s information in a public database known as: WHOIS. According to ICANN.org, WHOIS is maintained as a public, searchable database with the intent of “allow[ing] rapid resolution of technical problems and to permit enforcement of consumer protection, trademark, and other laws.”
Private Domain Name Registration – Domain Privacy
While there is sound reasoning behind maintaining a publicly accessible database of information about domain owners, there are also big privacy concerns. Many domain owners have had email flooded with SPAM because the email address is listed publicly on the WhoIs database, others have been victims of identity theft, or inundated with unwanted direct marketing and other attacks. One solution that is being offered by many domain registrars and web hosting service providers is domain privacy, usually called something like “private registration” or “ID Protect” or something similar. This service is often offered at a price but may sometimes come free with a web hosting account or other service. Sounds like a good option, but let’s take a look at the pros and cons of private domain name registration before you make up your mind.
Pros of Private Domain Name Registration
- Domain privacy provides a simple solution for domain managers that have had, or anticipate having, problems with people collecting personal information from a Whois record and using it in an inappropriate or illegal manner.
- Private domain name registration makes it so that limited, or no, personal information about the domain owner is accessible from a public database. The registrar or other provider that offers domain privacy provides contact information for his/her company, instead of personal data about the domain owner, or limits the information that is displayed publicly.
- Valid owner information (which may include name, address, email address, and phone number) is still obtained by the registrar but it is maintained securely by that organization and only released under certain conditions. This prevents spambots or any unauthorized person from obtaining and using this private information in any inappropriate manner.
- In cases where domain owner information is needed, such as a legal case involving a particular domain, the information is still available through the registrar but must be requested by authorized personnel.
This all sounds great and you may wonder why you wouldn’t use private domain name registration, as with most services there are a few drawbacks. Let’s take a look at the cons of private domain name registration so that you can make an informed decision about which is the best option.
Cons of Private Domain Name Registration
- Cost is one con of private domain name registration. Because it is a “service” offered by the registrar or web hosting company, there is no set fee and costs can range from free (included with a paid web hosting account or other service) to upwards of $50 per year.
- Personal domain information may be kept “private” to an extent, but there have been numerous reports of companies making the information public without even notifying the domain owner. Other reports say private information was given out to anyone calling to request it – without verifying any legal need or even letting the domain owner know about the request. If this happens, you are essentially paying for a service that really does nothing to protect your private information.
- If the domain was previously registered without the domain privacy protection, paid members of some domain tool services can easily obtain the history and still get your personal data.
- Using private domain name registration can make your business seem less reputable. If you have a business website that uses private domain name registration, a potential customer looking to purchase something from your site may do some research to make sure “you are who you say you are” if they are not able to find any information about the domain registrar they may question whether you are really Mom and Pops Shop in Indiana or if you are some foreigner trying to gain the trust of the public so you can steal their identity.
Most of the cons of private domain name registration can be overcome fairly easily. The cost is pretty minimal so the fee will likely be worth the investment even if money is tight. Talking with the web host or domain registrar ahead of time and getting a written agreement about exactly how privacy is maintained can help alleviate fears of the registrar or host sharing your information without your consent. And last but not least, providing your local business address and phone number can give potential customers the assurance they need to know that your business is legitimate and how they can contact you if they do have any questions. Weighing the pros and cons of private domain name registration will help each webmaster decide on an individual basis whether or not it is a necessary or desired feature for the individual business. If your website is a small private site just for family and friends, it may not be necessary but if you plan to build it up into a large business site with thousands of visitors a day then it is something you will want to take advantage of.