What is domain privacy?

The Short Version

The domain name governing body ICANN requires all website owners to make their personal information publicly available. Their contact information is free for anyone to search in the WHOIS directory. This includes accurate identification and contact details comprising the email, phone number and mailing address of everyone registering a domain. Currently, the only way to keep this information private (to protect your identity, minimize spam, prevent unsolicited marketing outreach and protect against domain hijacking) is via a service known as domain privacy.

Domain registrars offer domain privacy through a service called WHOIS privacy protection. WHOIS privacy is a paid service to protect people finding your personal information in the WHOIS records. Buying into this will hide a domain registrant’s personal information from public view to keep their personal information private.

Imagine giving away your email address, phone number and mailing address to a complete stranger. Worse still, imagine placing this information in the public sphere, for just about anyone to see. It’s unlikely anyone would voluntarily give up this information, but this is what ICANN demand of all website owners. When you give your contact information to a domain registrar, it’s added to the public database; WHOIS. Anyone can lookup your personal contact details if they search the WHOIS records using your domain name alone.

The only way to protect your details from being publicly available is buying WHOIS protection from a domain registrar. Many registrars offer this service for a small administrative fee. When someone searches for your details in the WHOIS lookup, WHOIS protection will show the registrars details instead of the domain owners. This protects your information getting into the wrong hands, saving you from a flood of junk mail or the risk having your identity stolen. This use of your personal information is not uncommon and It can happen to anyone no matter how large their organization.

Do you need privacy protection? Most people think it’s just another “add-on” feature pushed by domain registrars. If you're in the habit of automatically saying no to account upgrades, this is one that you should really consider. Without domain privacy, you may easily miss out on some features that could do you more good than harm. Stay with us. In this post we cover what domain privacy protection is, why so many people opt in on this add on feature and how you can apply it to your domain.


What is Domain Privacy Protection?

WHOIS is a public database that allows anyone to lookup the identity of a domain owner. The details of all domain ownersare considered public information. When you purchase a domain, the domain name registrar is required to report specific pieces of information about the registrant for public record, this record is known as the WHOIS database.

What if you don’t want your contact information readily available? The answer is purchasing privacy protection from your domain registrar. With WHOIS privacy, your contact information is shielded. When someone searches for your domain in the WHOIS records, they will find information belonging to your domain registrar is visible instead.

WHOIS typically asks for:

  • First name

  • Last name

  • Email

  • Phone number

  • Address

  • Domain registration, renewal and expiry dates

Think about this information...would you want it available to anyone who can do a simple internet search? If you’re not willing to share this, it’s time to look into domain privacy. The point of privacy protection is to hide your contact information from complete strangers.


Why should I get Domain Privacy Protection?

ICANN requires the contact information including email addresses, phone number and mail address of everyone that owns and or administers a domain when you register a domain. This is anyone who owns a website, be they an organization, business owner, or everyday citizen. You must provide accurate identification information when registering a domain. This means ICANN demand your personal information is made public via the public database known as WHOIS.

Just by knowing a registered domain name, someone can enter it into any WHOIS search tool, which is free to use on the web to retrieve this public information. This is where domain privacy comes in, so far, it’s the only means of stopping this. With WHOIS protection in place, your information is masked.

The information above is what if looks like if you don’t have protection. All of your personal information is laid out, left wide open for unsolicited marketing and sales contacts, spam and may allow your domain to get hijacked.

The example is what it looks like when you have WHOIS protection. You can see that your primary contact information (email, phone number, address) is all hidden behind a proxy. The benefit being, it’s much harder for people to reach you by looking you up in the WHOIS records. Essentially, you are paying to mask your identity.

Can I Get Around Using Privacy Protection?

Webmasters try various methods to get around using privacy protection:

  • There’s no option to fake your contact details because most registrars enforce a policy of forcing you to use the same billing information including email and phone number in the WHOIS directory. This means that if you don’t give accurate contact information, your domain name purchase will be declined.

  • ICANN requires valid WHOIS data to be published for each domain. Providing fake details is in direct violation of their TOS. It’s not a path you want to go down. ICANN guidelines state they will shut down domains they find providing a fake address. By publishing fake contact details, you run the risk of losing your domain, at short notice. Imagine the scenario whereby you could not be contacted to defend yourself in such a domain dispute.

  • Setting up a PO box and registering the address to link to your WHOIS record is an option. However, this might end up costing nearly $60 a year. Compared to typical WHOIS protection that can cost significantly less, typically between $2.99 to $7.99 per year.

In summary, play it safe! When it comes to your contact details, don’t cut any corners. The only way to truly safeguard your information is by adding domain privacy.


Benefits of WHOIS protection

You don’t need to purchase it because you have a website. The service does offer many valuable benefits. These are four reasons to make a small investment in your privacy:

Protect Your Personal Information

Identity theft is a serious problem online. Think about the amount of information called for to register a domain, the exact information people go to great lengths to protect.There is enough data for a skilled con artists to cause serious problems for yourself or your business. WHOIS protection conceals this information from getting into bad hands.

Prevent Unsolicited Marketing Outreach

Listing your contact information alongside your domain is inviting unwanted attention from sales people, spammers, telemarketers and con artists. Said individuals have been known to scan the WHOIS database for contact information, trawling newly registered websites in particular. It won’t take long after registration before you start getting targeted with emails and calls about anything related to online marketing, SEO and more.

Minimize Spam

Using domain privacy to protect your email and cut down on unsolicited emails from spammers. Your domain registrar will include an alias email in place of your own within the WHOIS database cutting down the likelihood of phishing emails. Such phishing emails (attempting to obtain your sensitive information, usernames, and passwords, etc.) won’t reach your true email using domain privacy protection.

Prevent Domain Hijacking

Domain hijacking is when someone can transfer your domain away from you. You might not think this is a problem considering that many domain registrars lock domain transfers after acquisition but the possibility still exists. If we're talking about your business, don't you want to be as safe as possible. However, the threat is still a possibility. Hiding your personal contact information makes it even more difficult for someone to use your data to gain access to your domain account.

Are there any cons to domain privacy?

The only potential drawback of domain privacy comes down to ownership. Technically the domain name registrant owns the website (in the eyes of ICANN), not you. In most cases this will never be an issue because it’s unlikely that your registrar is going to steal your domain.


How Much Does WHOIS Protect Protect Privacy?

It depends on what you are trying to protect and who you are trying to protect from. As mentioned, WHOIS will stop automated address harvesters from getting their hands on your details, but a focused attacker would find indirect ways to ascertain who the true owner is. For example, if you’re a business and list your business address and other such contact details on your website, there is little point hiding the same details from the WHOIS lookup.

Privacy Protection Isn’t Always An Option

Privacy protection is widely available with the exception of some top level domains, it depends on the extension:

  • Most country specific domain extensions (ccTLDs) such as .us for the United States don’t have privacy, it’s done via the registrar or reseller control panel.

  • .Cn, .us, .eu, .au, .asia, .cc, .tv, .xxx and .name require accurate contact information from the registered owner of the website domain.

View a complete list of TLDs that do not support any domain privacy.


Fundamentals / Bottom Line

Domain privacy is not a requirement or necessity; if you don’t care whether people know you own the domain name, then it doesn’t matter. If your name appears on your website for example, you might wonder if there’s any point keeping domain name ownership secret? People will naturally assume you are the domain owner of your website.

Having contact information available for the world to see isn’t a problem for a large businesses. However, individuals and smaller business owners working from home will benefit from having their sensitive information protected. Without WHOIS Privacy, you’re more likely to be discovered by marketing spammers and even identity thieves. Imagine your inbox flooded with internet marketers and your phone buzzing through the day with sales calls?

How Do I Get Domain Privacy?

It’s pretty straightforward to add WHOIS privacy. The process varies between registrars however there are just two ways to add it, at the time of registration, or after.

If you’re not using privacy protection for your current domain and are getting spammed; purchase it. Your email and phone spam will be greatly reduced if you have privacy protection.

How Much Does WHOIS protection cost?

When you weight up the value offered, the cost is negligible. For a few extra dollars a year, you safeguard your anonymity. It’s one of the most affordable precautions people often overlook as an unwanted optional extra. Provides an extra layer of security and having that peace of mind is worth a lot more. The price for WHOIS Privacy isn’t set so search around to find where the better deals are.

The cost of domain privacy depends on your your domain provider. WHOIS Protection is worth investing in, but not if your host is asking for a ridiculous amount. You are paying for the value you will get from privacy, and must decide whether it’s worth the added cost. Namecheap offer WhoisGuard , this service keeps your domain private for just a few dollars a year.

In summary, domain privacy isn’t a mandatory requirement. That said, privacy protection is very effective method of keeping your private contact information, private. For a few dollars extra cost you can save yourself a bit of trouble.

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