Domain privacy (often called Whois privacy) is a service offered by a number of domain name registrars. A user buys privacy from the company, who in turn replaces the user's information in the WHOIS with the information of a forwarding service (for email and sometimes postal mail, it is done by a proxy server).
Level of anonymity
- Personal information is typically collected by these registrars to provide the service. Some registrars take little persuasion to release the so-called 'private' information to the world, requiring only a phone request or a cease and desist letter.
- Others[who?], however, handle privacy with more precaution, using measures including hosting domain names offshore and accepting cryptocurrencies for payment so that the registrar has no knowledge of the domain name owner's personal information (which would otherwise be transmitted with credit card transactions). It is debatable whether or not this practice is at odds with the domain registration requirement of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).
Privacy by default
Note that some domain extensions have privacy caveats:
- .al: No information about the owner is disclosed.
- .at, .co.at, .or.at: Since May 21, 2010, contact data (defined as phone number, fax number, e-mail address) is hidden by the registrar and must be explicitly made public.
- .ca: Since June 10, 2008, the Canadian Internet Registration Authority no longer posts registration details of individuals associated with .ca domains.
- .de: Owner and technical contact must show their postal addresses. Phone number and e-mail address do not have to be made public.
- .eu: If the registrant is a natural person, only the e-mail address is shown in the public whois records unless specified otherwise.
- .fr: By default, individual domain name holders benefit from the restricted publishing of their personal data in the AFNIC public Whois.
- .gr: No information about the owner is disclosed.
- .is: May hide address and phone number.
- .nl: Since January 12, 2010, registrant postal addresses are no longer publicly available.
- .ovh: Contact data is hidden by the registrar and must be explicitly made public.
- .uk: Nominet, the guardian of UK domain namespace, provide domain privacy tools on their extensions (.co.uk, .me.uk etc.), providing that the registrant is not trading from the domain name. While the home address of the registrant can be hidden, the full name cannot.
- .us: In March 2005, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) said that owners of .us domains will not have the option of keeping their information private, and that it must be made public.
- .in: Registrants for Indian domain names may not use any proxy or privacy services provided by registrars.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) broadly requires the mailing address, phone number, and e-mail address of those owning or administrating a domain name to be made publicly available through the "WHOIS" directories. However, that policy may enable spammers, direct marketers, identity thieves, or other attackers to use the directory to acquire personal information about those people. Although ICANN has been working to change WHOIS to enable greater privacy, there is a lack of consensus among major stakeholders as to what type of change should be made. However, with the offer of private registration from many registrars, some of the risk has been mitigated, enabling those spammers, direct marketers, identity thieves, and other cyber-criminals to hide behind anonymous domain registrations to make it difficult or impossible for victims to identify those responsible.
With "private registration", the private registration service can be the legal owner of the domain. This has occasionally resulted in legal problems. Ownership of a domain name is given by the organization name of the owner contact in the domain's WHOIS record. There are typically four contact positions in a domain's WHOIS record: owner, administrator, billing, and technical. Some registrars will not shield the owner organization name in order to protect the ownership of the domain name.
Ownership of domains held by a privacy service was also an issue in the RegisterFly case, in which a registrar effectively ceased operations and then went bankrupt. Customers encountered serious difficulties in regaining control of the domains involved. ICANN has since remedied that situation by requiring all accredited registrars to maintain their customers' contact data in escrow. In the event a registrar loses its accreditation, gTLD domains along with the escrowed contact data will be transferred to another accredited registrar.
There have been several lawsuits against NameCheap, Inc. for its role as owner/registrant. and also in Silverstein v. Alivemax, et al. Los Angeles Superior Court Case Number BC480994.
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