The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers or ICANN requires every individual or organization planning to register a domain name to provide contact and technical information for display in the WHOIS database. For some registrants however, especially individual website owners and anonymous bloggers, this requirement creates privacy risks and jeopardizes the concept of Internet anonymity.
Several domain registrars and web hosting service providers have provided a workaround against the aforementioned ICANN requirement: WHOIS Masking or private domain registration. This allows the registrant to mask their contact and technical information using the supplementary information provided by the particular service provider. Note that there are advantages and disadvantages to this.
Pros of private domain registration
1. Promotion of personal privacy: ICANN specifically requires the registrant to provide pertinent contact information to include full name, complete home address, telephone number, and email address. These are sensitive personal information that can be used against the domain owner.
Some examples of privacy risks and issues include receiving spam messages through the provided email address, as well as the home address and phone number, susceptibility to cyberbullying or online harassment, and identity theft, among others.
Nonetheless, the main advantage of private domain registration is that it provides domain owners with privacy protection. This service suits individual website owners such as bloggers, freelance professionals, and small entrepreneurs, among others.
2. Information managed by the service provider: Another advantage of private domain registration is that the particular service provider such as a domain registrar or web hosting provider directly handles the ICANN requirement and even pertinent legal requirements.
Some registrars or providers use their own contact and technical information to mask the identities of their customers. Others actually run several organizations for the purpose of legitimizing the identity of their private domain registrars.
Instances that legally require the website owner to forward his or her contact information can be handled by his or her registrar or web hosting provider. Note that the actual contact and technical information of the website owner are still kept secured by the registrar or provider.
Cons of private domain registration
1. Domain and web property ownership: The main disadvantage of private domain registration centers on actual domain and website ownership. Technically, domain authorities such as the ICANN define who owns the domain by what is indicated in the WHOIS. This means that ownership of the domain is transferred to the registrar or web hosting provider.
The aforementioned mean two things. The actual domain and website owner does not technically own the domain name. He or she no longer has default rights over the domain and website property unless he or she sues the registrar or provided.
Note that pursuing a legal suit to claim rights and authority over a domain name and website property can be difficult if both the actual owner and registrar or provided live in two different jurisdictions.
2. Less reputability for some domain owners: While individual website owners can benefit from private domain registration, medium to large-sized organizations risk the legitimacy of their reputation, especially their corporate and brand identities.
For example, an online business or a non-profit with no identifiable contact information might seem suspicious for individuals who rely on WHOIS data to verify the legitimacy of an organization they want to conduct business with.
Takeaway: The pros and cons of private domain registration
WHOIS Masking or private domain registration provides individual website owners and small organizations with an adequate level of anonymity to protect their privacy. Remember that personal information such as full name and contact details can be used for scrupulous marketing tactics, online harassment, and identity theft.
The disadvantage about domain and web property ownership is worrisome nonetheless. However, it is worth mentioning that it is unlikely for a registrar or web hosting service provider to steal these digital properties from their customers. It is still important to be vigilant when choosing a registrar or provider for the first time.