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Domain Privacy Protection: Is It Worth It?

With the economy the way it is and people trying to save money wherever they can, it makes sense to question the necessity of extra “add-on” features available for various services. However, if you’re in the habit of saying ‘no’ before you even hear the details of an offer, it’s easy to miss out on some features that could do you more good than harm. A perfect example of this is domain privacy, or WHOIS, protection. There are plenty of pros – and a few cons – to this service. So is it worth it?
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What is Domain Privacy Protection?

As with any discussion, it’s good to first touch on what it is we’re talking about. Domain privacy or WHOIS protection (different registrars sometimes refer to it by different names) hides the domain registrant’s personal information from the public WHOIS database. WHOIS is an organization that manages all data regarding domain registration. All registrant details are considered public information, in addition to the nameservers and other simple details regarding domain registrations (e.g. registration, renewal, and expiry dates). If someone knows a registered domain name, they can enter it into any WHOIS search tool on the web to retrieve this public information. With privacy protection in place, all of this information becomes masked. This includes hiding your personal name, address, phone, email, and business name. Instead, a generic registrar-generated information set is displayed. Here’s an example of a WHOIS response when privacy protection isn’t purchased: Domain name: Registrant Contact: A Small Orange LLC Douglas Hanna () Fax: 131 Orange Street Durham, NC 27701 US Administrative Contact: A Small Orange LLC Douglas Hanna ( +1.9194087600 Fax: +1.6782986780 131 Orange Street Durham, NC 27701 US   Technical Contact: A Small Orange LLC Douglas Hanna ( +1.9194087600 Fax: +1.6782986780 131 Orange Street Durham, NC 27701 US This example DOES have privacy protection enabled: Registrant: Contact Privacy Inc. Customer 0131249305 96 Mowat Ave Toronto, ON M6K 3M1 CA Domain name: MARLOANDCO.COM   Administrative Contact: Contact Privacy Inc. Customer 0131249305, 96 Mowat Ave Toronto, ON M6K 3M1 CA +1.4165385457   Technical Contact: Contact Privacy Inc. Customer 0131249305, 96 Mowat Ave Toronto, ON M6K 3M1 CA +1.4165385457
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Why You Need Private Domain Registration

When you purchase a domain, your registrar is required by ICANN to enter the contact information of the site owner. Some kind of information must be submitted. So unless you opt to protect your personal data, it goes public. Privacy protection hides personal contact information from complete strangers. This is pretty straightforward and is one of the most common reasons domain owners opt for privacy protection. Almost everyone has the ability to access the internet, meaning that almost anyone could potentially have access to your mailing address, phone number, and email address. If a website includes debatable or hotly-contested topics, it can be an especially safe move to make personal contact details difficult to obtain to help avoid undesired contact from strangers. Here are four reasons you should considering paying for private domain registration.

1. Protect Your Personal Data

Identity theft continues to be a common problem, and every 2 seconds there is a new victim. We go to great lengths to protect our privacy when it comes to banking, phone numbers, and even the information we share on social media. The same precaution should be taken with domain registration information. There is enough data contained in a WHOIS domain record for a skilled or tenacious thief to start causing problems, and enable them to dig deeper into your personal data for the purpose of identity theft. Using domain protection covers your tracks with the info of your proxy service.

2. Stop Unwanted Solicitations

Listing personal contact information for your domain is an open invitation from telemarketers, sales people, spammers, and con artists. There are countless services that scrape WHOIS data for contact information, specifically from recently registered websites. It doesn’t take long after a domain registration to start getting a flood of calls and emails about SEO services, content optimization, social media marketing, mailing services, virtual assistants, freelance opportunities from people overseas, and more. What’s worse, there are scammers who may contact you when your domain is nearing expiration, with “renewal services” that actually do nothing to renew the domain, or that transfer it without your knowledge, and can cost the owner hundreds of dollars in bogus “services.” Be wary of any items received in the mail regarding your domain, and always contact your current registrar before responding to such solicitations.

3. Protect Your Email Address

When you use private domain registration, your registrar typically creates an alias or unique email address that is used in place of your own within the WHOIS database. This email address does not remain constant and will be updated fairly often. This is done to keep away unsolicited email from spammers.

4. Prevent Domain Hijacking

Domain hijacking used to be a much larger issue. Thanks to domain transfers being locked by default by most registrars after acquisition, it’s not as easy as it used to be. With this lock set, no one is able to transfer your domain away from you unless they somehow manage to get access to your domain registrar account and email. Hiding your personal information adds one more hurdle to the process, making it extremely difficult for someone to harvest the data and attempt to gain access to your account. While privacy protection is enabled, the domain transfer authorization email will be sent to the dummy email address listed rather than the registrant’s email address, making the transfer fail if not authorized. Most (if not all) dummy email addresses provided by registrars do NOT forward to the registrant’s email address.

What Are the Downsides to Private Domain Registration?

Privacy protection may seem like a common sense choice when you’re setting up a new website. After all, you’re just protecting your personal information and trying to keep predatory telemarketers and shady people away. Still, there are some downsides to consider with an added service like this.

1. The Additional Cost

When you want extra protection from a service like this, you’re likely going to pay for it. Prices can vary greatly from one provider to another, from a few dollars a year to a few extra dollars per month. The cost isn’t regulated by anyone, so the private registration services get to determine their rates. On one hand, you’re paying for them not to publish your information. On the other hand, how much value will you get from that privacy? You have to decide whether or not it’s worth the added cost.

2.  Is it Really Private?

You can pay to have your personal information kept private in the WHOIS record, but does your provider really keep your information private? It is entirely possible that your registrar can sell or distribute your content information by other means. While there are ICANN policies in place, registrars have violated these in the past – so there’s nothing necessarily stopping less-trustworthy companies from sharing your registration information if someone were to contact them and ask for it. Make sure you review the privacy policy of the registrar to ensure that information is not being shared or given out without your permission.

3. Your Information Might Still Be Public

Private domain registration can be set up at any time, but if your domain was already registered without privacy protection in place, your information might still be public. There are tools available that allow people to do historic searches and find previously listed ownership data on domains. Some of these tools may even show transfer or sales records of domains.

4. Your Reputation May be in Question

Customers are far less trusting of brands these days, as is evidenced by a Nielsen study showing that more than 92% of consumers trust peer data and reviews over brand advertising. Some of your prospective customers may even go so far as to check the WHOIS information to verify whether your business is legit. If you have a business website but your contact information is fully private, a prospective customer may decide that you’re trying to hide something, or you’re not who you say you are. After all, what does a legit business have to hide that they wouldn’t share their public contact information? Maybe you’re not really that small-town maker of artisan furniture – you might be some scammer who is going to steal their credit card information. Transparency can go a long way towards alleviating the concerns of prospective customers.

5. Privacy Protection Isn’t Always Available

Depending on the top-level domain you choose, you might not be able to set up privacy protection. It is widely available with most domain extensions with the exception of .cn, .us, .au, .asia, .eu, .xxx, .cc, .tv and .name. With one of those domain extensions, you’ll be required to list your accurate contact information as the registered owner of that website domain.

6. Who Actually Owns the Domain

Whenever you opt for privacy or WHOIS masking, you should understand the implications of putting someone else’s information down as the registrar of the site. In the eyes of the registry (ICANN or CIRA), the individual or organization listed as the registrant for the domain is technically the legal owner of that domain name. That means that even if you’ve paid for registration, you’re not the legal owner if your name is not listed in the WHOIS. Mind you, you aren’t likely to get into a legal battle with the registrar about who owns the domain. Still, if it were to ever come down to a legal dispute, the registrar could come out the winner with their information down as the site owner.

Bottom line

It’s not a requirement, or a necessity, to invest in domain privacy protection. Still, the cost is negligible when you weigh the value that is offered. If you want to keep the solicitations at bay and protect your privacy, then it can be a worthwhile investment.
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