The Pros and Cons of Private Registration

Why Would You Want a Private Registration?

According to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)’s FAQ page, “Information about who is responsible of domain names is publicly available to allow rapid resolution of technical problems and to permit enforcement or consumer protection, trademark, and other laws.” This may sound good in theory, but in practice, some problems have arisen.

  • SPAM—It is known that the WHOIS database is the source of information used by spammers to make contact with potential customers. Verio was sued by for using’s WHOIS database to SPAM’s customers with Verio advertising.
  • Privacy—With all of the encouragement for individuals to keep their personal data private and national laws upholding citizens’ rights to privacy, the requirement that personal information be published is problematic. Specifically, information may be made available to stalkers, enforcement personnel who have not yet obtained legal authorization for the information they seek, identity thieves, and—when the domain owner is outspoken or a dissident—political enemies who wish the person harm.

What Problems Can Private Registration Bring?

On the other hand, it’s not all that simple.

  • Who Owns?—While ICANN says in its FAQ, “It is however possible to register a domain in the name of a third party, as long as they agree to accept responsibility,” some private registration services specify that you remain the registrant . . . while others don’t, in which case, they may, in fact, be taking over your registration.
  • To Catch a Thief—Say you have a trademark, copyright, patent, or other protected interest. Say someone infringes your rights with a domain name registration (cybersquatting). How do you send the infringer a cease-and-desist letter without access to contact information? The fact is that after Hurricane Katrina, it was the WHOIS information that allowed the American Red Cross to identify a fleet of unauthorized websites using their logo to solicit donations supposedly to help hurricane victims.
  • Switcheroo, not!—Suppose you’re having major problems with your registrar and you want to switch. With public registration, you can fax proof of ownership to another registrar to prove their ownership. With private registration, you can only depend on the honesty, timeliness, and technical support of your current registrar. Customers of RegisterFly ran into this issue in early 2007. If you go to the list of accredited registrars, you won’t find RegisterFly—their accreditation was revoked in March, 2007, but RegisterFly filed an arbitration action, so the final decision is still pending. If you’re interested in knowing more about what can happen with a rogue registrar, read this info about RegisterFly
  • If anything else on the site doesn’t look right, a private registration can contribute to Google’s decision to remove a site from its listing, as reported in a Google Webmaster Central blog article by Matt Cutts and Maile Ohye.

What’s the Current State of Things?

ICANN had a work group charged with making a proposal to implement the idea of an Operational Point of Contact (OPOC) which would be substituted for the private contact information in the public listing. The results were voted on October 31. 2007, resulting in a notice of the inability of the Working Group to reach agreement and the need for more study of the WHOIS system prior to policymaking.

In the meantime, the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA), the body with authority over the country code top-level domain (ccTLD) .ca, has made  a change effective June 10, 2008 to keep domain name owners’ information private, allowing for contact through a web form, and also restricting the occasions upon which this information can be given out by resellers.

Whether ICANN will get past the study stage to arrive at implemented change and whether CIRA’s action will provoke other authorities to follow suit remains to be seen.