What is it?

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.) Anyone can access this information from a variety of WHOIS search engines, like http://whois.domaintools.com/.

Privacy protection masks the personal contact information – name, address, phone, email – with a generic registrar-generated replacement.

This example does NOT have privacy protection enabled:
Domain name: acmedomainname.com
Registrant Contact:
Acme Company
Doug Hanna
131 Any Street
Saint Louis, MO 61113
US

Administrative Contact:
Acme Company
Doug Hanna (billingstaff@acmedomain.com)
+1.3144087600
Fax: +1.3142986780
131 Any Street
Saint Louis, MO 61113
US
Technical Contact:
A Small Orange LLC
Doug Hanna (billingstaff@acme.com)
+1.3144087600
Fax: +1.3142986780
131 Any Street
Saint Louis, MO 61113
US

This example DOES have privacy protection enabled:

Registrant:
Contact Privacy Inc. Customer 01312305
96 Mowat Ave
Toronto, ON M6K 3M1
CA
Domain name: acmedomainname.com
Administrative Contact:
Contact Privacy Inc. Customer 0131249305, acmedomainname.com@contactprivacy.com
96 Mowat Ave
Toronto, ON M6K 3M1
CA
+1.4165325457
Technical Contact:
Contact Privacy Inc. Customer 0131249305, acmedomainname.com@contactprivacy.com
96 Mowat Ave
Toronto, ON M6K 3M1
CA
+1.4165235457

*It is important to note that .us domains cannot have privacy protection enabled.

Why pay for it?

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 anyone has the ability to access the internet, meaning almost anyone could potentially have access to your mailing address, phone number, and email address. Particularly if a website includes debatable or hotly contested topics, it can even be a safe move to make personal contact details difficult to obtain to avoid unfortunate mail or contacts.

It hides personal contact information from spammers and con artists. There are many organizations around that search, compile, and reach out to domain owners when their domains are expiring with “renewal services” that actually do nothing to renew the domain, or transfers it almost unknowingly, and can cost the owner hundreds of dollars for 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.

It adds an extra level of security to prevent domain hijacking. This is a bit of a stretch, but this adds one more “hurdle” in the domain transfer process to help prevent a mistaken transfer – malicious or not. While privacy protection is enabled, the domain transfer authorization email will be sent to the dummy email address listed rather than the registrants 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?

It costs more money. The prices regarding privacy protection depends on the registrar or reseller you’re going through. We offer privacy protection at $5/year with our domain registrations. In comparison, GoDaddy, a popular domain registrar, offers privacy protection at $9.99/year.

Transparency can be a good thing. Some domain owners don’t care if their information is public. Perhaps they registered with a company address and it only makes sense to have that information readily available in the event someone needs to contact them regarding their website, services, or domain. Having this information readily available can also show confidence or pride in the service, product, and/or website.

Domain transfers cannot occur while privacy protection is enabled. Because the registrant email addresses are hidden, and domain transfers require transfer authorization via email sent to the registrant on file, privacy protection prevents a domain from being transferred.This is generally very simple to disable within the domain manager in the event of a real transfer. However, privacy protection fees are often non-refundable (as are most domain-related) fees, so if you expect a transfer to be imminent, it likely isn’t worth paying the money for privacy protection for a short period of time.

Bottom line

Privacy protection isn’t a necessity, but the cost can certainly be considered nominal for the benefits it provides, particularly if they meet your desire for heightened anonymity online.