Proposals being considered by ICANN would limit the use of WHOIS privacy protection services that domain name owners frequently use to keep their domain registrations under the radar.
As detailed by respectourprivacy.com, a joint initiative started by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fight for the Future and domain name registrar NameCheap:
Under new guidelines proposed by MarkMonitor and others who represent the same industries that backed SOPA, domain holders with sites associated to “commercial activity” will no longer be able to protect their private information with WHOIS protection services.
“Commercial activity” casts a wide net, which means that a vast number of domain holders will be affected. Your privacy provider could be forced to publish your contact data in WHOIS or even give it out to anyone who complains about your website, without due process.
MarkMonitor is a brand protection firm that works with many large companies and brands and ironically, the new rules, if implemented, would affect many of them. As DomainNameWire’s Andrew Alleman observed, big companies and the people associated with them are some of the biggest users of WHOIS privacy.
Alleman pointed to Michael Bloomberg, founder of the financial services giant that bears his name, as an example. A law firm associated with Bloomberg reportedly registered more than 400 .nyc domains on his behalf, and some of them, like BloombergBlows.nyc and BloombergistooRich.nyc, are amusing if not embarrassing.
Keeping defensive domain registrations under wraps is just one reason brands like Bank of America and Guthy-Renker, use WHOIS privacy. Another, more important reason: to conceal new products or initiatives. As Alleman noted, “when ISIS (the payments company) started registering domains for a brand change, it used whois privacy.”
Obviously, WHOIS privacy can be abused, and there are reasonable arguments that certain kinds of businesses, such as those engaged in ecommerce, shouldn’t be allowed to conceal their identities. But restrictions that apply broadly to all “commercial activity” will make it difficult for companies to protect legitimate interests, such as new product launches and branding initiatives.
Of course, should the proposed rules around WHOIS privacy go into effect, large companies with deep pockets will probably still be able to use a variety of means to make their domain registrations less obvious. But brands of all sizes will no doubt find that these rules add new complications as they seek to manage what information the public has about their online activities.