Public Vs. Private Domain Registration: Why It Should Matter to You

When anyone registers a new domain name, an ownership record is created for it at both the registrar (the company that sells domain registration services to the public) and the registry (the organization that owns and manages a specific domain extension or TLD). This record is kept in a public WHOIS database, which anyone can access to find out who the owner of the domain is.

According to ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) rules, every domain name must have a WHOIS record reflecting valid information about its owner.

For reasons expounded later in this article, many domain owners prefer not to have their personal information publicly available in the WHOIS database, and so they use a service called private registration. So let’s see what both public and private registration services mean and explain the pros and cons of each.

Public Domain Registration

This is the normal domain registration service, in which the registrant’s (your) personal information (name, email, address, phone, etc.) will be available to anyone querying the WHOIS database.

Benefits:

  • Adds credibility: If you are running a business website it would look more trustworthy to have your business/personal details associated with the domain name rather than hiding them from the public.
  • Costs nothing: You will not need to pay any extra fees for this type of registration.

Downsides:

  • Risk of identity theft: If you use your personal information to register a domain then all such information – including full name, organization, email, postal address and phone/fax number – will be accessible to anyone. Such sensitive information is usually necessary for identity theft and fraud activities.
  • An open invite to spammers: It won’t be long until your email address and phone number are scraped by spam bots and added to spammers’ databases worldwide.

Private Domain Registration

Also known as WHOIS privacy; this service means none of the registrant’s (your) personal information will be displayed in the WHOIS record, instead, the registrar replaces your personal details with their company information while preserving your rights as the legal owner of the domain.

Benefits:

  • Prevents illegal use of personal information: Because all your personal information is hidden from the public you don’t run the risk of enabling criminals to obtain your personal information from your domain’s WHOIS record. This helps hinder domain hijacking, identity theft, fraud and any other illegal use of your sensitive information.
  • Keeps spammers away: The WHOIS database is a gold mine for spam bots. Removing your email address and phone number from the database means you won’t have to deal with annoying email spammers and telemarketers who randomly scrape contact information from WHOIS records.

Downsides:

  • Costs extra: Private registration is usually offered as an add-on for an additional fee, although many popular registrars, like the ones mentioned on this website, offer this feature for free. The average cost is $5-$10 per year per domain.
  • Not available for all extensions: Most generic TLDs (top-level domains) allow private WHOIS, examples are: .com, .net, .org, .info, etc. On the other hand, this feature is not available for many ccTLDs (country code top-level domains), like .us, .ca, .co.uk, and others.
Adam Hansen