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The Crackdown on Domain Privacy Has to Stop

07/02/2015 12:41 EDT | Updated 07/02/2016 05:59 EDT
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Have you ever wondered just how many domain names there are out there? Turns out, there are a lot! According to Verisign's Domain Industry Brief, there were a whopping 288 million domain names registered by the end of 2014, with 16.9 million new domains registered in 2014 alone.

Each and every one of those domain names is required to have a set of contact information attached - typically including a name, address, email address, and phone number. This information is then hosted in a database called WHOIS, where it can be searched by anyone with an Internet connection.

Understandably, many domain name owners are reluctant to have sensitive personal information, such as their home address or phone number, out there on the Internet for anyone to access with the click of a mouse. That's why many people now choose to use a privacy protection service -- in fact many popular domain registrars now offer such a service themselves.

Domain Privacy protection services have grown increasingly popular. When such a service is used, your private information is hidden and only the contact information belonging to the third-party service gets shown. Here's a good example of what information gets exposed with or without the use of a privacy service.

Unfortunately, changes are now afoot which could undermine the privacy of almost anyone who purchases a domain name. Large media conglomerates are piling on the pressure to ban these privacy protection services for any domains used for "commercial purposes." They're trying to make it even easier to access people's private contact information, so that they can sue domain owners who they accuse of copyright infringements.

Of course, these media giants can already obtain the real identity of a domain owner by simply applying for a court order -- so now it seems they want to circumvent the legal system entirely, to get direct access to people's private information.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is the international governing body that sets the rules for the global domain name system. They're the folks who will decide whether Big Media's privacy-undermining proposal gets the green light -- and they're currently considering comments from Internet users on the topic.

Now, a new campaign, backed by our ever-vigilant friends at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, is pushing ICANN to rethink this proposal. The Save Domain Privacy campaign provides a number of specific examples of how Big Media's new proposals would affect everyday Internet users:

  • You run an online forum. One day someone posts a "For Sale" ad, and another user takes them up on the offer. Since your users have now conducted "commercial activity" you could be forced to cancel your domain privacy service.

  • You run a shelter for abused women and children. In order to provide protection, you need to keep your physical location confidential. But by accepting charitable donations, you may be forced to cancel your privacy service and reveal your location to the world.

  • You operate a small home business. Although you have professional contact information on your website, you may be forced to list your home address and phone number on the domain registration, meaning your customers start contacting you at home.

  • You write a blog speaking out against abuses of power in a foreign country. Your family and friends still live in that country, so you want to keep your identity private. But by engaging in any commercial activity whatsoever - even merely including Amazon links on your blog - your provider could be forced to reveal your identity to the world, putting you and your family at risk.

 

Here at OpenMedia we believe privacy is a fundamental human right, and one that the Internet should safeguard and protect, rather than undermine. As community member Kevin Jennings said, "Privacy IS security!" -

That's why we're encouraging everyone to support the Save Domain Privacy campaign before the July 7th deadline- you can speak out and ask ICANN to do the right thing at https://www.savedomainprivacy.org/sign-the-petition/

You can also send a more detailed message to ICANN, by following these simple guidelines.

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