If you are considering purchasing a .uk domain name, or already have one, for your business or personal needs then you need to be aware of a rule change by Nominet that could impact your privacy.

Since Tuesday the company, which manages the .uk domain registry, changed its rules to mean that domain name owners’ addresses will, for the most part, have to be made public.

Traditionally, private individuals and business entities have been able to prevent their names and postal addresses from showing up in WHOIS searches (an online tool that allows any interested party to search domain registry databases and return information such as the name of the registrant, their address, etc.) but a new policy will now be enforced:

“Only domain name holders that are non-trading individuals can opt out of having their address details published on the WHOIS. In other words, if the registrant is not a business or organisation and, in the case of domain names registered to individuals, you do not use or plan to use your domain name for business, trade (such as pay per click advertising, etc.) or professional transactions, you may opt out of having your address displayed.”

Under the new rules the only domain name holders who will be able to opt out of having their personal information readily available through a simple search process will be ‘non-trading’ individuals who have not monetised their sites in any way whatsoever.

The full rule change is further clarified by Nominet:

“We will make your personal data available in the following ways, but not release it for any other purpose to any other person. We may include it on WHOIS (which is also available outside the EEA) and PRSS. For these purposes we will publish your name and (unless you are a consumer and choose to opt out) your address, but not your phone or fax number or e-mail address.”

At a time when privacy is becoming an ever bigger deal, this move from Nominet seems strange. There are reasons why an individual, or small and perfectly legitimate business owner, may wish to retain a certain level of anonymity on the web – in my own case I still have my own personal site (a .com fortunately) which receives a trickle of income from ads which, on a good month, goes some way to paying the hosting fees. But I work from home and so I do not want my address to be public, especially as I sometimes write about what the bad guys get up to on the web. Can you imagine what some may do if they knew where I live?

Other businesses may have legitimate reasons for masking their postal addresses from the general public too and I cannot see why that should not continue – after all, domain registrars certainly have that info at all times and law enforcement, etc can still request contact information from them (by following due process) should the need arise.

Also, what about personal bloggers who have a need to remain anonymous because they are writing about controversial or political topics? My guess is that they are stuck up a creek somewhere without a paddle in sight.

The rule change only applies to .uk domains at this time so anyone with concerns can register alternative types of domains but I think it will be worth keeping an eye on how this goes – it may just catch on and registrars may elect to force WHOIS information to be made public for other TLDs in the future.

I for one certainly hope that doesn’t prove to be the case as I think it could have an adverse effect upon free speech and the ability to do business without worrying about who may turn up at your door.

What do you think?

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