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Could your small business be under threat from new online privacy laws?

By Thomas Costello - July 6, 2015

A number of new proposals are being considered by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which could potentially have a very damaging impact on small businesses.

The proposals, which are still under consideration from the Internet’s governing body, would see sweeping changes to WHOIS privacy which would result in ‘commercial’ entities being prohibited from using domain privacy services. Such a proposal would mean that many domains would no longer be able to shield their WHOIS ownership information via a proxy registration service, even though proxy services are required to abide by their home countries’ legal orders.

So what is actually being considered?

  1. Should registrants of domain names associated with commercial activities and which are used for online financial transactions be prohibited from using, or continuing to use, P/P services? If so, why, and if not, why not?
  2. If you agree with this position, do you think it would be useful to adopt a definition of “commercial” or “transactional” to define those domains for which P/P service registrations should be disallowed? If so, what should the definition(s) be?
  3. Would it be necessary to make a distinction in the WHOIS data fields to be displayed as a result of distinguishing between domain names used for online financial transactions and domain names that are not?

The full proposal can be found here

Why does this matter?

Many argue that such a policy change would make it easier for individuals to harass businesses. The proposal would significantly limit domain privacy protection to websites deemed ‘commercial’ and/or ‘transactional.’ In its current state, this could include a small business owner selling goods from their home. This example would require the business owner’s home address details to be made visible on the internet.

Who supports this?

It’s main support comes from the entertainment industry, which argues that millions of dollars ‘lurk in the shadows’ through unregulated proxy registration systems. The industry does accept that there is a legitimate role for proxy registrations, but argues that the current system is manipulated to make it impossible to contact those responsible for abusive domain name registrations.

These plans are being discussed by ICANN in view of redeveloping WHOIS privacy services. A key consideration has to be that many small business owners run their businesses from their home address. The threat is considerable when you consider that these details could be made available. With small businesses being the heartbeat of the UK’s digital economy, this group needs to be protected or businesses may think twice about starting out.

What can you do?

For those that want to have their voice heard on the matter, you still have time. Two organisations which have been set up are:  http://www.savedomainprivacy.org/ and https://www.respectourprivacy.com/.

It is important to conclude that such proposals have yet to be accepted or rejected by ICANN and it has yet to decide whether it will require all domain name registrants to share their details.

Online privacy is crucial to the upkeep of a secure and stable Internet. Without stringent privacy laws, small businesses will face a number of unnecessary risks. Any significant changes to privacy services will have a dramatic impact on the internet, and we encourage business owners to have their voice heard to protect their privacy online.