ICANN Considers Relaxing Domain Registration Privacy; Automattic Objects

We’ve said it time and time again: user privacy is important to us. We’re vigilant about protecting it on WordPress.com, and we’re always on the lookout, ready to weigh in on policy proposals that might curtail the privacy that we and our users value so highly.

Today, our focus turns to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the organization responsible for coordinating the internet’s naming system, such as domain names. ICANN is currently considering a proposal that would prohibit many domain owners from using privacy and proxy registration services.

What exactly does this mean? If you’ve ever registered a domain (and millions of you on WordPress.com have), you may have noticed an option to make your personal information, such as your name, address, and phone number, private. This is great for those who want to publish anonymously or those who simply value more privacy. However, ICANN is considering precluding anyone who uses a domain for “commercial” purposes from private registration. “Commercial” use has not yet been defined in this context, but it could affect more domain owners than you think; it’s not uncommon for a website to run ads or include affiliate links to cover costs. Needless to say, we strongly oppose this proposal.

Who wants this change? Large copyright holders (like movie studios), for starters. Proponents of this proposal argue that website owners should be held accountable and that they need means to identify those that are abusive. However, there’s already a means to do this — it involves due legal process and justifying that the information they’re seeking is relevant or necessary to a lawsuit or investigation.

If the proposal were adopted, all of the privacy protections we provide our users on WordPress.com, as well as those that currently exist under the law, would largely be for naught, easily circumvented by a quick WHOIS search. We work hard to design and implement our rigorous privacy protections because we’ve seen firsthand how requests for user information can be used as a means to silence or retaliate against anonymous speakers. Every day we see our users depending on the privacy and anonymity afforded to them to engage in thoughtful, compelling speech and journalism.

We believe this proposal would significantly harm communication, commerce, and most especially, anonymous speech online, so we ask ICANN to reject the current proposal to limit privacy-protecting domain registration services.

You can read our full filing in opposition to the proposed rule here.