Beware of “Free Account” Offers

Yesterday afternoon, I received an email from the founder of a small domain company I’ve never heard of with a seemingly great offer – a free account at the newly established company. This domain company has what seems to be a number of interesting offerings, some of which sound like they could be useful. I am going to turn it down.

It’s hard enough to maintain any privacy when blogging, but I don’t want to give away private information about my Whois searches, drop search habits…etc. The company was started by someone I don’t know nor have heard of, and it’s a service I’ve never heard of before.

I wrote about this a while back, but think it’s important enough to reiterate. Although a free account at a website with an interesting service may sound appealing, remember that the company may either be observing your individual habits or may be looking to sell data for all users.

I still remember when someone who will remain nameless (from a large company) emailed me a couple of years ago to ask me if I intentionally let a domain name drop. The name was below average, so I knew he was watching my portfolio rather than the specific name. It made me realize that there are plenty of companies who are happy to provide tools for domain investors, and I am sure that some of them are using the data, both on a personal level and aggregated, for their own enrichment.

Elliot Silver
Elliot Silver
About The Author: Elliot Silver is an Internet entrepreneur and publisher of Elliot is also the founder and President of Top Notch Domains, LLC, a company that has closed eight figures in deals. Please read the Terms of Use page for additional information about the publisher, website comment policy, disclosures, and conflicts of interest. Reach out to Elliot: Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn


  1. I got the same email and had him create an account for me, if for no reason other than to be friendly to someone trying to make it in the industry. The tool is something frequently requested by domainers, so I don’t think he had any ill intent.

    He was seeking feedback and my first suggestion was going to be to prove he is not logging any information.

  2. Nice post Elliot. Another issue is that if people aren’t religious about using a different password for every site, you may end up giving the site owner your password to your other accounts. Something to consider.

  3. Yea, I was suprised how ruthless the domain industry was until I switched registrars. I was looking for a domain for my daughter’s soccer team. It was available. I didn’t reg it immediately. A few days later I went back to reg it and noticed that Moniker/Oversee (my new registrar) had regged the domain.

    No one else would want HEATGOLD.COM but my daughter’s team.

    Needless to say I check all domains at GoDaddy and not Moniker. If Moniker didn’t give me a sweetheart deal, I would move all my domains immediately back to GoDaddy after this “busg league” move.

  4. Ok, I’m a complete n00bie when it comes to domaining… is this why WHOIS privacy is so big? Should I get it then? I didn’t realize people would be like that. I thought it didn’t matter if anybody knew anything about me and my domaining habits (well, it doesn’t now cause I suck at domaining) but maybe in the future?

    I know all of you are laughing at me and thinking “naive girl” but if you don’t ask, you will never learn (or get a good laugh)

    • @ Hillary

      Hypothetically, if I am trying to buy a bunch of California real estate domain names, I don’t want someone else seeing that I am doing a lot of research in this particular market. It might make finding/buying names more difficult if I give myself competition.

      My post has nothing to do with Whois privacy 🙂 It’s about privacy when using other people’s services – whois lookups, appraisals, dropping domain research, and other domain research…etc.

  5. @Elliot
    ohhhhhhhhh Ok, glad I asked. So it is safe to assume that paid services won’t do this?

    Why is Whois privacy such a big sell then? Moniker says it can protect against Fraudulent Domain Transfers. Is that true? Or maybe I should go to a forum and not topicjack your post? 😉

    Thanks for the great blog BTW 🙂

  6. @ Hillary

    I am sure paid services do it too… At least with most services, I know who will get the data. I had received an offer from someone whom I had never heard of, and I thought it was an important issue that people should consider before signing up for ANY account.

  7. Thanks for the clarification Elliot. 🙂

    I received a note this morning (via Facebook actually) from a company asking to test their new service. Perhaps it was the same one?

    For the benefit of newcomers to the industry, there are many ways to protect yourself against this eavesdropping – ranging from whois privacy to looking for (and reading) Privacy Policies on their websites or software.

    Over the years we have seen a small number of scandals/incidents which have largely made people more cautious (which is probably a good thing).

    • @ Simon

      I don’t think the company I received an email from did domain parking, but there are so many offers like these out there. Always be good to be extra cautious 🙂

  8. Hi El,

    Your premise of your blog story is correct. And EVERY MAJOR DOMAIN COMPANY DOES IT. (Heck, any company does it).

    I’m sure that statement will keep me from getting hired at any big domain companies soon (not). But it’s true, and logically expected. You’d do it too if you needed to form a system that worked for your customers. However, “Selling” customer info isn’t something I saw at the domain companies I worked for, but utilizing aggregate patterns was done, and nothing wrong with that.

    For all you FACEBOOK users, don’t be surprised to see YOUR “likes” appear in an ad on a page of one of your Friends when that “LiKE” term is identified, categorized, and sold to companies that are relevant to what you “like”. I saw that tonight for the first time, and it freaked me out.

    Back to Registrars: If they’re buying the domains you’re not able/forgetting to renew, that’s another thing!

    I worked for one big registrar several years ago, where I registered ALL my company’s domains there, and the CTO of that company actually picked off my company’s domains when i requested he NOT do that, because I had to deal with my past partner’s failing to followup correctly on renewing the company’s portfolio. I don’t want to go into details here, but it was cold…

    So never underestimate the “temptation” of people, even when they call themselves “Christians” (I avoid them immediately), to take advantage of you. They think Jesus said “Lo, when the opportunity arises, ye shall take advantage of thy friends and business partners.”

    Nothing more from me here…

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