Yesterday morning, I was forwarded an ominous sounding email sent by GoDaddy to an industry colleague. The subject of the email was somewhat innocuous, “On May 18, 2020 we are retiring Privacy for Backorders.” The opening paragraph with details about the changes were concerning to me:
“We’re working on rolling out changes to better ensure your personal data is hidden in the public WHOIS database, for free. As part of that effort, we’re ending support for our Private Domain Backorder add-on product. We expect these changes to be live in early June.”
This sounded like GoDaddy was planning to make significant changes to how the company displays Whois records for domain names registered there, and that would have major implications for domain investors and GoDaddy customers.
I reached out to a representative from GoDaddy to ask about the email in order to get some clarity on what changes are being made to public Whois records. Paul Bindel, VP of Operations at GoDaddy Registrar, shared the following statement with me:
“Due to changing privacy regulations in the U.S. and around the world, GoDaddy is in the process of making some changes to align our offerings similar to what we did in GDPR regions.“
I believe the privacy regulations referenced in the quote are related to the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).
For GoDaddy customers who are located in the “GDPR regions,” GoDaddy currently redacts a great deal of Whois contact information, including the email address, mailing address, and the phone number. Domain registrants with addresses in the United States have not had their Whois information redacted, but that is apparently going to change in early June.
This is going to have massive reverberations for domain investors, especially those who actively buy and sell domain names using Whois information for lead generation. With the anticipated changes, domain investors will no longer be able to search for a domain registrant’s email address on domain names registered at GoDaddy. It will be much more difficult for domain investors and other third parties to email a domain registrant with an offer to buy a domain name. Some of this may be mitigated in part by GoDaddy’s contact form on Whois records, but I am not sure if this is going to change as well. It was also be more difficult to perform due diligence and confirm ownership of a domain name.
Beyond the implications of making it more difficult to contact a registrant to buy or sell a domain name, I think this will also lead to an increase in UDRP filings. Businesses that are unable to use Whois records may be more inclined to file a “blind” UDRP not understanding if a registrant has legitimate rights to a domain name or not. In addition, the UDRP could be used as a means of contacting a registrant to buy a domain name when it becomes much more difficult to do so via Whois records.
I understand US-based domain investors who use GoDaddy will have the opportunity to opt-out of this and show their Whois information. I do not have any details about this at the moment.
When I learn more about the forthcoming changes, I will share an update.