DreamHost Domain Privacy Update

DreamHost Domain Privacy Update thumbnail

For over a decade we’ve provided private domain registration as an option when you register certain types of top level domains with DreamHost.

It’s 2016 now and the internet is full of more sketchy weirdos than ever! Having an open registration system where anyone can see your home address seems like a colossally bad idea.

Any threat to the ability to anonymize domain registrations‘ contact data is rightfully met with universal criticism and worldwide derision.

In 2013 ICANN made major revisions to the RAA (Registrar Accreditation Agreement) that governs registrars’ responsibilities. These changes were so major that we went from hearing from ICANN maybe 2 or 3 times a year to—after 2013—several times per week. These contacts almost always involve domain registration disputes or other issues on which we’re required to act.

Registrars like DreamHost are obligated to resolve these issues to ICANN’s satisfaction or we risk losing our ability to register domains altogether!

That brings us to today. 2016.

Privacy or Proxy?

ICANN has recently informed us that, in their view, we’re running a domain registration “Proxy” service, not a “Privacy” service. They make the distinction thusly:

    “Privacy” services must show the registrant’s (customer’s) name. Only “Proxy” could hide this.
    With “Proxy” services, the registrar becomes the registrant, or “owner” of the domain, and licenses the use of the domain to the customer.

First of all, we’re not familiar with ANY registrars who offer a service where everything is hidden except the registrant’s name. Are you?

Seriously | NY | CC BY-SA 3.0
Seriously | NY | CC BY-SA 3.0

No, really—we want to know. Please tell us in the comments below.

We knew right off the bat that revealing our customers’ names publicly in WHOIS was a non-starter, so we started discussing with ICANN how we could transition our operations to fall under their definition of “Proxy” to keep the status-quo for our customers’ WHOIS privacy.

In reviewing how other registrars handle Proxy registrations, virtually all of the ones we looked at have third-party companies listed as the “Proxy Provider”. In some cases those providers are entirely separate companies, but in most cases they are a company fully owned by the primary registrar.

It’s notable that presumably the registrant shares some ambiguous, enhanced legal liability for the content of websites whose domains it appears as registrant for, which is likely why so many registrars choose to use a third-party or second self-owned corporation as a liability shield.

At DreamHost our Legal and Abuse teams have always gone the extra mile for our customers, erring on the side of customer privacy and respect for their data. We receive hundreds of frivolous and spurious complaints every week and work hard to protect our customers interests whenever possible.

Giving up key decision-making control in these situations was not something we were prepared to do, so using a third-party Proxy Provider (that would become the registrant of all our customers’ domains) was not. Gonna. Happen.

NOPE | Tom Hilton | CC BY 2.0
NOPE | Tom Hilton | CC BY 2.0

Instead we chose to create our own new company, “Proxy Protection, LLC,” to serve as the Proxy Provider. That lets us keep all implementation and Abuse decisions in-house where they belong.

As a customer with Domain Privacy … ugh … “PROXY” enabled, the most visible change will be one that won’t affect you much at all.

The registrant name that appears in WHOIS will change from “A Happy DreamHost Customer” to “Proxy Protection, LLC”.

This will effectively mean that Proxy Protection, LLC is the registrant of the domain. However, we are amending our Domain Registration Terms and creating a new licensing agreement that essentially says that all of our customers will still control their registered domains and are responsible for the content of their websites.

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We’re jumpin’ through some serious hoops to make this as seamless as possible for all of our customers, and we hope you appreciate it! We expect to have all private domain registrations changed over to “Proxy Protection, LLC” by October 31st, 2016.

ICANN has chosen to apply this policy very unevenly across the industry. In an attempt to clarify the policy we’ve pointed out to them that nearly all of our competitors offer a domain privacy feature that populates the name field with things like “Registration Private,” “Domain Admin,” “Domain Privacy Service FBO Registrant,” “Contact Privacy Inc. Customer xyzxyzxyz,” and more. After thanking us for the feedback, ICANN has taken no visible action against any of the domains we’d cited, and none have been updated with the format being demanded of DreamHost.

A small percentage of our customers will receive a new RAA domain verification email with a link to click to confirm the change. If you receive one of these emails, remember to follow its directions to verify your contact information.

While we happen to have gotten on someone’s bad side this week, it’s possible that changes are in store for other registrars in the near future, too.

By making these changes on our end, our customers should be able to continue living a life of peace and comfort, un-harassed in the real world by crazies from the internet who choose to take issue with their choice of domain name or website content.

I mean… we had to set up a whole new company just to keep our customers’ contact information private. Did you miss that part? We definitely did not.

Sometimes doing the right thing involves a hell of a lot of paperwork.


Paperwork | anomalous4 | CC BY 2.0
Paperwork | anomalous4 | CC BY 2.0


Feature Image: Stalker | Patrik Nygren | CC BY-SA 2.0

Photo of Brett Dunst
About the Author:

Brett's the VP of Corporate Communications at DreamHost and definitely not a robot. He tweets as @TremendousValue and it's not great.


  1. … and all of this is BEFORE the US Government gives ICANN control away to whoever wants it. Just wait until the ChiComs and others set up yet more hoops.

  2. Internet.bs offers something called Partial Private Whois. According them,

    “We offer two different options “Full Private Whois” and “Partial Private Whois”.
    With “Full Private Whois” we completely remove all your personal data INCLUDING your name from the public Whois and publish our data instead.

    With “Partial Private Whois” we remove all your personal data EXCLUDING your name from the public Whois and for all other information publish our data instead.”

    more at https://faq.internet.bs/content/1/19/en/private-whois-%E2%80%93-domain-privacy.html

  3. Actually, I was recently surprised to see a registrar (formerly very respected in the privacy community — gandi.net!) with “private” registrations revealing names and orgs to whois due to these rule changes. Your hard work to continue protecting registration information is definitely appreciated.

  4. I’m just a lowly website user – it’s just a blog and there’s not a lot of traffic, but those who come, I hope, are rewarded with good contact. But, a lot of the “behind the scenes” stuff at DreamHost are beyond me. Yet, I trust you folks! And, I think, that’s why I continue to renew my registrations with you. Thank you for your work in putting the customer’s concerns as a priority!

  5. Thank God there are good people like you willing to stand up to this bureaucratic nonsense! At least we know you actually have common sense and morals. We all deeply appreciate you sacrifice, time and effort to protect the privacy of your customers.

  6. So, just to clarify (I am on pain meds AND I am blonde), I still own my domain name, the registration, all of it. Proxy Protection, LLC “holds” it for me as a barrier between me and the bad guys.

    Kind of like I own my car and the tag but Proxy Protection, LLC keeps putting up the fuzzy pixels so no one can see the tag numbers.


    1. don’t think so, proxy pro would own it and merely license it to you. Now if they decided to they could end the license and you would no longer have any rights to it, that is what is bothering me.

  7. Ten years ago, I was hosting my websites outside of the US, but due to the insanely high prices abroad I moved to DreamHost. Terms and Conditions at my home country were a lot more strict than they were at DreamHost (and in US in general) and there was no domain privacy option at all, which was scary!
    Someone gets something of your business personal and gives you a call to threaten you or even worse shows up on your door even, if it’s something minor.
    Since I moved to DreamHost I had nothing, but superb service! Charming, funny team with sharp edge on technology and privacy. As long as you keep the excellence and the customer above everything else, you get to keep my business (vps and over 20 domains).
    I do realize what you do for me, for us – your customers, and I want you to know that it is greatly appreciated.
    If it wasn’t for companies like you, DreamHost, I would join groups that fight to split the global power of ICAAN in order to fight for privacy. But there’s a light in the tunnel and it’s called for a reason the Dream Network!


  8. Many thanks to DreamHost for all your hard work on your customers’ behalves! This is one of the many reasons I have been and continue to be a Happy DreamHost Customer.

  9. I LOVE YOU DREAMHOST. You are the BEST and that’s what I tell like EVERYBODY who asks. Y’know the funny thing is just this morning while I was washing breakfast dishes I was THINKING about Dreamhost and how I chose you because you actually want a court order before you pull our sites, “not just a scary looking letter from a lawyer” and WHO ELSE defends our FREEDOM OF SPEECH like that?

    It’s because they hate our freedom, y’know. And by “they” I mean the power-grabbing octopus-like bureaucracy who wants to spy on and control EVERYTHING we do or think, but especially say. Our existence these days is like a scary distopian sci-fi movie from the 50s but nobody’s squalling because we’re just used to it.

    Bear in mind that my website is about Barbie patterns… but I still LOVE DREAMHOST in pure theory because you are standing up for what’s RIGHT which is our ability to say whatever we want to without permission from Big Brother.

    And I LOVE YOU for setting up a separate company to appease these creeps, that must’ve been a huge headache and hassle but it pays off because of all the people like me who LOVE YOU and always send people to you and not the maybe $2 / mo cheaper places that won’t even set up hosting without calling your phone number to verify that you gave them the right one (I nearly fainted with rage when Host Gator did that to me long ago “It’s for your own protection, Ma’am”)

  10. This sounds pretty good. Thanks Brett, and Thanks to the DreamHost Team for all your hard work. Fifteen years of being with the best hosting company, DreamHost, for reasons just like this. Thanks!

  11. This was brilliantly written. Kudos to Brett for being the voice of dreamhost and THANK YOU to Dreamhost for doing the right thing.

  12. Wow that’s crazy. I mean, my domain right now is my own name, but I completely understand that some people (and possibly myself in the future) may want one for privacy. These are the same arguments that people make “If you’re doing nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide”. Well, no. I may just simply have a service or idea that is perfectly legal, but may have some people out there that don’t agree with it. It scares me that the world is moving away from personal liberty and towards a world of control into a few corporate hands. And I’m not being some conspiracy theorist either, it’s just that these types of decisions normally are the START of a horrible road of less privacy and control and less protections. Thank you DreamHost for continuing to work and protect your customers.

  13. I moved my domain name to Dreamhost privacy because Islamic extremists kept emailing me death threats and I know how good Dreamhost is at protecting customers privacy. It would be too risky for me to have my name released, in my country we can not buy guns to protect ourselves so I would be an easy target.

    Thank you for making a stand for privacy, I really appreciate it.

  14. PaulaO asked a question a few days ago that I (a newbie domain owner) would like to re-ask [not a real word]: Does this affect my legal ownership of the domain in any way?

    Thanks for the support and great communication.

      1. The blog post says: “This will effectively mean that Proxy Protection, LLC is the registrant of the domain.” and “customers will still control their registered domains and are responsible for the content of their websites.”… I think there’s a significant difference between “control” and “own”. So the blog states the new company is the registrant (and, by definition, not the individual) but the new terms give the individual control.

        So I don’t think “ownership” as clear cut as made out in the comment.

  15. Thank you so damn much. When I signed up for Dreamhost back in 2005, I knew you were a better hosting company than the rest. But each year you keep surpassing that epic high bar. Keep on being the best damn thing, you never cease to amaze.

  16. So here is a good one :

    – ProPro is an independent entity dedicated to provide privacy for domains listing. In the legalese that I just read it is said : “To avoid any ambiguity, the term “Service Providers” includes DreamHost, LLC.” but that does not _exclude_ other service providers, even though we understand ProPro has been created for Dreamhost customers, nothing in the TOS seems to exclude the possibility to extend those service to other registrars.

    So here come the question(s) : Will/would you provide the service for domains registered elsewhere ? At a fee ? (lets say for instance Gandi customers would rather have their names hidden) ?

    1. Hi Eric,
      At this time Proxy Protection, LLC will only work with domains for which DreamHost is the current registrar. We have no plans to extend PP’s tentacles beyond the reaches of our own deep blue sea.

      You can always transfer registrations from other registrars *to* us if you’d like to take advantage of our proxy service. This knowledge base article explains the process pretty well: https://help.dreamhost.com/hc/en-us/articles/215250318-How-do-I-transfer-my-domain-registration-to-DreamHost-

  17. Thank you Brett D for writing this awesome article. It refreshed my mind. You don’t believe but I think about Dreamhost every day while studying, working because I have feared that what happened if my personal information from Dreamhost leaked it can create an avalanche in my small and happy family. But today while checking emails I got an old mail from Dreamhost about domain information. And I decided to check that article link which is given the bottom of the mail.

    After reading this full post and all comment’s. I realized that how serious is Dreamhost to protect their customer personal data.

    Now I can freely transfer’s all of my 10 websites to Unique Dreamhost.

    Very, Very, very thank’s Dreamhost to protect US from bad guys .

  18. There are a lot of reasons why I’ve stuck with Dreamhost for years and years (going on 13), but real domain registration privacy as an included feature is a big one. It sounds like a real pain in the ass to deal with. I greatly appreciate this level of service and dedication.

    Many thanks to the Dreamhost team.

  19. The privacy policy of DreamHost was one of the reasons I opened an account 10 years ago. No, I’m not in the habit of reading policy notices: Boring! However, this one was interesting. It just confirms that I made the right decision back then. Thanks, Dreamers! You ROCK!

  20. Well-done, DreamHost. Love your candid email. Thanks for jumping through those hoops for us!

  21. As an owner of 5 domains it does bother me that I will not be an “owner” if my domains if I leave privacy enabled and therefore it could possibly be hijacked from me if one has a hair to do so. Not that dreamhost WILL, but I trust no company where bottom line is number one goal.

    Would you put your house in someone else’s name? yeah didn’t think so.

    I’m not sure what to do, for now I have disable protection on all to make sure I don’t lose ownership.

    1. When you are listed as the owner of a domain it’s really nothing more than an agreement between you and another party stating that it belongs to you. Either way you have to trust that your agreement with the registrar for your domain will be honored completely.

  22. Thanks for all of the hard work you guys put into this, for something that probably goes unnoticed by many of your customers. But I’m sure you know that the returns on your efforts are exponential. I think customers who pay attention to “details” (read: really important stuff) like this post are often the go-to people when friends and family ask about web hosting. When people ask me, I have only one name to give them. It’s yours, and I tell them why.

    Thanks again for the effort.

    1. Really Dreamhost is not like other Webhosting. Dreamhost think like how we think they know the moral value of their customer.

    2. Thank you, Mr. Ape!

      We have several hundred-thousand customers at DreamHost, and defending the privacy of each and every one of them is an enormous responsibility.

      We will continue to do whatever we can to keep our customers safe by protecting both their data and contact information unless and until our datacenters burn down in a post-apocalyptic future where people use gasoline for money.

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