Peter Sunde, the controversial co-founder of the world's most famous online torrent website Pirate Bay, has launched an anonymous domain registration service in order to help website owners keep their geographic locations and identities away from prying eyes.
Whenever an individual or company sets up a website, they have to register their domain. At the moment, the only way to keep domain registration private is to pay a domain registrar to mask your Whois lookup information. This is considered to be dangerous by some people, because it means that if someone does something wrong or illegal, such as running a child pornography website, then it is harder to catch the perpetrators.
Copyright holders like the Hollywood movie industry are also not keen on the practice as they want to eradicate illegal downloading and online piracy, which is harder if you can't get the website taken offline.
However, there are a large number of users on the internet who believe that all information is meant to be free, and that you don't have the right to stop people from sharing content and software for free. Whether legal or not, many of these people run online piracy websites (including the latest incarnation of the Pirate Bay), and it would be in their best interests to evade the authorities.
How Njalla works
The Njalla service aims to protect website owners, but in a slightly different way to Whois masking services. Typical domain registrars who offer private domain registration achieve this by not publishing the domain owner's contact details, or by publishing masked details that lead back to the registrar.
With Njalla, you don't register your domain name with any registrar. Instead, you pay Njalla and they buy the domain name for you, but you still retain the full usage rights to the domain. This means that if in the future you want to use another service, or you don't need to be anonymous anymore, you can choose to transfer the domain name to somewhere else.
"Njalla is needed because we're going the wrong way in society regarding people's right to be anonymous. With social media pressuring us to be less anonymous and services being centralised, we need alternatives," Sunde told Torrent Freak.
"All key parts of the internet need to have options for anonymity, and the domain name area is something that was never really protected. At best you can buy a domain name using 'privacy by proxy' services, which are aimed more at limiting spam than actually protecting your privacy."
While this sounds great for users who care about their privacy, as well as people who might be up to no good, Sunde isn't concerned that just like with the Pirate Bay, copyright holders might blame Njalla and hold the service to account for hiding website owners' contact details.
"The domain name itself is not really what they're after. They're after the content that the domain name points to. So we're never helping with anything that might infringe on anything anyhow, so it's a non-question for us," said Sunde, who recently became a millionaire by selling his micropayment browser extension Flattr to AdBlock Plus.
Despite this, Njalla isn't registered in Sweden, or anywhere in the EU. Instead, it is based in Nevis, a small island in the Caribbean Sea, where the company is registered as 1337 LLC, which is an in-joke about "leetspeak", a secret code created in the early 2000s so forum users could keep their conversations private.