Free Domain Name Registration with Hosting
Some web hosting companies offer free domain name with their hosting plans. If handled correctly by the web hosting company, the domain name will be registered at your name, but if you find an unethical company they will own the domain name and not you.
Free Domain Name - Pitfalls
The process of domain name registration requires to provide three contacts to manage the domain, these contacts in order of importance are the administrative, billing and technical contacts. To make sure you own a domain name your name, address and email address should appear in the administrative and billing contacts.
Good web hosting companies offering free domain names with their hosting plans always register the domain name on your behalf. In contrast a bad web hosting company will register the domain name with their own data.
In the first case you can change from one web hosting company to another without any problem, retaining your domain name. In the second case if you want to change to another company they will keep the domain name.
Sometimes a bad hosting company can register the domain name without giving you access to a control panel where you can make changes to your domain name. In this case apparently everything is ok, but they still are in control and can do whatever they like with the domain name.
How do you know if you own your domain name?
You are the owner of a domain name if in a whois query you appear as the administrative and billing contact, and if you have an account with login and password at the domain name registrar where you can fully manage your domain and change details of the account like your password.
Why some hosting companies retain domain names?
They try to keep you as a captive client. In their terms and conditions they state that you can make use of the domain name while you remain a paying customer, they make very clear that you don't own the domain. They also know that a domain name can become very valuable if at certain point receives a lot of traffic, and have many links from other websites. If they loose you as a customer they can still make a lot of profit from the domain name.
This is also true for some web designers who register domain names for their clients, keeping for themselves total control and ownership.
Helping other members
I will be adding web hosting reviews of companies offering free domain names with hosting. I will review their terms of service to spot the ones who keep the domain names for themselves. If you know about one of them, please add a webhosting review in our forum.