UPDATE (Apr 30, 2020): After months of fighting, ICANN has announced its decision to reject the transfer of control over .ORG to private equity firm Ethos Capital. This is a really important win for the thousands around the world who stood up to keep civil society’s home in nonprofit hands. More here.
Around the world, people are using more than 10 million .ORG domains to host their websites, run campaigns, share educational content, collaborate on open-source development, and so much more. The .ORG top-level domain is where civil society lives online (from Wikipedia to Amnesty International to your local community organization), and it’s in trouble.
|First, some context.
There are three main players in the oversight of .ORG:
|The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is the organization responsible for overseeing top-level domain names and IP addresses, charged with maintaining a stable and secure global internet.||The Internet Society (ISOC) is a non-profit with a mission “to promote the open development, evolution and use of the Internet for the benefit of all people throughout the world.” ICANN transferred control of .ORG to ISOC in 2003.||ISOC created Public Interest Registry (PIR) to operate and maintain the database of all .ORG domains in 2003. That includes deciding who can run a .ORG site, what kind of content they can host, and how much it costs to register.|
The Internet Society (ISOC) has recently announced its plans to sell Public Interest Registry (PIR) — and with it, control of .ORG — to a private venture capital firm. Yes, you read that right! The sale is reported to be for over $1 billion to Ethos Capital. The company was formed under the advisement of ICANN’s former CEO just six months ago, around the same time that ICANN renegotiated its agreement with PIR to lift the long-standing cap on prices for registering .ORG domains.
This dubious deal was struck without consulting civil society groups that rely on .ORG to operate, without accounting for its impact on human rights, and without proper safeguards for the long-term health of online civic space.
Civil society is under attack around the world, both online and off. Governments, corporate actors, and others who feel threatened by the work of human rights defenders have continued to expand their toolkit of violence, targeted surveillance, misinformation, reputational attacks, censorship, and beyond.
At a moment when the nonprofit community is desperately in need of stability and support, ISOC (which has done a great job all these years) risks throwing us all under the bus. Can you imagine what commitment a private venture capital firm will have to keeping domain costs low and to protecting us from government demands — and what will happen when they decide to on-sell .ORG to the highest bidder?
The news of the .ORG sale was a major topic at last week’s Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Berlin, where Access Now hosted a town hall meeting for the global community to discuss the impact of the sale and the need for more transparency.
Many questions remain about how a transfer of PIR to a private entity with no accountability to civil society actors could be achieved without fundamentally undermining the digital civic space upon which so many of us depend. What is clear, though, is that ISOC must immediately halt the sale of PIR, and ICANN must withhold its approval of the transfer if ISOC proposes to proceed with the sale.