Posts Tagged ‘Ethos Capital’

The favourite domain of human rights NGOs, “.ORG”, at risk

January 27, 2020

David Gilbert in Vice.com of 24 January and Caitlin Harrington in the The Cascadia Advocate of 26 January 2020 (among others) address an important issue that could affect many human righs NGOs and thus human rights defenders. A private equity fund (backed by three prominent Republican billionaire families) is expected to buy the dot-org domain, throwing into question whether the online safe haven for rights organizations and nonprofits could now face censorship or spiralling costs. Ethos Capital has offered $1 billion for the domain, which is currently operated by a nonprofit.

[Back in the fall of 2019, the private equity firm Ethos Capital announced its plans to buy the Public Interest Registry (PIR) for more than $1 billion. PIR is owned by the Internet Society and manages the .ORG domain registry, which since 1985 has been used by nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) like the Northwest Progressive Institute (NPI). Dot org is what is known as top layer domain… the last part of a uniform resource locator (URL), or web address. For example, nwprogressive.org. Dot-org is home to over 10 million URLs, making it the third-largest domain on the internet today. A huge variety of organizations use the domain ending, from massive multinational organizations like UNICEF to local libraries and animal shelters. PIR is a nonprofit entity that has been managing the registry and setting the prices that owners pay when they register .ORG domains.]

In a letter to the Internet Society from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an ally of NPI that opposes the sale, it was explained that this move could cause significant harm to nonprofits and NGOs. They argue that without oversight from an appropriate placement, the registry would have the power to make policy changes that would detrimental to .ORG stakeholders, including:

  • The power to raise .org registration fees without the approval of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) or the .ORG community. A .ORG price hike would put many cash-strapped NGOs in the difficult position of either paying the increased fees or losing the legitimacy and brand recognition of a .ORG domain. [Yearly fees for .ORG sites are, on average, between $10 to $20.]
  • The power to develop and implement Rights Protection Mechanisms unilaterally, without consulting the .org community. If such mechanisms are not carefully crafted in collaboration with the NGO community, they risk censoring completely legal nonprofit activities.
  • The power to implement processes to suspend domain names based on accusations of “activity contrary to applicable law. ”The .ORG registry should not implement such processes without understanding how state actors frequently target NGOs with allegations of illegal activity.

NPI cosigned EFF’s letter, with NPI’s founder and Executive Director Andrew Villeneuve explaining: “The pending sale is of great concern to NPI because we own a significant number of .org domains. We could be affected by price hikes and bad policies imposed by the proposed new owner.”…….Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, was among those expressing grave concern and opposition at the time the sale was announced.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation also made the point in their letter opposing the sale, that back in 2002, amid similar talks of selling the .ORG registry, ISOC’s then president and CEO Lynn St. Amour assured the NGOs worldwide that the registry would continue to be accountable to the nonprofit sector.

Erik Brooks, founder and CEO of Ethos Capital, stated in a public blog post that the firm is investing in “the long-term vitality of .ORG and its users” and that “PIR’s partnership with Ethos will create new opportunities for PIR to provide enhanced services and support to the .ORG community.” He also promised that these enhanced services will be developed “in collaboration with the community.” But last month, ICANN published documents with the names of three directors of Ethos Capital involved in the sale redacted, which only deepened the concerns of nonprofits and NGOs.

….Tarleton argued the Washington Secretary of State’s office should be forcefully opposing the sale and calling attention to it. “This is the slippery slope of privatization that happens when no one is paying attention,” she warned.

….“We’re confident that this is in the best interests of the registry, in the best interests of the registrants, and in the best interest of the whole internet,” Andrew Sullivan, CEO of the Internet Society, a nonprofit that oversees the domain, told VICE News. But critics of the move say the promises made by Ethos Capital are not backed by any legal obligations. They also say there’s a problematic lack of transparency about the sale and who will be running the new organization overseeing the domain. So a group of respected internet pioneers and nonprofit leaders have come forward to offer an alternative proposition. But they don’t have $1 billion to offer.

This week the Internet Society and ICANN approved a 30-day extension to the process, giving both sides until 20 February to approve the sale. “This is by far the largest outpouring of public concern ICANN has ever seen,” Malthouse said. “It’s a huge opportunity for ICANN to prove it has the courage to stand behind its founding principles.”

https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/wxenaz/3-billionaire-republican-families-are-about-to-buy-the-dot-org-domain-thats-terrifying-nonprofits

NPI’s Gael Tarleton warns proposed sale of .ORG domain registry could harm nonprofits