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ICANN rejects controversial handover of the .org registry to Ethos Capital

ICANN, a nonprofit organization that governs internet domain names, has announced it’s voting against the Public Interest Registry’s controversial handover of the “.org” top-level domain to private equity group Ethos Capital. The proposal, which was first tabled in November last year, would create “unacceptable uncertainty” for the registry that’s primarily employed by and associated with nonprofits — under a for-profit owner, said ICANN in a blog post.

ICANN cited several more factors that went into its decision to withhold consent. The $1.1 billion endowment would have likely steered the PIR’s public interest focus off course once acquired by an entity “that is bound to serve the interests of its corporate stakeholders, and which has no meaningful plan to protect or serve the .org community,” wrote ICANN’s board.

ICANN is being asked to agree to contract with a wholly different form of entity; instead of maintaining its contract with the mission-based, not-for-profit that has responsibly operated the .org registry for nearly 20 years, with the protections for its own community embedded in its mission and status as a not-for-profit entity.”

Applauding the move, Electronic Frontier Foundation, a California-based nonprofit digital rights group, tweeted: “During this pandemic, nonprofits and the communities they serve depend more than ever before on the internet. This is not just a victory for the web; this is a victory for aid organizations, corporate watchdogs, museums, clubs, and everyone working in the public interest.”

BREAKING: ICANN has voted to REJECT the sale of the .ORG registry to private equity firm Ethos Capital. This is a major victory for the millions of nonprofits, civil society organizations, and individuals who make .ORG their home online. #SaveDotOrg

— EFF (@EFF) May 1, 2020

Since November, the proposal has faced pushback and outcry from privacy advocate groups across the globe. The deal was expected to go through earlier, but ICANN was forced to delay it several times due to the lack of enough information about how Ethos Capital planned to accommodate and handle the .org registry that today houses over 10.5 million domain names.

In response, Ethos Capital agreed to sign a contract that would prevent any price hikes for nonprofit domain holders. It also promised to establish an independent “stewardship council” that had the power to veto any attempts at censorship or improper data use by the private firm. However, these efforts have seemingly done little to convince and sway the ICANN board into greenlighting the proposal.

Earlier this month, California’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra had also joined the debate urging ICANN to reject the sale. ‘The transfer may place at risk the operational stability of the .org registry. The proposed transfer raises serious concerns that cannot be overlooked,” Becerra warned.

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