Private Equity Ghouls Buy Non-Profit That Handles .Org Domains

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Private equity firm Ethos Capital has acquired the Public Interest Registry (PIR), the agency that operates the .org domain.

The Internet Society acquired the .org registry and created PIR in 2002. In announcements about the acquisition, Internet Society CEO Andrew Sullivan said that since the creation of PIR, the company has grown .org into the “largest purpose-driven domain” and claimed the organization’s purchase by Ethos will provide the group with resources so it can “work to make the internet more open, accessible, and secure.”

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As the Verge points out, ICANN, the organization in charge of domain names, eliminated price restrictions for .org domains on June 30. The decision followed a public comment period during which only six of 3,252 submitted comments favored the removal of the price gap, according to Review Signal. While the move wasn’t popular, it would seemingly make PIR more appealing to a for-profit firm.

The day after ICANN killed the price cap, PIR wrote an “Open letter to the .org community” in which it said that it didn’t have any “specific plans” to increase prices for .org domains. But that commitment could change under a new ownership.

Ethos Capital did not respond to a request for comment on whether non-profits should be concerned that PIR could raise domain fees. In a public statement, Ethos CEO Erik Brooks said his company is “committed to ensuring complete continuity of PIR’s operations and enhancing the relationships PIR has established over the years,” adding that the company will continue “PIR’s longstanding partnerships and vendor affiliations to ensure domain operations run smoothly and without interruption.”

Internet freedom groups denounced the acquisition and the ICANN decision to remove the price cap. Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, and founding board member and former chair of the PIR, said he was “very disappointed” by the news.

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“We built the .org domain with the specific goal of promoting the noncommercial use of the Internet,” Rotenberg told Gizmodo. “There are many models, including ICANN itself, that could allow for effective management of the domain by a non-profit corporation. There are critical elements of transparency and accountability that will be lost when the Public Interest Registry is acquired by a private equity firm.”

Rotengberg suggested that, “at the very least, the terms of the transaction should be made public and org registrants should be made aware of this transaction.”

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Elliot Harmon, Activism Director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Gizmodo the organization has been critical of ICANN’s decision to update its agreement with the PIR and remove price caps for .org domains.

“The .org ecosystem is essential to the nonprofit community, and decisions affecting how .org domains are managed must be made with appropriate input from the entire nonprofit community,” Harmon told Gizmodo.

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“None of us knew at the time that the Internet Society would soon sell
PIR to a private equity firm,” Harmon added. “That only magnifies our concerns about the new registry agreement.”

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About the author

Jennings Brown

Senior editor and reporter at Gizmodo