Coronavirus pandemic sparks calls to delay sale of .org domain

by Umberto Bacchi | @UmbertoBacchi | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 18 March 2020 08:25 GMT

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Selling control of .org site registration to a private company as planned could now impact charities grappling with COVID-19

(Adds comment from Ethos, Internet Society, PIR)

By Umberto Bacchi

TBILISI, March 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A decision on the sale of the .org internet domain to a private company should be postponed, rights groups said, warning it could impact charities grappling with coronavirus.

NGOs opposing the takeover called for an extension of the March 20 deadline for the internet's governing authority, ICANN, to decide whether to give it the go-ahead in light of the global disruption caused by the outbreak.

"Organizations that disseminate accurate health information and connect affected communities with public resources depend on the .ORG domain," Peter Micek, general counsel of digital rights group Access Now said in a statement.

"Now is not the time to shift the ground beneath their online activities."

A spokeswoman for ICANN said the group had no comment on the subject at this time.

Registrations for the millions of nonprofits whose websites end in .org are overseen by the Internet Society (ISOC), but in November the U.S. nonprofit announced it was selling control to a year-old private equity firm called Ethos Capital.

Since then, hundreds of organisations have objected, worried that Ethos will raise registration and renewal prices, cut back on infrastructure and security spending, or make deals to sell sensitive data or allow censorship or surveillance.

In February, Ethos said it would put in place temporary limitations on price increases and set up an advisory body with powers to veto some policy changes.

But some NGOs said the sale needed further vetting.

"We need maximum transparency and integrity around the sale of .org," Daniel Eriksson, head of technology at anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International said in a statement.

"That is simply not possible if the sale is rushed through at a moment when peoples' attention is elsewhere".

In a joint statement, Ethos, the Internet Society and the Public Interest Registry (PIR), a nonprofit created by the Internet Society to manage .org, said they were working with ICANN to consider a possible extension.

"That said, for anyone to assert that a change of control will impact the ability of any NGO, charity or mission-driven organization to address the coronavirus crisis is misleading and alarmist," the statement said.

".ORG will remain stable and secure, and it should not be used as a vehicle to promote individual agendas and advance misinformation for the purpose of deceiving the public."

The coronavirus has killed more than 7,100 people and sickened about 182,260 across the world, according to a Reuters tally.

It has crippled several industries and triggered border closures and lockdowns in many countries.

The crisis was likely to affect NGOs' finances as bans on travel and events limited fundraising opportunities, said Micek.

He warned it would be difficult for organisations unhappy with new ownership to move their websites while responding to the pandemic.

"You can't transition to a new ship in the middle of the naval battle," Micek told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone. (Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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