News Brief
Authoritarian Tech

Sale of .org domain draws protests

We’ve heard (and written) much in the past few years about the way that governments, through the doctrine of “cyber sovereignty,” are increasingly trying to exercise political power over internet content.

But it’s important not to lose sight of another power grab: much of the internet is controlled by private interests that shape it to maximize profit. The downsides of this corporate free-for-all were once again highlighted last week by the announced sale of the .org domain registry.

One of the web’s most popular registries, .org was previously owned by the Internet Society, a non-profit that itself hosts its site on .org and has made the domain extension accessible at a discounted price to many non-profits. Last week, they announced that it had sold the rights to an investment firm called Ethos Capital for an undisclosed sum.

For those technologists invested in the idea of a digital commons, it felt like a betrayal.

“The Internet, especially when it comes to domain names and websites, is really just land,” wrote Jacob Malthouse, who created the .edo domain extension .eco. “Just like real land, how we decide to run it is a reflection of us.”

A coalition of nonprofits and civil society organizations has signed an open letter to IS president and CEO Andrew Sullivan.

So far, the Internet Society has waived aside concerns and pushed forward with the sale. When Internet Society president Vint Cerf spoke at a panel in Berlin on Tuesday, he did not address the issue despite audience requests.

Earlier this year, internet overseer ICANN, in a decision interpreted as a move towards a free market approach to internet addresses, dropped limits on how much .org domains could cost. This has made the extension a more lucrative asset, and fueled fears that non-profits will be priced out by rising costs.

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