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A Private Equity Firm Bought the Nonprofit that Manages the .org Top Level Domain

The .org domain conveys a nonprofit status to most of us, differentiated from the for-profit connotations of .com (or the emphatically for-profit .biz). However, the nonprofit nature of the TLD was lost as of November 13th. The private equity firm Ethos Capital bought Public Interest Registry, the nonprofit that managed .org. In other words, a nonprofit TLD is now run by a for-profit investment firm.

The adherence to nonprofit values was already loose with .org. A group didn't have to prove in any way it was a nonprofit or community organization. Still, it was run by a nonprofit that describes themselves this way-

"Acting in the public interest. As our name implies, PIR serves the public interest online. Our globally diverse team is committed to providing a stable online platform to enable people to do good things."

Internet Society, the nonprofit that created PIR, defends the sale by basically stating that the money they're getting will help them do their work better.

However, private acquisition of nonprofit entities inherently changes the structure and ultimate goals of a group. It's almost certain this means an eventual increase in prices for .org domains - a logical move for a firm that needs to increase its profit margins. What else could this mean for the .org community? Perhaps the already loose definition of who .org is intended for will be relaxed further to expand the market.

A better model would be a platform cooperative, in which the purchasers of .org domains become members of the cooperative. A cooperative is bound to its stakeholders, ensuring on a structural level that the .org domain really is managed to provide "a stable online platform to enable people to do good things."

Whatever the real world implications of this move, one thing is clear- in a time when the internet as a public good needs to be treated, owned and governed as such, this privatization of our movement's tools is a disturbing event in a larger troubling trend.

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