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Highlights from ICANN67 Public Forum – Community Dialogue on Proposed Transfer of PIR Ownership

Ethos CEO Erik Brooks and I are grateful to ICANN for hosting this important community dialogue on the future of PIR and .ORG earlier this week, and we listened intently to the questions posed.

To echo what John Jeffrey said in his opening remarks, we are very interested in the community’s input. We appreciate the openness and candor that was expressed during the Public Forum, and we would like to take this opportunity to recap a few of the overarching themes and questions asked. We look forward to continuing to engage with interested members of the .ORG community and to respond to questions in the coming days and weeks.

First, we heard recurring questions about the role of ICANN and its policies in general. Questions and comments included asking ICANN to identify the criteria that it will apply in evaluating the request for a change in indirect control of PIR, the process by which it will evaluate those criteria, and the role it plans to play—more broadly—in pricing with respect to gTLD registries beyond PIR.

We also heard several people express their support for the actions Ethos has taken with respect to our voluntarily proposing to undertake a legally-binding Public Interest Commitment (“PIC”). One participant noted that “the PIC has a potential to bring us into actually a somewhat better space than the presale PIR . . .” This is exactly what Ethos is striving for—a stronger PIR that maintains the very principles and values that differentiate .ORG from every other registry. The PIC, in our view, represents a clear path forward for PIR, with greater and more specific enforceability mechanisms than currently exist under PIR’s the Registry Agreement, and that would not exist at all had Ethos not taken this action. We will continue to engage with the community about what the PIC means in practice for the future of PIR and .ORG.

We were pleased to hear a number of questions asked about the composition of the Stewardship Council. This is an important body that will play a powerful role in influencing PIR’s decision-making moving forward, and will be instrumental in ensuring that the needs of all .ORG registrants and users remain central to PIR. As noted in the Council’s Charter, five of the inaugural Council members will initially be appointed by the PIR Board, a common practice when new organizations are formed. The remaining two members—and all subsequent members—will be selected through an independent nomination process administered by the Council. The Council will have tremendous enforcement authority as it will have veto power to ensure commitments in PIR’s legally binding PIC are upheld. We look forward to unveiling several of the initial Stewardship Council members in the near future.

Some participants posed questions about freedom of expression, and it is therefore important to recall that PIR has one of the strongest and most transparent anti-abuse policies in the industry. It is because of this that we have given the Stewardship Council veto power to reject any attempt to change such policies. To be clear, PIR’s anti-abuse program focuses almost exclusively on DNS abuse—things like phishing, malware and botnets. A small fraction of PIR’s anti-abuse practices has to do with website content that is so egregiously illegal that it would demand action. To put this in perspective, in 2019, PIR suspended over 41,000 domain names for technical abuse, while the total number of domains suspended for content issues was ten; of these ten, seven were for child sexual abuse materials, and three were for online distribution of opioids. While we recognize that certain organizations may have differing views on this topic more broadly, we stand with the vast majority of the .ORG community in supporting PIR’s practices that certain limited restrictions—namely ensuring that child sexual abuse material and other similarly egregious harmful activity has no place on .ORG. Any suggestions that PIR would become an Internet censor of any kind is simply wrong.

Another important topic raised was the enforceability of PICs, and what ICANN’s role is when it comes to holding Ethos accountable to the commitments we have made. This is a very important topic, which is why Ethos’ legal advisor Allen Grogan and PIR’s General Counsel Brian Cimbolic recently hosted a community discussion on this subject. You can find the transcript from that discussion here, and follow-up posts from Allen and Brian here. At a high level, the PIC will be enforceable directly by ICANN and also by members of the community through the Public Interest Commitments Dispute Resolution Procedure, known as “PICDRP.” As noted above, we are proud of the actions we have taken to cement certain enforcement and accountability measures for PIR that do not exist today.

As Herb Waye stated at the outset, “[e]motional reactions fueled by issues and unsettled fundamental core values and beliefs can easily cause people to do and say things that are not in their—or others—best interests.” We understand that some people may have strong opinions about this transaction, but it is vital that these views be grounded in the facts.

We fundamentally believe that mutual respect and the willingness to hear all sides are essential to maintaining a constructive dialogue around the future of PIR and .ORG. While there may be differing perspectives about certain topics, the feedback and questions we heard during the Public Forum have made one thing clear—we all are passionate about what .ORG represents for the mission-driven people and organizations seeking to do good around the world.

I want to remind everyone to please visit https://www.keypointsabout.org/public-engagement to participate in our public engagement process through March 13. We are continuing to listen and look forward to your thoughts and questions.

By Nora Abusitta-Ouri, Chief Purpose Officer at Ethos Capital

Nora Abusitta-Ouri is the Chief Purpose Officer at Ethos Capital, where she oversees the development and execution of social impact and ethics initiatives for the firm and the companies in which it invests. She also serves as the Executive Director of the Digital Ethos Foundation, a global nonprofit committed to fostering a trustworthy, just and peaceful digital world.

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