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Even a Pandemic Isn’t Enough

The most incredible thing about the dot-org sale is no longer the billion-dollar price tag.

It’s not surprise fait-accompli announcement. It’s not the republican billionaires. It’s that the proponents have continued to advocate for it in the midst of the worst crisis the world has faced since the second world war.

The biggest crisis in almost a hundred years. One that will reverberate for generations. Our children will forever remember a world in which they were only allowed to play with friends on the other side of a fence. A world where there was no school, and their parents struggled to educate them while juggling work and worrying about our own parents. The lockdowns may be with us for a few years, but the lessons and the worry will last a lifetime. And we are the lucky ones. In many countries, the lack of functioning health care and government infrastructure is only just beginning to cause illness, death and insecurity.

We are now in a world where every major nonprofit event, the mainstay of funding and engagement for many, has been canceled. Where nonprofits in health and human services are stretched to the limit. Learning how to provide care and support while changing the way they work entirely. Where nonprofits and journalists in developing countries, and in many wealthy ones, are coming under huge pressure to tow the government line, to give up privacy, and to hide facts.

Some months ago, Ethos Capital, PIR and Internet Society started KeyPointsAboutDot.Org to share their views on the .org sale. Visiting the website today, I was amazed to find a world in which the pandemic simply had not happened. Not a single announcement. The sale soldiers boldly on. Even at the Public Interest Registry itself, there is no announcement regarding the pandemic. While PIR has been active on Twitter highlighting the work of other nonprofits, we see no initiatives from the registry, itself a billion-dollar endeavor by valuation, being announced.

There is no better example of the stark difference between shareholders and stakeholders. In the world of shareholders, everything is always fine. Good news is the only news. Stakeholders, no matter your corporate structure, must be secondary. This is the nature of fiduciary duty. There’s just no way around it, and it’s why nonprofits exist.

Fiduciary duty is the real reason Ethos won’t re-open the registry agreement, which they could do at any time. It’s the reason they won’t take control of their own timeline and manage it in the interest of stakeholders, with open consultation on the future of dot-org. It’s the reason they haven’t acknowledged the Access Now call for the sale to be halted while their own constituency - the world’s nonprofits - adapt to the pandemic.

If you had asked me last November what it would take to stop the sale, I might have jokingly responded with I don’t know, maybe a global pandemic. To which the response might have been yeah right, maybe that’s what it would take. But in Ethos’ world, sadly not even that is enough.

By Jacob Malthouse, Fmr UNEP Staffer, Ex ICANN VP, Co-founder dot-eco domain registry.

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Disappointed Judy Song-Marshall  –  Apr 29, 2020 9:37 PM


I wanted to address this part of your article: “Even at the Public Interest Registry itself, there is no announcement regarding the pandemic. While PIR has been active on Twitter highlighting the work of other nonprofits, we see no initiatives from the registry, itself a billion-dollar endeavor by valuation, being announced.”

We respect those who have differing opinions about the future of .ORG. Criticism about the future of .ORG is fair game. What is not, or at least shouldn’t be, fair game is using the tragic circumstances of the pandemic to advance those opinions.

As you mention, we have been celebrating the wonderful .ORGs that are working tireless to help those in need. Do we have initiatives? Of course we do. Have we made substantial donations to 15 different .ORGs working on the pandemic? Supported our team during this crisis with flexible work policies and paid time off for them to volunteer? Worked with our registrar partners to address abuse names related to the pandemic and to ensure those customers impacted from the pandemic are protected from the loss of their .ORG domain? Absolutely. And that’s just a few examples. We have leaders here at PIR that support .ORGs in their communities every day. We simply don’t need public credit for any work we do during this terrible pandemic. We do the work because we care.

In short, I’m incredibly disappointed you have attacked the people behind PIR by implying that we haven’t done anything in response to the pandemic. If you have an opinion about the transaction, feel free to make it. It is highly inappropriate, however, to politicize the pandemic as an opportunistic way to try to attack PIR and the transaction by extension.

I hope you and your family are safe and well.

Judy Song-Marshall

Judy, Thanks for this clarification. There was Jacob Malthouse  –  Apr 29, 2020 9:53 PM

Judy, Thanks for this clarification. There was no way to know about this great work you're doing because it hasn't been promoted or mentioned anywhere that I could find. There's a difference between claiming public credit and simply sharing the work you are doing. Communicating frequently and often is critical in an emergency. It's not about credit at all. It's about good practice. I have not personally attacked anyone behind PIR and I actually didn't imply you've done nothing. I only said there's no mention of it. Which is true, until your comment. In fact, my post has encouraged you to share the work you've been doing, which is ultimately a good thing. It is wrong to dismiss a valid observation as a politicization or as opportunistic. The reality is, as you acknowledge, we are dealing with a difficult situation. Nonprofits have called for the sale to be halted for that reason. I agree with them, and PIR should as well. They can do this by heeding the call of Access Now and others to engage in an open discussion about the future of dot-org.

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