This is a new internet war that is building up right now and it largely goes unnoticed for most internet users. It’s about money, lots of it, and fake news.
At the end of November 2019 the Internet Society announced that Ethos Capital offered them US$1.135 billion for the Public Interest Registry (PIR). PIR is the registry that manages all .org top level domain (TLD) names.
(Update 2019/12/29: PIR also manages all .ngo/.ong top level domain names.)
In response to the announced sale Techdirt wrote:
“Just a few months ago, ICANN, a different non-profit that is in charge of coordinating and managing the various top level domain namespaces, and figuring out who gets to manage the associated registries (and, which has been subject to years of controversy regarding poor accountability and transparency, along with accusations of self-dealing), had announced that it was eliminating the price caps on the .org TLD. For most of the past decade, the ICANN agreement regarding the .org TLD space had held that .org domains had a maximum top price of $8.25 per year per domain. […] in response to ICANN’s request for comment, the comments went overwhelmingly against the removal of the price cap. But ICANN did it anyway. And, then, just a few months later, the Internet Society sells off the registry to a private equity firm. […] Ethos Capital is a new private equity firm lead by Erik Brooks. Brooks was at Abry Partners until earlier this year. Abry Partners acquired Donuts and installed former ICANN President of Global Domains Akram Atallah in the top spot there. Donuts co-founder Jon Nevett left to be CEO of Public Interest Registry. The other person at Ethos is former ICANN Senior Vice President Abusitta-Ouri. Ethos appears to have just been founded. It acquired the domain name EthosCapital.com at the end of October […] there is a common thread between [Erik Brooks and Abusitta-Ouri] and it is Fadi Chehade, a former CEO of ICANN, the organization that oversees the domain-name system and awards the contracts to run internet registries. […] On May 7 this year, Fadi Chehade appears to have registered EthosCapital.org. He is listed as the owner in Whois. That was just before a Delaware company by the name Ethos Capital, LLC was formed. […] That date is significant because it is one day after ICANN indicated it was planning to approve the lifting of price caps through its public comment summary. […] In other words, the folks involved here are all very closely connected, and it happened right after ICANN, going against the public’s clearly stated interests, suddenly made the .org domain space much more open to profit exploitation. The whole thing is incredibly sketchy.”
Additionally, also Vint Cerf, one of the internet pioneers, seems to be indicating that .org domain names may soon be costing up to US$60 per year instead of the current US$10 to US$15, writing: “Hard to imagine that $60/year would be a deal breaker for even small non-profits.”
Clearly, through Ethos Capital a .org domain name may suddenly become something that is no longer within reach of many small charitable organizations and especially independent media outlets.
From SaveDotOrg (emphasis added):
“Non-governmental organizations all over the world rely on the .ORG top-level domain.
Decisions affecting .ORG must be made with the consultation of the NGO community, overseen by a trusted community leader. If the Internet Society (ISOC) can no longer be that leader, it should work with the NGO community and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to find an appropriate replacement.
The 2019 .ORG Registry Agreement represents a significant departure from .ORG’s 34-year history. It gives the registry the power to make several policy decisions that would be detrimental to the .ORG community:
- The power to raise .ORG registration fees without the approval of ICANN or the .ORG community. A .ORG price hike would put many cash-strapped NGOs in the difficult position of either paying the increased fees or losing the legitimacy and brand recognition of a .ORG domain.
- The power to develop and implement Rights Protection Mechanisms unilaterally, without consulting the .ORG community. If such mechanisms are not carefully crafted in collaboration with the NGO community, they risk censoring completely legal nonprofit activities.
- The power to implement processes to suspend domain names based on accusations of “activity contrary to applicable law.” The .ORG registry should not implement such processes without understanding how state actors frequently target NGOs with allegations of illegal activity.
A registry could abuse these powers to do significant harm to the global NGO sector, intentionally or not. We cannot afford to put them into the hands of a private equity firm that has not earned the trust of the NGO community. .ORG must be managed by a leader that puts the needs of NGOs over profits.”
Now that we have the proper financial context, we can tie in the other part of this new internet war.
Erik Brooks, the founder of Ethos Capital, serves on the Board of Advisors of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University (formerly the Joan Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy).
In September of 2017 a new non-profit named First Draft News – who’s allegedly ‘working on solutions to challenges with trust and truth in news’ – set up offices at the Shorenstein Center. First Draft News’ network, reportedly, includes more than 100 organizations that help newsrooms and tech companies ‘verify’ news. First Draft News is part of the Shorenstein Center’s broader work in the area of ‘combating fake news’.
“The Biggest Threat is Failing to Address the Reality of Online Alternative Media Ecosystems”
Yesterday, on December 26, 2019, First Draft News published an interview with Bellingcat’s Elliot Higgins. In the interview, about disinformation and media manipulation, Higgins was quoted as saying:
“We often operate under the assumption that state actors are pushing all of this disinformation/misinformation but that’s not the case. It originates from networks of websites and individuals that have been developing this kind of ‘alt-media conspiracy land’ online presence. […] We have this alternative media ecosystem that is driving a lot of disinformation. It is not understood by journalists or anyone really beyond a very small group of people who are really engaged with it. […] The biggest threat is failing to address the actual reality of online alternative media ecosystems. That failure undermines efforts to counter disinformation.
And that brings us back to the beginning of this report, the buying up of the Public Interest Registry by Erik Brooks’ Ethos Capital.
Clearly, First Draft News shares the same view as Bellingcat, which is also why they put the interview on their website.
Less obvious for most folks is the fact that Ethos Capital can soon pull the plug for any given .org website, at Ethos Capital’s own discretion and First Draft News already is a strategic partner to achieve that goal.
“The First Draft Partner Network includes some of the largest news organisations and prominent people”, First Draft News states on its website. Bellingcat is one of the founding partners of First Draft News. Also Google is a founding partner of First Draft News.
First Draft News is a member of the Partnership on AI’s Steering Committee on AI and Media Integrity. Initial members of the Steering Committee include the BBC, CBC/Radio-Canada, Facebook, Microsoft and the New York Times.
“Core” partners of First Draft News include: ABC News, AFP, Al Jazeera, Amnesty International, ANP, ARD 1, the Associated Press, BBC, Bloomberg, BuzzFeed, CNN, DW, Facebook, USA Today, Getty Images, International Business Times, the ICFJ, Archive.org, MSN, NBC News, PBS, Reuters, South China Morning Post, Sky News, The Telegraph, The Guardian, New York Times, Washington Post, Twitter, Vice, Vox, Youtube and many more.
What appears to concern “merely” a financial battle, for the .org realm, is in fact a well-planned and well-funded scheme, part of a much broader agenda, to snuff out the resistance. Starting with independent media outlets “losing the legitimacy and brand recognition of a .ORG domain” for their organization and activities.
Given that basically ALL mainstream media networks are involved in First News Draft, it is not hard to connect two dots here.
Once the deal between Ethos Capital and the Internet Society has been finalized the information war machine will be unleashed on .org domain name owners who dare to challenge the old power structure. INTELCASTER.COM and ITNT.NEWS will be there to fight on their side because once .org domain owners can be silenced nothing is going to stop the control grid syndicate to go after all the rest of us, except for the real resistance network that is already under attack.