We missed this earlier: The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the organisation which oversees domain names, rejected the proposal to transfer control of the .ORG top-level domain to a private entity. The deal would have seen the registry transfer from the non-profit Public Internet Registry (managed by the Internet Society, also known as ISOC) to private equity company Ethos Capital for $1.135 billion. ICANN said it was the “right thing to do”.

In November 2019, ISOC announced that it would transfer control of .ORG to Ethos Capital, but the move immediately drew criticism from Tim Berners-Lee, widely described as the founder of the world wide web, who called the deal a “travesty”. Advocacy organisations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation also criticised the proposed deal and sought answers on the “questionable finances of the deal”.

In February 2020, ICANN’s chair of the board of directors raised questions about the deal, asking if ISOC received multiple bids for the sale of Public Interest Registry (PIR), and if it had asked bidders how they would uphold the commitments made by ISOC in 2002. Before that, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra had written to ICANN on January 23, seeking in-depth information on the sale.

ICANN’s decision “sets a dangerous precedent with broad industry implications. ICANN has overstepped its purview, which is limited to ensuring routine transfers of indirect control (such as the sale of PIR) do not impact the registry’s security, stability and reliability,” Ethos Capital said in a statement. “It allows ICANN to base its decisions on a subjective interpretation of what it deems to be relevant in these transactions, rather than following its own clear and specified legal directive,” it added.

“We are disappointed that ICANN has acted as a regulatory body it was never meant to be, as laid out in Article 1 of its bylaws. The outcome seems inconsistent with prior decisions made by ICANN in similar cases,” ISOC said.