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Homeless on the internet: The dot org domain offered non-profit entities a crucial digital identity

Selling a not-for-profit company to a profit making company itself is a violation of promise, ethics, trust, and breach of ownership of digital property.

Written by Osama Manzar | Updated: December 19, 2019 12:58:28 pm
Homeless On The Internet On the World Wide Web, having an address is a must for our existence. (Representational Image)

Dear members of the board, Internet Society (ISOC), and Public Interest Registry (PIR), who manage the dot org domain: This is in the context of your decision to sell all the assets of PIR to a private company. Have you ever met or interacted with homeless people? Those who may not have a home or a physical address? Similarly, on the World Wide Web, having an address is a must for our existence. All human beings, with any activity they do, need a domain on the internet to belong or to identify with — a digital address.

Dot Org, besides dot ngo, was one such domain that offered entities that do not work for profit, a digital identity. When I have a web address or email ID with dot org as a suffix, people immediately identify me as someone involved in not-for-profit activities.

In other words, dot org is a space that shelters communities involved in charitable activities, be it human rights,poverty alleviation or disaster mitigation: Initiatives which make the world a just place for all humans. In fact, the entire United Nations and all its bodies have a digital home with an extension of dot org.

I would like to give you a glimpse of my personal association with ISOC and PIR that has empowered millions of people and thousands of organisations. We have been working with the Internet Society for more than a decade, even though we have known each other for longer — a couple of decades, especially since 2003, when WSIS (World Summit on Information Society) was announced by the UN in Geneva.

While working directly with ISOC, my organisation, Digital Empowerment Foundation, worked on community networks to enable last mile connectivity.

And, in partnership with PIR when it was applying to get dot ngo, we conducted a massive campaign in India to bring communities, non-profits and social organisations online. DEF has a deep network of grassroots organisations in India and South Asia and, together with PIR, we influenced more than 5,000 grassroots organisations to come online with dot org domain in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and many more countries.

Almost all those organisations were homeless on the world wide web prior to that. Now, they have a home, an identity, a face to be recognised as a brand. They enjoy a trust quotient which helps when it comes to issues such as funding and other support that is necessary for them to continue their work of empowerment and impact.

We also worked to get thousands of signatures from community organisations to support PIR in order to get the dot ngo domain. PIR finally got the dot ngo to offer that domain to NGOs per se.

I am particularly aghast and fail to understand why you took the decision to sell dot org. Because PIR was created by ISOC to manage dot org as a not-for-profit company and yet function as a sustainable business. It is very much designed to price each domain in a way that people can easily buy the dot org as extension. And it always earned enough from domain sales to be able to fund itself, and also ISOC. In that sense it has worked like a cash cow without violating any ethics or business practice.

Selling a not-for-profit company to a profit making company itself is a violation of promise, ethics, trust, and breach of ownership of digital property.

Kindly note that each entity that resides on dot org is in the “business” of ensuring the greater good — where the core objective is community and human rights. By not selling dot org, you would not only have saved an organisation, you would have saved those who are making this world a better place.

This article first appeared in the print edition on December 19, 2019 under the title ‘Homeless On The Internet’. The writer is founder & director of Digital Empowerment Foundation

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