Ethos Capital Returns for Another Powerful Domain Controller Acquisition

By Bill Toulas / April 2, 2021

Almost a full year after Ethos Capital saw its plans to acquire the ‘.ORG’ domain from ICANN fall apart, the firm has returned with another target. This time, Ethos Capital is looking to buy a controlling stake in Donuts, a generic top-level domain that has recently acquired and assimilated 'Afilias,' a TLD registry operator and provider. Donuts is in command of 240 top-level domains and is also in control of the technical operations of the ‘.ORG’ domain space.

So, in essence, Ethos Capital is simply trying to do the same thing, but in another way. The ICANN Board is once again asked to step up and demand changes to the Donut registry contacts to protect the free speech rights of all the people, organizations, and online entities hosted under the .ORG domain.

According to EFF, Donuts had already demonstrated problematic behavior and followed questionable practices when it was called to safeguard free speech rights. Since 2016, Donuts has made an agreement with the MPA (Motion Picture Association) to suspend the domain names of pirate websites. The two never disclosed the number of domains they have suspended since then, so there’s no transparency in that system.

Unfortunately, ICANN’s contract with Donuts doesn’t contain any provisions for reviewing these suspensions or evaluating them in any way, so Donuts remains in full power to do whatever it wants. The problem with Ethos Capital is that the private entity was founded in 2019 and has virtually unknown intentions. It is highly unlikely, though, that they are spending billions for acquisitions only to safeguard internet space from censorship. This is precisely why the sale of the .ORG domain was stopped last year.

As to where the new acquisition stands, the regulatory authorities have already approved the purchase of Donuts, but ICANN can still intervene. Since Donuts has active contracts with ICANN and other internet entities, these parties have the right to re-evaluate and renegotiate the agreements.

Most importantly, ICANN should look into how Donuts’ censorship system works and how they can infuse more transparency into it. If that fails, Ethos and Donuts could simply set up a “censorship as a service” business, essentially killing free speech online.

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