Cloudflare Rejects Role as Internet or Hacking Police *TorrentFreak

House > Piracy >

Cloudflare suggests it made a mistake by shutting down The Daily Stormer and 8Chan accounts. The rulings made it harder for the company to defend itself against overbroad termination claims and sparked a flurry of follow-up demands, from activists to copyright owners. This is not a position Cloudflare wants to be in.

In 2017, Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince decided to shut down the account of controversial neo-Nazi site Daily Stormer.

“I woke up this morning in a bad mood and decided to kick them off the internet,” he wrote at the time.

Lawyers for the company later explained that the move was intended as an “intellectual exercise” to start a conversation about censorship and free speech on the internet. However, outside parties have taken this discussion in a different direction than Prince had intended.

For years, Cloudflare had a policy of not deleting any account without a court order. So when he launched Daily Stormer and later 8Chan as well, eyebrows were raised. For example, copyright owners wondered why the company could terminate these accounts but not those of the most notorious pirate sites.

Cloudflare’s seemingly arbitrary termination choices have been cited repeatedly in policy discussions and copyright litigation. Moreover, it triggered a continuous wave of termination requests.

Over the past few days, Cloudflare has again found itself in the middle of a “cancellation” discussion, with people calling on the company to disconnect the Kiwi Farms harassment-related forum. This prompted Matthew Prince to clarify the company’s position on offensive, hateful and copyright infringing content.

More voluntary layoffs

The company makes a clear distinction between the different services it offers. When Cloudflare is the primary hosting platform, that leaves plenty of room for voluntary terminations. For its CDN, security, and basic internet infrastructure services, voluntary actions will no longer occur.

This hard line in the sand is the result of discussions with policy makers around the world. Cloudflare sees itself as an internet utility that should remain as neutral as possible, even when its customers are doing despicable things.

“Just as the telephone company does not terminate your line if you say horrible, racist or bigoted things, we have concluded, in consultation with politicians, policymakers and experts, that deactivating security services because we think what you post is despicable is the wrong policy.

“To be clear, just because we’ve done it a limited number of times before doesn’t mean we were right when we did it. Or that we’ll ever do it again,” adds Prince, referring to the previous dismissals.

Wave of requests

While many people have applauded Cloudflare for launching The Daily Stormer and 8Chan, these decisions have been actively used against the company. Not just by copyright holders, but also by authoritarian regimes.

“In a deeply disturbing response, after the two dismissals, we have seen a dramatic increase in authoritarian regimes trying to get us to terminate the security services of human rights organizations – often quoting us the language of our own rationale.”

As we suggested in 2017, Cloudflare essentially gave out free ammunition to adversaries, who might use voluntary layoffs as an argument to demand more restrictions. This includes eliminating pirate sites.

Cloudflare is clearly uncomfortable with this position. The company emphasizes that voluntary terminations will no longer occur for sites that use its CDN or security services. Instead, those seeking action will need to obtain a court order.

Slippery end slope

In recent years, various courts have already ordered Cloudflare to block pirate sites. The company complied with these orders. However, it is committed to fighting cases where basic infrastructure is at stake tooth and nail. This includes a recent order in Italy, which required the company to block pirate sites on its public DNS resolver.

“Unfortunately, these cases are becoming more and more common where most copyright owners are trying to get a ruling in one jurisdiction and enforce it worldwide to terminate basic internet technology services and erase content offline effectively,” Prince writes.

These global injunctions would set a dangerous precedent, says the CEO of Cloudflare, as they would allow the most restrictive regimes to control what content should be available online. Preventing bad precedents is the main reason Cloudflare thinks it’s important not to voluntarily interfere in the future.

“We believe maintaining this line is fundamental to the proper functioning of the global Internet. But every show of discretion in our core Internet security or technology services weakens our case in these important cases.

In other words, Prince doesn’t want another Daily Stormer or 8Chan to come back to haunt the company in the future. This means The Pirate Bay and other pirate customers need not worry, at least for now.

Comments are closed.