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Monday, March 25, 2019

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica.
by Ken Schwencke

Cloudflare, a major content delivery network that has a variety of white supremacist websites as clients, has said it will change its policies to allow people to more safely lodge complaints about the material on the hate sites.

Cloudflare’s announcement comes on the heels of a ProPublica article detailing the company’s dealings with sites such as The Daily Stormer, a virulently racist neo-Nazi operation whose owner has promised to strike back at critics. The article revealed that Cloudflare’s standard arrangement with clients included passing along personal information of people who had complained to the company about The Daily Stormer and other sites.

In an interview, Cloudflare’s CEO, Matthew Prince, said the company would soon permit people in certain instances to complain anonymously and would be more selective in its decisions to share with its clients the personal information 2014 names and email addresses, for instance 2014 of people who reported objections.

“We have to have ways for people to report that abuse and not have people feel they are being bullied or threatened,” he said.

Cloudflare, based in San Francisco, operates more than 100 data centers spread across the world, serving as a sort of middleman for websites 2014 speeding up delivery of a site’s content and protecting it from several kinds of attacks. Cloudflare says that some 10 percent of web requests flow through its network.

In the interview this week, Prince said Cloudflare would continue to have the racist sites as paying customers. Prince said Cloudflare does not regulate content and will not bar a customer unless they are determined to be a technical threat 2014 like a site serving malware 2014 or if his company is served with a court order.

“Whenever you have a private organization which is making what are essentially law enforcement decisions, that is a risk to due process. And I think due process is important,” Prince said.

Prince said the company’s amended policy to allow anonymous complaints would for now involve people reporting violent threats or child pornography. He said it was unclear at the moment if he would extend that protection to those reporting abuse generally, which is how the complaints ProPublica reported on were filed. Those complaints were filed in response to white supremacist content that called for urging people to commit suicide and an array of racist and anti-Semitic content.

In one online post, Andrew Anglin, the owner of The Daily Stormer, said of those reporting his site, “We need to make it clear to all of these people that there are consequences for messing with us. We are not a bunch of babies to be kicked around. We will take revenge. And we will do it now.”

ProPublica’s article last week included accounts from people who had been harassed after filing complaints with Cloudflare. Those people said they had been unaware it was standard policy for Cloudflare to share their information with the sites being complained about.

In the interview this week, Prince blamed some of those outcomes on the companies hosting the hate sites. He said the hosts in some cases had actually been the ones forwarding people’s names and emails to the sites’ owners.

“What we did not anticipate is that the hosts themselves couldn’t be trusted with this information,” he said.

Prince said the company 2014 which has at least 6 million clients 2014 internally tracks clients that cause concern. According to Prince, it does that so Cloudflare can donate money to organizations that battle those groups. He said the company donates the fees paid by sites such as The Daily Stormer.

“We track customers that we’re aware of that were flagged by our team 2014 we know how much they have paid us and we know what the team decides is the right place to redirect those funds,” he said.

He would not say exactly how much or which organizations the company donates the money to, but said it has been hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past four or five years.

The fact that Cloudflare has so many clients that employees note as objectionable is a result of its policies on censorship. With the exception of technical threats like phishing and malware 2014 where the company takes action and throws up a warning to someone visiting a harmful page 2014 Cloudflare usually requires a court order to reject a client.

Prince has frequently talked about his company’s commitment to free speech, but acknowledged he does not have to have such lax policies.

“We are a private company. And so we’re not bound by the First Amendment. We don’t have to let everyone use our network,” he said.

Some internet companies that either serve or host content do restrict the kinds of sites they work with.

Prince said he does not fault companies who do restrict content, nor does he believe they are censoring the internet, saying they “can make whatever determination they want” with the platforms they create.

ProPublica’s article last week provoked criticism directed at Cloudflare. Some people said on Twitter that they had decided to stop doing business with Cloudflare. Others simply registered their dismay online.

“Cloudflare has no obligation to enable a site like The Daily Stormer. That site can exist without Cloudflare. Most sites do,” wrote one commenter on ProPublica’s story.

According to Prince, this hands-off policy is in part because he is concerned about the influence of personal opinions in an era where control of the internet itself rests in fewer hands.

“And when those companies make determinations they extend beyond being merely private companies, and they need to be very cognizant and thoughtful of the level of power and control that they have,” he said.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.

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3 responses to “Internet Company That Does Business With Hate Sites Alters Complaint Policies”

  1. Aaron_of_Portsmouth says:

    Another glaring example of “Free Speech” being taken way beyond the norms of decency.

  2. Another glaring example of “Free Speech” being taken way beyond the norms of decency.

    And the reason decency has shifted to the background? Mainly because in so many parts of the Western Hemisphere, the demise of the status quo Religion to exert a salubrious influence on the generality of the adherents of such status quo established Religions.
    And the reason for the ineffectiveness of the status quo Religions to exert such influence isn’t due to the Essence of these Religions—an Essence that has been the cause of the genesis of each Religion which has appeared in a progressive manner time-wise—but to the atrophy of the institution of the Clergy(“The Ecclesiastics), as its put in a translation of a Tablet from the original Arabic.

    That’s why Google, Yahoo, Cloudflare, and other internet companies have business models that pay scant attention to the notions of morality and ethics. Leaving the door wide open for hate speech of every nature under the sun as a result.

    Both our youth working at these companies, and their parents, have been submersed in this corrupt and corrosive environment, as a result of the decline of Religion’s influence, that we’ve become numb to the idea of cultivating a sense of morality in Western societies, that it’s considered normal to be a racist, a misogynist, or bigoted towards various ethnic groups.

    To be moral, and morally responsible, is derided in many circles as being “Politically Correct”. Just ask Donald, and many in the GOP, of the veracity of this observation.

  3. While reading a section from “The Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah” many years ago, I came across a passage that struck me in a profound way, and I’ve never forgotten it. Baha’u’llah, the Prophet-Founder of the most recent Revelation of many Revelations sent to humanity since the inception of humankind on the planet, was speaking about why certain gems of wisdom weren’t expressed by the various Messengers on account that people weren’t ready to hear what They knew of, but couldn’t utter.

    This is the passage:
    “… “Not everything that a man knoweth can be disclosed, nor can everything that he can disclose be regarded as timely, nor can every timely utterance be considered as suited to the capacity of those who hear it.”

    I see this as relevant to our conversations among each other as ordinary humans—some things are OK to say, and others are best left unsaid, while still others require a different circumstance before revealing what I know. The same applies to what you tell your children and grandchildren. As a child, when my mom and dad would leave me with my grandma, to run an errand of some kind, I would ask where they’re going, and my dad would say, “I’m going to see a man about a dog”, which puzzled me because he never showed an interest in a dog at the time.

    I would later use that ploy when avoiding sensitive subjects, or there wasn’t “a need to know”.

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