UK Tech Blog Challenges CloudFlare, Web Hosts on Free Speech

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Late last week, a reporter at European tech blog The Kernel emailed CloudFlare CEO Matthew Prince questions about the controversial content of one of its users.

Prince published the questions and his answers on Friday on the CloudFlare blog, leaving out the identity of the user in question as per its policy. (In the final report published on Monday, The Kernel said the CloudFlare customer is Kavkaz Center, a Chechen news agency). What the questions show is a serious lack of understanding about the responsibility of service providers like CloudFlare in policing its users.

One of the questions asks Prince if CloudFlare supports “campaigns of murder and terror waged [by some controversial group]?” The argument the reporter brings forth is that if CloudFlare doesn’t support it, then it shouldn’t allow the material to be protected by its service.

The debate is familiar to most web hosting providers, but Prince makes the argument that since CloudFlare isn’t a hosting provider, if it cut customers off, the content wouldn’t go away, it simply wouldn’t be optimized and protected through CloudFlare technology.

“There are lots of things on the web I find personally distasteful,” Prince says. “I have political beliefs but I don’t believe those beliefs should color what is and is not allowed to flow over the network. As we have blogged about before, we often find ourselves on the opposite sides of political conflicts. Fundamentally, we are consistent in the fact that our political beliefs will not color who we allow to be fast and safe on the web.”

The Kernel editor-in-chief Milo Yiannopoulos defended the interview and the subsequent report published on Monday, How Silicon Valley Powers Terrorism, to PandoDaily. In the report, The Kernel calls CloudFlare “terrorists’ little helper.”

“The focus of the report, of which the CloudFlare story is one part, is technology companies who support terrorist activity through a naïve commitment to ‘free speech.’ We think the site in question goes way over the line and that CloudFlare’s support of it is outrageous,” Yiannopoulos tells PandoDaily.

“Their claim that CloudFlare is somehow insignificant to the site in question does not bear scrutiny: during the repeated DDoS attacks on the site in question, CloudFlare is the only thing keeping it online. Further, as a CDN, an argument could be made that CloudFlare is itself republishing potentially illegal material and directly assisting in the planning of attacks on US soil and the spread of radical Islamism.”

The Kernel published another report on Monday, The Hosts Keeping Radical Islamic Forums Online.

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