Shopify, the Canadian SaaS company that helps merchants create online stores, has found itself in the middle of some controversy involving a customer south of the border.
In an open letter published to Medium on Wednesday, Shopify CEO Tobias Lütke defended the company’s decision to continue providing services to the online store for Breitbart, a controversial right-wing website. The company has received more than 10,000 messages asking it to fire Breitbart as a customer.
“The reasons we are continuing to host them are nuanced and require thought. It would be easy to kick off merchants we don’t like, and doing so would actually make our lives significantly easier,” he said.
“To kick off a merchant is to censor ideas and interfere with the free exchange of products at the core of commerce. When we kick off a merchant, we’re asserting our own moral code as the superior one,” he said. “But who gets to define that moral code? Where would it begin and end? Who gets to decide what can be sold and what can’t? If we start blocking out voices, we would fall short of our goals as a company to make commerce better for everyone. Instead, we would have a biased and diminished platform.”
“Instead of imposing our own morality on the platform, we defer to the law. All products must be legal in the jurisdiction of the business,” Lütke said.
In the post, Lütke reiterated Shopify’s role as a service provider, meaning that although it provides a service to a customer, it does not necessarily reflect the company’s own views or values. Shopify has more than 10 percent of the overall e-commerce platform market.
“We offer a software service in the form of an ecommerce platform which hundreds of thousands of businesses and entrepreneurs use to sell millions of products online. We are a service provider. We do not, and will not, refuse the Shopify service to anyone based on their political views, sexual orientation, ethnicity, etc. Doing so could set a dangerous precedent of exclusion,” he said.
Web hosting companies and internet services providers of all types have had to answer similar questions in the past.
Back in 2013, Breitbart senior editor Milo Yiannopoulos was working as editor-in-chief of U.K. tech blog The Kernel when he published a report accusing Cloudflare of being “terrorists’ little helper” for its refusal to stop providing services to a Chechen news agency. In 2014, Cloudflare launched a project to help protect public interest sites at-risk of being targeted by DDoS attacks.