The Slope Gets More Slippery As You Expect Content Moderation To Happen At The Infrastructure Layer

from the sliding,-sliding dept

What a week the first week of January has been! As democracy and its institutions were tested in the United States, so were the Internet and its actors.

Following the invasion of the Capitol Hill by protesters, social media started taking action in what appeared to be a ripple effect: first, Twitter permanently suspended the account of the President of the United States, while Facebook and Instagram blocked his account indefinitely and, at least, through the end of his term; Snapchat followed by cutting access to the President’s account, and Amazon’s video-streaming platform Twitch took a similar action; YouTube announced that it would tighten its election fraud misinformation policy in a way that it would allow them to take immediate action against the President in the case of him posting misleading or false information. In the meantime, Apple also announced that it would kick off Parler, the social network favored by conservatives and extremists, from its app store on the basis that it was promoting violence associated with the integrity of the US institutions.

It is the decision of Amazon, however, to kick off Parler from its web hosting service that I want to turn to. Let me first make clear that if you are Amazon, this decision makes total sense from a business and public relations perspective – why would anyone want to be associated with anything that even remotely hinges on extremism? The decision also falls within Amazon’s permissible scope given that, under its terms of service, Amazon reserves the right to terminate users from their networks at their sole discretion. Similarly, from a societal point of view, Amazon may be seen as upholding most peoples’ values. But, I want to offer another perspective here. What about the Internet? What sort of a message does Amazon’s decision send to the Internet and everyone who is watching?

There are several actors participating in the way a message – whether an email, cat video, voice call, or web page – travels through the Internet. Each one of them might be considered an “intermediary” in the transmission of the message. Examples of Internet infrastructure intermediaries include Content Delivery Networks (CDNs), cloud hosting services, domain name registries, and registrars. These infrastructure actors are responsible for a bunch of different things, from managing network infrastructure, to providing access to users, and ensuring the delivery of content. These – mostly – private sector companies provide investment as well as reliability and upkeep of the services we all use.

In the broadcasting world, a carrier also controls the content that is being broadcast; with the Internet, however, an actor responsible for the delivery of infrastructure services (e.g., an Internet Service Provider or a cloud hosting provider) is unlikely or not expected to be aware of the content of the message they are carrying. They simply do not care about the content; it is not their job to care. Their one and only responsibility is to relay packets on the Internet to other destinations. Even if, for the sake of the argument, they were to care, at the end of the day, they are not the producers of the content. Like postal and telephone services, they have the essential role of carrying the underlying message efficiently.

Over the past year, the role and responsibility of intermediaries has been placed under the policy microscope. The focus is currently on user-generated content platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. In the United States, policy makers on both sides of the aisle have been considering anew the role of intermediaries in disseminating dis- and mis-information. Section 230, the law that has systematically, consistently and predictably shielded online platforms from liability over the content their users post, has been highly politicized and change now is almost inevitable. In Europe, after a year of intense debate, the newly released Digital Services Act has majorly upheld the long-standing intermediary liability regime, but, still, there are implementation details that could see some change (e.g, all of provisions on ‘trusted flaggers’).

It is the actions like the one that Amazon took against Parler, however, that go beyond issues of just speech and can set a precedent that could have an adverse effect on the Internet and its architecture. By denying cloud hosting services, Amazon is essentially taking Parler offline and denying its ability to operate, unless the platform can find another hosting service. This might be seen as a good thing, prima facie; at the end of the day, who wants such content to even exist, let alone circulate online? But, it does send a quite dangerous message: as infrastructure intermediaries can take action that cuts the problem from its root (i.e., getting a service completely offline), regulators might start looking at them to “police” the Internet. In such a scenario, infrastructure intermediaries would have to deploy content-blocking measures, including IP and protocol-based blocking, deep packet inspection (i.e., viewing content of “packets” as they move across the network), and URL and DNS-based blocking. Such measures ‘over-block’, imposing collateral damage on legal content and communications. They also interfere with the functioning of critical Internet systems, including the DNS, and compromise Internet security, integrity, and performance.

What Amazon did is not unprecedented. In 2017, Cloudflare took a similar action against the Daily Stormer website when it stopped answering DNS requests for their sites. At the time, Cloudflare said: “The rules and responsibilities for each of the organizations [participating in Internet] in regulating content are and should be different.” A few days later, in an op-ed, published at the Wall Street Journal, Cloudflare’s CEO, Matthew Prince said: “I helped kick a group of neo-Nazis off the internet last week, but since then I’ve wondered whether I made the right decision.[…] Did we meet the standard of due process in this case? I worry we didn’t. And at some level I’m not sure we ever could. It doesn’t sit right to have a private company, invisible but ubiquitous, making editorial decisions about what can and cannot be online. The pre-internet analogy would be if Ma Bell listened in on phone calls and could terminate your line if it didn’t like what you were talking about.”

Most likely Amazon faced the same dilemma; or, it might have not. One thing, however, is certain: so far, none of these actors appears to be considering the Internet and how some of their actions may affect its future and the way we all may end up experiencing it. It is becoming increasingly important that we start looking into the salient, yet extremely significant, differences between moderation happening by user-generated content platforms as opposed to moderation happening by infrastructure providers.

It is about time we make an attempt to understand how the Internet works. From where I am sitting, this past year has been less lonely and semi-normal because of the Internet. I want it to continue to function in a way that is effective; I want to continue seeing the networks interconnecting and infrastructure providers focusing on what they are supposed to be focusing on: providing reliable and consistent infrastructure services.

It is about time we show the Internet we care!

Dr. Konstantinos Komaitis is the Senior Director, Policy Strategy and Development at the Internet Society.

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Companies: amazon, parler

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Comments on “The Slope Gets More Slippery As You Expect Content Moderation To Happen At The Infrastructure Layer”

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Anonymous Coward says:

I thought conservatives hated Jeff Bezos and everything he stood for? So why on fucking Earth would they then build their sooper dooper conservative platform using an AWS instance in the first place?

Shouldn’t Jeff Bezos be able to kick off Parler in a similar way that say, a cake baker can refuse to bake a cake for an LGBTQ couple because of his religious beliefs? Or perhaps how reproductive health care can be denied because a company doesn’t believe in the concept, like Hobby Lobby?

You’re getting your ‘corporations have rights too’ just like you wanted, conservatives. Build your own hosting services like Gab, and see if you can survive.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Build your own hosting services like Gab, and see if you can survive.

According to Wikipedia, Gab’s host is in the UK (and is the same entity as their domain registrar). A country that seems to like sending police to deal with social media posts.

Also, they’re behind cloudflare, which is mentioned in the article; there is a slight chance that history repeats itself there, purely because it has happened once.

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Anonymous Coward says:

This is an interesting topic but it should remain entirely rhetorical. Under no circumstances short of declaring a business a public utility should the government or anyone else tell a company what legal speech they can and cannot host.

People of all stripes and persuasions are free to setup their own hardware to host their sites including their own DNS servers. Perhaps the root DNS servers should be required to host all legal content and avoid making editorial decisions. Perhaps there should be a public right to an internet connection unburdened with editorial decisions. But intermediate providers should never be required to offer hosting for web sites or content to which the provider objects.

If you want to go extremist, intentionally bucking society to your own ends, great. Have at. But be prepared to have to pay for a big fat internet pipe coming into a space you own where your physical servers are located. You’ll probably want multiple spaces and servers for redundancy and resiliency. But you can’t expect those who vehemently disagree with you to stand back and let you use their systems to spread your message.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re:

Yeah, this was my main thought after Amazon booted Parler. We can criticize Amazon and other such companies for refusing to host Parler. We should criticize them, too. Those companies wield untold amounts of power. But what can/should Parler’s owner be allowed to do in terms of legal action (i.e., lawsuits) if companies such as Cloudflare or Amazon want nothing to do with hosting his service?

Mike says:

Re: Re: Re:

But what can/should Parler’s owner be allowed to do in terms of legal action (i.e., lawsuits) if companies such as Cloudflare or Amazon want nothing to do with hosting his service?

I think the easiest way to handle this is to abolish S230 for any company whose core business isn’t providing expression-centered businesses. If AWS drops Parler because they don’t like the speech, that’s fine. Any site they do host from there on should be their liability without limit.

That would be the easiest societal remedy. It would force companies like Facebook and Twitter to compete much more fairly.

Also, just going to say it, we need laws that just flat out outlaw Apple’s business model on the app store. Side loading should be an unconditional legal right.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

abolish S230 for any company whose core business isn’t providing expression-centered businesses

That risks taking out 230 protections for a fair amount of companies that provide infrastructure but aren’t necessarily in the business of “expression”. Yes or no: Would you want Cloudflare held legally liable if a service it serves (but doesn’t necessarily host) contains the kind of speech that ultimately helped knock Parler offline?

It would force companies like Facebook and Twitter to compete much more fairly.

It would also create an untenable situation in regards to their First Amendment rights. Yes or no: Do you believe the government should have the legal right to compel any privately owned interactive web service into hosting legally protected speech that the owners/operators of said service don’t want to host?

Mike says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Would you want Cloudflare held legally liable if a service it serves (but doesn’t necessarily host) contains the kind of speech that ultimately helped knock Parler offline?

Absolutely not. Cloudflare is in the business of providing infrastructure and shouldn’t be liable for anything its users do except where they cross clear criminal boundaries.

Abolishing S230 for them would simply clarify the situation. It would actually help such companies by making it financially impossible for them to justify "getting involved" in politics.

< Yes or no: Do you believe the government should have the legal right to compel any privately owned interactive web service into hosting legally protected speech that the owners/operators of said service don’t want to host?

Under certain circumstances, yes. For example, Amazon is fast moving toward a functional monopoly in book sales. Eventually, they should be required to host content they find appalling as a contingency to not face antitrust action.

Now I’ll return the favor and ask you a similar "yes/no" question: should private financial companies have the prerogative to cut off access to buying and selling based on speech they don’t like? And please, don’t appeal to "utilities vs unregulated businesses." As a matter of principle: should companies critical to providing competition be allowed to say "we don’t like what you say, therefore we have a right to cut off your ability to engage in essential business processes?"

(And note that that spirals out of control quickly if you’re not careful, as small banks could be bankrupted by bigger ones if the bigger ones don’t like their customers and stop allowing inter-bank services)

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

should private financial companies have the prerogative to cut off access to buying and selling based on speech they don’t like?

They have been and already do. If you don’t believe me, apply for a business loan where your model is catering to white supremacists and let me know how that goes. Or perhaps say you’re starting up an ISIS training camp – that would surely work, right?

companies critical to providing competition

What is a company that is critical to providing competition?

Since when is a company responsible for making sure that competitors exist? You’re not a business major, I see…

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3

Absolutely not.

And yet…

Abolishing S230 for them would simply clarify the situation.

…this position says you believe otherwise.

Under certain circumstances, yes.

No. You don’t get to play that card. It’s all or nothing here. And I’ll explain why in a moment.

Eventually, they should be required to host content they find appalling as a contingency to not face antitrust action.

I’m sure Amazon already does host such content. The issue here is compelling them to host it. Amazon should not be compelled by law to host porn, spam, pornographic spam, White supremacist propaganda, anti-queer screeds, anti-Muslim rants, and whatever language from “the left” you think is offensive. Why?

Because if the law can make Amazon do it, the law can make you do it, too.

Amazon is a huge company. Of course we should have concerns about that. But applying a “forced speech” standard to Amazon opens the door for the law to make smaller companies host speech they don’t want to host. Maybe you own a hosting company that isn’t even one-tenth the size of Amazon. How would you feel if the government told you the law says your company must host speech you don’t want to host “or else”?

If the slope to mass censorship is slippery, so is the slope to forced association. Being up in arms about one and prepping yourself to slide down the other is hypocrisy at its “finest”.

should private financial companies have the prerogative to cut off access to buying and selling based on speech they don’t like?

Ideally? Yes. But we don’t live in Ideal Land.

Companies like Mastercard, Visa, PayPal, etc. are far more powerful than even Amazon. Their ability to cut off customers should give us all pause to consider whether they hold too much power. I don’t know where any sort of “balance” lies in that regard — or even if there is one to be found.

should companies critical to providing competition be allowed to say "we don’t like what you say, therefore we have a right to cut off your ability to engage in essential business processes?"

Ideally? No. But we don’t…okay, that gag doesn’t work twice. Besides, I’ve already kinda discussed that above.

Mike says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

…this position says you believe otherwise.

Under the court rulings pre-S230, a refusal to moderate lawful content makes them not subject to liability. Abolishing Cloudflare’s S230 protections would put them in a gilded cage where the CEO’s reflexive answer would be "you know, I agree they’re assholes, but the law doesn’t make it safe…" to any demand he get involved.

Their ability to cut off customers should give us all pause to consider whether they hold too much power. I don’t know where any sort of “balance” lies in that regard — or even if there is one to be found.

I think it’s pretty obvious that they hold too much power over the flow of money itself in the economy.

Ideally? Yes. But we don’t live in Ideal Land.

Visa and Mastercard have the power to kill Amazon if they’re willing to forego the fees. That’s the world we live in. I think it’s time for us to stop worrying about big government and start talking about how you fix such a situation to the benefit of the majority of society.

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Rocky says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

Under the court rulings pre-S230, a refusal to moderate lawful content makes them not subject to liability.

Yes and no. Before section 230 you could be liable if you moderated but you could also be liable if you didn’t moderate, an untenable situation. This is why Chris Cox and Ron Wyden came up with section 230 in a bi-partisan effort to clarify who are liable for what.

I think it’s pretty obvious that they hold too much power over the flow of money itself in the economy.

That can have an impact on free speech, but at the core it’s not a free speech issue, it’s an anti-trust issue and they have been slapped down before because of it.

Visa and Mastercard have the power to kill Amazon if they’re willing to forego the fees. That’s the world we live in. I think it’s time for us to stop worrying about big government and start talking about how you fix such a situation to the benefit of the majority of society.

Still an anti-trust issue. And without the government, how do you propose society fix it?

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5

Cloudflare’s S230 protections would put them in a gilded cage where the CEO’s reflexive answer would be "you know, I agree they’re assholes, but the law doesn’t make it safe…" to any demand he get involved.

It would also be a de facto compelled association, which violates the First Amendment. How do you square the idea that Cloudflare or Amazon should host all speech with the idea that forcing them to host all speech would violate their First Amendment rights?

I think it’s time for us to stop worrying about big government and start talking about how you fix such a situation to the benefit of the majority of society.

When you can come up with a solution that doesn’t violate the rights of those companies, you feel free to talk about it. Until then: I don’t know how to fix it and neither do you, so don’t dick around like you do.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

"I think it’s time for us to stop worrying about big government and start talking about how you fix such a situation to the benefit of the majority of society."

The tools are already there, people just refuse to use them because they think they should have access to property they’re told by the owners that they’re not welcome to use.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Also, just going to say it, we need laws that just flat out outlaw Apple’s business model on the app store.

Boy, you guys sure get your shorts in a great big knot when you have to develop your own stuff instead of using someone else’s, term of conditions and all. It’s almost as if you don’t want the free market to decide…

Wouldn’t it be better to build your own shit, given all those 73 million people who would jump at the chance to buy it? You’re missing a great opportunity to not demand government regulation of private industry.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

"abolish S230 for any company whose core business isn’t providing expression-centered businesses"

Any examples?
How might this be twisted in order to gain an unfair competitive advantage?
Who gets to define what is "providing" and what is "expression" and what is "business". Some might even argue what is "centered".

" societal remedy"
LOL, good luck with that.

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Just… no. Conditioning 230 protection on accepting any and all speech would be a terrible idea(not to mention unconstitutional), resulting in site after site turning into open cesspits or empty content-free platforms as they either let everything through or moderated content into oblivion(if you think moderation on social media is bad now you are really not going to be happy if sites no longer have 230 protections).

Stop trying to turn every site into 4chan, if you like that sort of content then great, go there.

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

If AWS drops Parler because they don’t like the speech, that’s fine. Any site they do host from there on should be their liability without limit.

Uhh, no, you’re talking about both, because you’re telling those ‘infrastructure companies’ that they either accept everything or they’ll be liable for anything left(which is almost identical to what resulted in 230 in the first place), which is going to have the domino effect of lots of cesspit sites who know the host can’t do anything about them or more realistically a whole slew of sites cut off as a host removes one that simply cannot be ignored and then since they’ve crossed the line they go on a purge, and at that point they’re going to be pressuring the sites they’re hosting to either moderate heavily or lose service.

You’re creating the problem you’re trying to solve, and that 230 already has solved by codifying the idea that offline companies/platforms already operate under, ‘the person who offered the platform/service isn’t liable for what unrelated people do on/with it’. By trying to hold them liable for the actions of others far from preventing interference you’re ensuring that it happens, and far worse than it currently is.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

"Also, just going to say it, we need laws that just flat out outlaw Apple’s business model on the app store. Side loading should be an unconditional legal right."

Why? What sort of law are you suggesting? Do you want to regulate business models? How about Microsoft’s forced upgrade business model? Planned obsolescence? There are a lot of things that would be potentially impacted by your new law.
What are some of the unintended consequences?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

But what can/should Parler’s owner be allowed to do in terms of legal action (i.e., lawsuits) if companies such as Cloudflare or Amazon want nothing to do with hosting his service?

According to your responses to my comments about the exact same treatment given to 8chan: Tough shit. Let them go build their own hosting infrastructure. Who cares if it sets a precedent that could be used against other sites down the line? It’s Cloudfare’s right (specifically their freedom of speech) to deny 8chan hosting. It’s only against people I dislike…..

Welp, here it comes buddyboy. You asked for it, and now Amazon is here to deliver: Censorship and deplatforming for all! Because when others discuss something people in power dislike, we’re here to answer their cries for a safe space. By permanently shuttering them.

Is this justified? Nope. Not a single bit. But removing other’s right to speak is what the public is desperately clamoring for.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

"But removing other’s right to speak is what the public is desperately clamoring for."

Again, nobody’s right to speak is being removed, they’re just being told by the people who own the property that they wish to use to amplify their speech that they’re not welcome on that property. Which is perfectly fine, online or offline.

Mike says:

Re: You're not thinking this through

If you want to go extremist, intentionally bucking society to your own ends, great. Have at. But be prepared to have to pay for a big fat internet pipe coming into a space you own where your physical servers are located.

And what happens when no one will sell you hardware or bandwidth? Do you really think it’s unreasonable to imagine a day when big server companies won’t sell hardware for political reasons? The cost of not selling to a Parler or Gab is so small they’d not even notice it. Same with bandwidth providers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: You're not thinking this through

And what happens when no one will sell you hardware

That has always been the case. Companies have always been able to reject orders from entities they did not wish to do business with.

or bandwidth?

See above:

"Perhaps there should be a public right to an internet connection unburdened with editorial decisions."

Bruce C. says:

Re: Re: You're not thinking this through

This is where net neutrality comes in, or rears its ugly head, depending on your point of view. By its nature net neutrality circumscribes a business’ ability to limit services to a customer based on how that customer exercises rights such as free speech, assembly etc. In return, they aren’t liable for that customer’s actions. Sounds a lot like section 230, except that section 230 platform owners have the best of both worlds: they get to moderate the speech of their customers while still avoiding liability. The catch is that the value of a media platform like Facebook depends a lot on the quality and nature of what gets shared, so Facebook needs to moderate posts in order to maintain the quality of its service.

But in providing infrastructure and/or webhosting services, Amazon has little or no business need to moderate the content of those hosts. Content would only affect their business if the usage goes up due to the content, and in that case Amazon just charges for more bandwidth and a bigger server.

And personally, I don’t want bugs hiding in the walls of the dark web. I want them crawling around on the floor where I can easily find them and contact my exterminator.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

This is where net neutrality comes in, or rears its ugly head, depending on your point of view. By its nature net neutrality circumscribes a business’ ability to limit services to a customer based on how that customer exercises rights such as free speech, assembly etc. In return, they aren’t liable for that customer’s actions.

That isn’t what Network Neutrality is about at all. NN is the principle that an Internet access provider shouldn’t be deciding who “wins” and “loses” by throttling or denying traffic to and from users and web services alike. Under the principles of NN, data from PornHub would be treated the same as data from Netflix — and IAPs wouldn’t be getting a say in whether customers can access either service (or how fast they can access that service). The point of NN is to prevent IAPs from “zero rating” their favored services to the detriment of all others.

Amazon has little or no business need to moderate the content of those hosts.

Except for one: They stand to lose business if they’re associated with shitpits like Parler. (Not to mention potential legal liability for hosting things like death threats aimed at government officials.)

Amazon should have the right to decide what content it will and will not host. I’m not a fan of how big Amazon is. I get the concerns there. But compelling Amazon to associate with Parler is equally as concerning.

Boba Fat (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 network neutrality

Fine. Pass a law making ISPs common carriers, just like the phone company. They don’t listen in, they don’t care what you say or who you call. [That’s the NSA’s job].

Then whoever wants to spew nonsense of any sort can set up their own server and host it themselves. Of course, you won’t get a large audience unless you can pay for a lot of bandwidth. So perhaps other companies could spread your message to whoever wanted to see it. But they’d need to be paid too, so they’d probably charge a lot or accept paid advertising. But they’d be aggregators or hosting providers, not common carriers. So when they spread someone’s content that causes them to lose advertisers or that violates their terms of service and they drop it, you’re back to hosting it yourself.

The only difference from now is that ISPs aren’t common carriers, so they can say no right away.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

DNS is an internet utility, at least the root DNS is. The entire internet is dependent on the root servers. If internet service is considered vital then the root DNS is core to that. This service should not be able to discriminate based on how the domain will be used.

Downstream providers absolutely should be able to. You can get around that by hosting your own downstream DNS.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

why require all content be hosted at the root DNS level

I think maybe you don’t understand how DNS infrastructure works. But giving you the benefit of the doubt…

All content is already hosted at the root DNS level. It always has. When you type in a domain name your computer sends a lookup request to your assigned DNS provider. That provider then references its upstream provider and so on until it either gets an answer cached at one of those providers or reaches the root authority. That answer/authority then directs the DNS server who asked to the next DNS in the chain who can either give you the final answer or direct you to another DNS server. This continues until your assigned DNS provider responds with the IP address assigned to the domain name you originally typed in. These chains are typically very short, 2 to 3 servers, but you get the idea.

You can setup your own DNS service to host your domains that contain whatever legal content you like. You can "attach" your DNS server to the root (it’s more complicated than that) so that the root, when asked about your domains, will direct requests to your DNS server which would then respond with your IP address(es).

The root is an unavoidable part of using the internet. It is operated by ICANN, a non-profit that was originally created by the US government which appears to no longer be involved. Either way, the root DNS, due to it being essential to the internet, should be declared a utility so that it cannot discriminate against domains that host legal content with which it disagrees.

What potential problems have you considered and what mitigation would be necessary?

Those problems have already been addressed in the root DNS infrastructure.

TKnarr (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Unfortunately, you’re confused on how the DNS hierarchy works. The root DNS servers don’t list any second-level domains at all. They only resolve top-level domains (TLDs) such as .com, .net, .eu and so on. the root domain is controlled by ICANN and the servers for it are run by various companies under contract to ICANN. Each TLD then has a registry and a registry operator that runs it. The .com registry lists all the second-level domains (2LDs) under .com. For .com, the registry operator is Verisign, who run the DNS servers for .com.

And the .com DNS servers don’t even host any DNS records for the 2LDs. They only host NS records (that name the DNS servers for a given 2LD) and the corresponding A/AAAA records which provide the IP addresses for the hosts listed in the NS records. Each domain owner then selects their own DNS provider who handles the actual domain’s DNS records, and puts the nameserver names that provider’s given them into the registration for the domain (which then propagates to the registry operator’s servers).

So, if you’re talking about hosting anything in DNS, you’d be talking about the domain’s DNS provider, not the root nameservers or the TLD registries. Also note that the domain registration and the DNS provider aren’t strictly tied together either. It’s the usual case that your DNS provider is also the registrar you go through to register your domain, but it’s entirely legal and possible for you to register your domain through say GoDaddy but use AWS Route 53 as your DNS provider. Also, you aren’t limited to just one DNS provider per domain, it’s common to use multiple DNS providers so that an outage at one of them doesn’t kill resolution of your domain.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I’m not suggesting that anything at all change in how DNS operates. Only that root DNS services should be available to everyone without editorial discretion. Root DNS should be declared a public utility and regulated as such.

All of the existing root authorities would continue to operate as normal but without the ability to cut someone off for publishing information said authority disagrees with.

This in tandem with finally, officially declaring internet access, just basic access to bandwidth, a public utility would allow for free speech everywhere while also not requiring web hosts, infrastructure-as-a-service or anyone else from subverting their own 1A rights by being forced to host disagreeable speech. Individuals, with access to root DNS and an internet connection, could still host their own speech if they chose.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Actually you need a unique IP address to put a server online, and while a DNS name is a great convenience, it is only a means of other people obtaining your IP address. Indeed DNS severs used to get IP addresses are not found by using DNS, but rather obtained directly via DHCP or set in your network setup files.

1.1.1.1 is Cloudfares DNS servers.
8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4 are Google public DNS servers
9.9.9.9 s Quad9’s public DNS server.

If for Instance you want your own owncloud instance, all you need to know is your home IP address to connect to it. If, as is common it changes occasionally, a script to monitor what it is and email or text you whenever it changes is all you need to be able to use it on the road. Not no DNS entry required.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

DHCP has absolutely nothing to do with the global DNS network. DHCP is for local networks to assign each connected device an IP address. DNS is for looking up the IP addresses of other servers by way of easily remembered domain names. Though DHCP can assign your machine its DNS servers when you connect to the network, DHCP does not handle DNS requests and your assigned DNS servers are just your entry point into the global DNS network.

Yes, you need an IP address for the world to be able to reach your machine. Technically you don’t need DNS for any of that. But without a domain name that people can remember and DNS to support it your reach is severely limited, particularly in today’s IPv6 world of indecipherable IP addresses.

Also, you can easily script automatic updates of your IP address in DNS if your IP changes regularly. No text or email required. But if your IP changes from time to time, you are wholly dependent on DNS for people to be able to find you.

Source: Me, as architect and operator of one of the world’s most popular public DNS platforms for several years.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

"A fixed IP address usually requires a business class connection."

On IPv4, usually due to the fact that an ISP assigning you one removes it from the pool they have available to assign to other customers, and those addresses are naturally limited in number..

"But without a domain name that people can remember and DNS to support it your reach is severely limited"

There’s also nothing to stop you from informing users how to set a hosts file entry or telling them to use your DNS service instead of the one supplied by their ISP or Google/Cloudflare. That’s less convenient, but if you’re so toxic that basic internet infrastructure doesn’t want to confirm your existence, that’s probably on you.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Ah, no, not at all. DNS only keeps a record of "zone files" which are basically just short lists of domains and subdomains with their IP addresses. The actual content hosted on whatever servers those IP addresses point to doesn’t have any relation to the DNS servers, root or otherwise. DNS is just a simple directory, like a phone book for the internet.

ECA (profile) says:

Re: Re:

you have a fair side. But what to think about it.
Do we really want a REAL democracy, or a corp controlled nation?

Its not that we have to regulate this Idea. Its to NOT let it bother you. Everyone NEEDS to speak.
But while people can speak, they also must contend with being debated.

How about we look at a few strange facts. the repubs and demo, are about 30% of the nation, and the Far left and right are the minority(supposedly).
30% of the people and 15% on each side. And a minority took over that 15%?
In all this, few have suggested that Both far right and left are about equal in opinion. And even with a Whole of 15% of the population, 45 million(?) the group declared a president?
It takes a fair amount of 1 group to be of 1 opinion.

Where have they conversed? would it be better to talk as a group and educate each other, explain things so that 2+2 at least gets CLOSE to 4.
The Best of Democracy tends to be everyone with a voice. The Worst of a democracy is its Voice. Its the balance between this and that, and another side.
Good luck with that,

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Yeah plus AWS fails at essential components for the utility social contract – the effective local monopoly or redudancy costs making it undesirable for another to build out. Meanwhile every other major tech company is running their own cloud along with other smaller players. It really doesn’t fit. If in some alternative timeline the USG had established a vast amount of surplus server capacity and started selling it like AWS then there would be a case for its neutrality but that is because it is government not because it is a big host.

The thing with the internet from the start is that while you can more or less do anything allowed by the protocol there is no right for it to be easy or benefitting from economies of scale.

If you want something as guaranteed content agnostic infastructure you need to legislate its existence as such like say calling for a National Bank system as an extension of the Treasury for accounts for savings and tax payment which also provides a payment service for all legal money transfers.

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Koby (profile) says:

why would anyone want to be associated with anything that even remotely hinges on extremism?

Because everything with which the woke mob disagrees will eventually be labeled "extremist" or "hateful" or "potentially maybe dangerous", and therefore worthy of censorship. There is no limit to cancel culture. They will eventually be asked to become the gatekeepers of all speech.

It is better to announce that all speech is allowed, than to become the tool of authoritarianism.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re:

everything with which the woke mob disagrees will eventually be labeled "extremist" or "hateful" or "potentially maybe dangerous", and therefore worthy of censorship

…says someone who, by virtue of complaining about “the left“/“the woke mob”, is on the side of the people who invented so-called cancel culture.

They will eventually be asked to become the gatekeepers of all speech.

And Lindsey Graham wanting to prevent society from accessing porn — that’s not trying to be a gatekeeper of speech? Or what about conservative religious groups that call for the removal of queer-friendly speech from TV shows, movies, books, and other media? C’mon, Koby, at least try to keep some sense of credibility here.

Also — yes or no, Koby: Do you believe the government should have the legal right to compel any privately owned interactive web service into hosting legally protected speech that the owners/operators of said service don’t want to host?

Mike says:

Re: Re: Re:

Do you believe the government should have the legal right to compel any privately owned interactive web service into hosting legally protected speech that the owners/operators of said service don’t want to host?

Do you believe electricity providers should be required to provide power to run servers they don’t want to run?

(And don’t appeal to the unprincipled exception about utilities)

Mike says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Yeah, because that would make his ‘argument’ look ridiculous.

No, it’s "begging the question." Society has made the unprincipled exception that the electrical utility’s property rights are inferior to a bandwidth provider’s property rights. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not rooted in principle but a straight forward, naked act of political force.

bhull242 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

For the record, I’m pretty sure that most of us would support having broadband providers being treated as utilities, and thus the electrical utility’s property rights should not be inferior to a “bandwidth” provider’s property rights.

(Note: none of this applies to platforms, search engines, or (possibly) cloud servers.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

There is a principle there it is fair to place responsibilities on those who have a dependency upon the commons or a monopoly. In this case if they have effectively exclusive access to the right of way for power they can’t capriciously block others from paid connections nor charge arbitrary levels of fees. There are tons of competitors to AWS – the domestic ones also just don’t want to have anything to do with the seditious morons.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

don’t appeal to the unprincipled exception about utilities

That’s the whole point of public utilites, though: They’re not supposed to discriminate that way. I’m sure someone at the power company in my area might not like all the porn I watch on my computer. But that shouldn’t give them the right to yank my power offline.

Therein lies the issue: Internet service providers¹ such as Amazon and Cloudflare aren’t public utilities. They can’t be legally forced to carry anyone’s speech. I’ve yet to see a solid argument for why the law should make that happen — and you didn’t have one, either.


¹ – What most people call an “ISP” is what I refer to as an “Internet access provider” or “IAP”. I consider the term more accurate. That leaves “ISP” open for online/Internet-based services such as web hosting, social media, and the like.

Bruce C. says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

In the spectrum of internet services, at one end we have the media platforms, who are given great freedom by section 230, and at the other end we have the ISPs, who also have freedom to charge more for certain content, but for whom most participants here have long advocated should be subject to net neutrality — basically declaring them a public utility. Amazon’s infrastructure services are somewhere in between.

So where are the dividing lines between net neutrality and Section 230? Or is net neutrality no longer a thing?

bhull242 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Do you believe electricity providers should be required to provide power to run servers they don’t want to run?

Yes. The power company is not in the business of speech at all, and they aren’t hosting the content they have an issue with, so they have no business butting in on such things.

Furthermore, while the electric companies may own the power lines (IDK), they don’t own anything that ever contains or hosts the content they find objectionable, so this isn’t really an issue with their private property rights, nor does it impact the power company’s 1A rights.

It’d’ve been one thing if you said “phone companies” or “IAPs”, but electricity providers are too far removed. It makes as much sense as discontinuing your electricity because you read the Kama Sutra every night. Yes, cutting off your power will change that, but it’s none of their business, and not letting them do so doesn’t force any speech on them, thus their 1A rights are preserved.

Additionally, you don’t really have a choice in your electric company. That’s pretty much set in stone when you move in. Since they effectively have a monopoly, cutting off power to servers they don’t like violates antitrust laws.

(And don’t appeal to the unprincipled exception about utilities)

It’s not unprincipled. Most utilities don’t really compete with each other; you’re basically locked in based on your physical location. As such, there is no “marketplace of ideas” to outweigh the downsides of free speech in that particular case; there isn’t a marketplace at all there. You can’t (readily) switch to another company that provides that same utility if you’re dissatisfied.

Additionally, utilities and similar services like cell service and IAPs don’t (or at least shouldn’t) monitor the content of what goes through them, and they (again) don’t host speech but merely transmit it.

Basically, the logic regarding platforms and server hosts moderating speech doesn’t really apply to utilities.

I mean, I was still able to make my case without appealing to that particular argument, but you failed to give a good reason why it shouldn’t be used, and (as I pointed out in my response) you chose a really bad example that was easy to refute, anyways.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

…says someone who, by virtue of complaining about “the left“/“the woke mob”, is on the side of the people who invented so-called cancel culture.

And Democrats founded the KKK, Jim Crow laws, were for slavery…

I LOVE this game!

And Lindsey Graham wanting to prevent society from accessing porn — that’s not trying to be a gatekeeper of speech? Or what about conservative religious groups that call for the removal of queer-friendly speech from TV shows, movies, books, and other media? C’mon, Koby, at least try to keep some sense of credibility here.

Psst! Know what’s funny? It’s not the Right who’s calling for porn to be taken down or to shut down shows for not following their dogma. It’s the Social Justice Left that’s doing it.

And, just for the record, I have and will criticize the Right when they do that stuff, but they haven’t been doing that since… 2011. At least not as much as they did during the 80s and 90s.

Meanwhile the ENTIRETY of Cancel Culture is coming from the Social Justice Left these days.

So, you should stop looking at the past, because there are PLENTY of things that I can point to that happened in the past that the Left did that they accuse the Right of doing as well.

^___^

bhull242 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

And Democrats founded the KKK, Jim Crow laws, were for slavery…

Look up “the Southern Strategy”. You may learn something.

Psst! Know what’s funny? It’s not the Right who’s calling for porn to be taken down or to shut down shows for not following their dogma. It’s the Social Justice Left that’s doing it.

I don’t know of any leftist politicians in the US going after porn outside of revenge porn and child porn (which generally are generally bipartisan issues), while I do know of rightwing politicians who have relatively recently, including Lindsay Graham and politicians in Utah.

Meanwhile the ENTIRETY of Cancel Culture is coming from the Social Justice Left these days.

I haven’t seen sufficient evidence of cancel culture at all.

So, you should stop looking at the past,

Says the guy who talked about the origins of the KKK and Jim Crow laws.

because there are PLENTY of things that I can point to that happened in the past that the Left did that they accuse the Right of doing as well.

Democrats weren’t “the left” back then, so you haven’t done so.

Rocky says:

Re: Re:

Because everything with which the woke mob disagrees will eventually be labeled "extremist" or "hateful" or "potentially maybe dangerous", and therefore worthy of censorship. There is no limit to cancel culture. They will eventually be asked to become the gatekeepers of all speech.

Well, the latest "anti-woke mob" tried to cancel the democratic process in the US by violence and showed that they where actually dangerous. Do you want to be associated with that mob?

bhull242 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I think the question here is: are services like Amazon’s cloud services akin to or actually are public utilities like landlines or electricity? Or are they something else? I think they’re more like landlords or the people renting out storage units, but I can at least understand arguments that they’re public utilities.

Bruce C. says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Well there are laws and regulations (usually at the state level) about when and how a landlord can kick a tenant out as well. So there are precedents in different realms of commerce that "force association" between parties as some have called it.

On the other hand, Parler could have raised their objections to Amazon’s one-sided terms of service before all this blew up. I don’t think anyone is disputing that Amazon has the right under ToS and current laws and regulations to kick them off. But the original article is also correct in raising the question of the slippery slope if we give every business the right to discriminate against any group. To clarify our thinking, I think it helps to imagine how we would react if Amazon was a conservative company and they kicked BLM off of their platform The internet has become such a presence in our lives that shutting marginalized groups out of the ability to use it is a crippling loss.

bhull242 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

When it comes to public policy, I choose to look at it completely abstractly, without considering who is removed or whether I agree with the end results of the termination. It tends to be good for removing biases and emotional reactions. Ultimately, on a scale from Comcast to Facebook, I think that Amazon’s hosting falls closer to Facebook, especially when I think of the amount of competitors available.

I try to temper my personal reactions based on what I think is good public policy, and then look at specifics as well as look at the flip-side. On this, I think we have some agreement in that this definitely raises serious questions about whether or not this was a good thing for Amazon to do. This is definitely a power that Amazon should exercise sparingly and with great caution. However, I still don’t think the laws should be changed to prevent it from happening, though I’m open to changing my mind on that.

Also, I am generally skeptical of most slippery-slope arguments, though this isn’t terribly fallacious and seems to be genuinely wondering about the answer.

Rocky says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Comparing the phone system which is a carrier of ephemeral information to Amazon which actually stores and process information is disingenuous because the two aren’t alike at all.

It’s like comparing someone transporting illegal goods on a public road versus asking someone to handle the illegal goods. Nobody thinks the local municipality is guilty by association for what people transports in their vehicles, but they will think the organization handling illegal goods guilty by association if that organization doesn’t act on the knowledge of the goods.

bhull242 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Because everything with which the woke mob disagrees will eventually be labeled "extremist" or "hateful" or "potentially maybe dangerous", and therefore worthy of censorship.

  1. Which is why the government should stay out of it.
  2. The right has been doing that for even longer than the left.

There is no limit to cancel culture.

Except that it largely appears to not actually do anything. More importantly, platforms can moderate excesses without falling into “cancel culture”.

They will eventually be asked to become the gatekeepers of all speech.

No. At worst, they will be asked to become the gatekeepers of speech on their platforms/servers/whatever. Amazon’s servers =/= the Internet. Facebook =/= the Internet. Twitter =/= the Internet. Google =/= the Internet. A ban on Facebook has no effect on Twitter or Gab. If one service refuses to host your site, there are others available.

And, of course, they can always say, “no,” when asked to become gatekeepers.

It is better to announce that all speech is allowed, than to become the tool of authoritarianism.

False dichotomy. There is a massive amount of middle-ground there that you ignore. They can just remove the speech that is the most extreme and leave other unpleasant things up. They can decide they want to be “family friendly”. They can decide to remove spam, porn, harassment, and illegal content and leave everything else up. They can remove all those things and things that incite violence and leave everything else up. None of these involve allowing all speech or involve “becom[ing] the tool of authoritarianism”. You make it sound like an all-or-nothing deal, and it simply isn’t.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: "if the woke mob disagrees then censorship"

Yeah, the woke-mob likes the speech part of the first amendment. Much higher on the woke-mob’s priority list is coming around door-to-door to collect your guns, which you’ve been waiting for since the 1970s and hasn’t happened yet.

They may criminalize buying and selling assault rifles (but curiously not battle rifles or hunting rifles) but until they actually come around to collect them, I don’t think your speech will be limited any more than it is already.

Anonymous Coward says:

Parlers problems go deeper than being thrown off of Amazon, they are having difficulty finding a host. Companies do not like threats to political systems, as it makes doing business hard.

With events of the last week, the question has to be asked of how far can a group go without society acting to defend itself, noting that businesses are part of society.

Sok Puppette says:

Pressure is inevitable and there are really only two "sides"

There will always be pressure to shut some content down, and to shut some activities down. It will come from public opinion, from commercial relationships, and from governments. There will also always be disagreements, sometimes violent ones, about what should or should not be shut down.

As long as there are entities in a technical position such that they can shut things down, some of them will actually bend to the pressure in some cases, and try to do so. Maybe you’ll agree one time and not agree another time.

Whenever one of those entities takes technical action to shut something down, there will always be unintentional overblocking and collateral damage. "Surgical" shutdowns are impossible at any layer, be it application, infrastructure, or whatever.

If you think that’s a bad thing, the only really effective approach is to ubiquitously deploy technology that’s designed so that intermediaries aren’t just "unlikely or not expected to be aware of the content of the message they are carrying", but effectively unable to ever find out. You have to give those entities as little information as possible not only about only the content of messages, but their sources, destinations, timing, purposes… anything that could be used to infer which content is in the set somebody wants to block.

In the end, you need to arrange for the only alternatives to be either to let everything through, or to "overblock" to the point of shutting down the entire network. Any opportunity for selectivity will be exploited. Actionable "blocking information" has to be denied at every layer.

If you’re on the other side, and you actively want to see some things blocked, then you have to find ways to prevent the ubiquitous use of those concealing technologies.

But then you’re in a truly impossible bind. Not only will you never be able to prevent overblocking at a technical level, but you’re also out of luck at the political level. From a practical point of view, you will never be able to enforce that only the "right things" get blocked, or that only the "right people" make blocking decisions. Probably not even in some tiny part of the world, let alone everywhere.

You may have to give up, and switch from pro-blocking to anti-blocking, because you can’t accept the overblocking you’ll get even without any technology denying you information. Then there may be other pro-blocking factions who are willing to cut off things you care about, or accept more collateral damage than you are. There really isn’t just one "pro-blocking side". There are an almost infinite number of pro-blocking factions with different agendas.

Personally, I don’t think that any really thoughtful person can stay pro-blocking for long, unless that person basically wants to see the whole Internet shut down. Even if your own faction seems to be on top at any given time, it has to be obvious that you can lose your dominant position, and see things blocked that you’re not willing to accept.

… and I don’t think the layer matters much, if it matters at all.

It is becoming increasingly important that we start looking into the salient, yet extremely significant, differences between moderation happening by user-generated content platforms as opposed to moderation happening by infrastructure providers.

There aren’t any such differences.

As far as a speaker is concerned, "user-generated content platforms" are just store-and-forward message delivery systems. The information units they carry are posts or comments or images or whatever, as opposed to packets, and they organize them into threads or collections instead of flows or connections.

That’s simply not a critical distinction from a social, political, or end-user point of view. Either Alice can send her message to her audience, or she cannot. Socially, there’s no good place to draw a line between Twitter and Cogent. Or the DNS roots for that matter.

… nor is there a good technical place to draw such a line.

Yes, when you go lower in the stack, it often gets a bit harder to be really selective about what you want to block, but it’s not a difference in kind. It’s not obvious that it has any practical impact at all.

It’s true that "IP and protocol-based blocking, deep packet inspection […], and URL and DNS-based blocking" do overblock, and badly so. Nonetheless, in an awful lot of cases, the social and political forces that are driving for Something To Be Done are willing to tolerate that level of overblocking. Nor are the blocking measures at the higher layers really all that much more selective. Keyword filters overblock just as much as DPI.

If you can’t block the Parler content you object to, you may very well be willing to block Parler in toto. Maybe Parler simply doesn’t have enough countervailing content that you really want to preserve; the collateral damage is acceptable. There’ll always be squabbling about where that "not enough to preserve" line is, and nobody will ever be satisfied with the final answer no matter what.

But we’ve just seen that completely blocking a whole "platform" is not off the table.

And, again, you’ll have the same problem anyway, regardless of the layer at which you do your blocking. Blocking Parler at the hosting layer isn’t practically that different from, say, Twitter blocking the word "Trump" at the message layer. Twitter doing that would probably block a larger absolute number of messages than taking Parler offline, just because Twitter is so much bigger.

The options at the higher layers simply aren’t enough better to really change the situation.

crade (profile) says:

Article is conflating amazon cloud services, which had no public duty, with internet providers, which do. Clouds services refuse to host you, you use something else. Internet providers refuse to host you you have no options because they have been granted their power to provide the internet from the gov’t. Just because lots of people are using something you created doesn’t mean they have a right to it.
Your pre-internet analogy doesn’t hold water for the same reason.

If the only thing preventing you from using the internet is a lack of effort and the service is just someone else who already did the work then you have no right to that service. If the service is provided by Ma Bell or an ISP because they are one of the companies given permission to provide this service in one way or another by the gov’t then you do have a right to their service

"regulators might start looking at them to “police” the Internet"
If regulators tried to influence this in any way they would be violating the first amendment by doing so, using laws to pressure a proxy to control speech shouldn’t pass the smell test

Bruce C. says:

Separation of delivery and content/net neutrality

Amazon’s action raised more concerns for me than are even discussed in the article… I’d like to keep infrastructure providers out of the content moderation scheme as much as possible.

But how do we do this in the face of "NBC Universal, a Comcast company" and other unions between ISPs and media companies, or companies like Google and Amazon, where multiple appendages growing in multiple markets make it hard to regulate under an appropriate categorization. If Amazon were subject to net neutrality regulations in providing IAAS or PAAS they would only have been justified if Parler itself had committed illegal acts, which is still an open question in my mind.

A more practical argument is to hold your friends close and your enemies closer. Do we really want to make it harder to find out who the perps are because they no longer post on social media? Stupidity isn’t a crime, but it IS what gets you caught. So it pays to encourage certain kinds of stupidity in groups you want to keep tabs on.

All in all, I think this action by Amazon is another case of ad hoc moderation based on public outcry rather than on a well-defined policy.

Rocky says:

Re: Separation of delivery and content/net neutrality

Personally I think that Amazon should just have suspended them with the warning that if they don’t clean up the cesspool of knuckle-draggers they would be terminated.

At the same time, I can understand people dropping Parler like a hot potato since just being indirectly associated with seditionists planning an insurrection is bad for business.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re:

A more practical argument is to hold your friends close and your enemies closer. Do we really want to make it harder to find out who the perps are because they no longer post on social media?

Yes or no: Do you want to set a precedent that says Amazon, Cloudflare, or any other hosting company — no matter its size — must host any and all legally protected speech under any and all circumstances or face legal punishment?

SirWired says:

I don't envy Amazon's position here

On a business level, denying Parler service is super-straightforward.

You know they are going to be a magnet for DDoS attacks out the wazoo, and you can expect the legal department will have to be frequently accommodating law-enforcement requests to investigate whatever particular lunacy the members are up to that week.

And, of course, on a visceral level, since the most prominent voices there are those that were so repulsive, they got kicked off of other platforms, even those with long-standing commitments to free speech… who wants to give these clowns the time of day?

But like it or not, the Internet is the proverbial street-corner of today. And while a content-driven service certainly has easy justification for policing what is and is not available, an infrastructure provider is not in a position as strong. I think AWS kicking these guys off may have been a short-term gain, long-term loss sort of situation. I could totally see laws coming out mandating that infrastructure providers remain content-neutral, laws that Amazon would have been able to avoid had they simply held their nose and let these clowns Do Their Thing.

(That said, if I take my Internet Freedom hat off my head, I can’t say I’m losing sleep over the amount of money and effort Parler is about to have to spend to get their site back online, and I take a certain amount of schadenfreude in how difficult it is going to be to keep it online, protected from people who think destruction is a good way to achieve their ends…Goose, meet Gander.)

bhull242 (profile) says:

I’m very, very torn on this issue. For all the others, there was a meatspace analogue to work with. Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube are like bookstores or pubs. Google Search is like a phone book or directory. Amazon retail, Apple’s App Store, and Google Play are retailers. ISPs and email are like phone lines. In all of these, it was clear to me what role each played; none should be held liable for the hosted content, and only ISPs shouldn’t have much, if any, control over what goes through; others should be free to moderate freely as long as there isn’t an anticompetitive issue.

Amazon Cloud Services (along with similar services) is more difficult for me to figure out how to make work in this line of thought. On the one hand, their control is so basic that it makes me lean toward ISP route of little control, but on the other hand, they own the servers that physically contain the data, so we go into the private property route of near total control.

The best analogue I could think of is a landlord or one of those companies that houses physical storage units to house physical goods. I don’t really know much about that area of law since I have no personal experience with either. I know that a landlord isn’t responsible for the acts of the lessee(s), and the owner of the storage units isn’t legally responsible for the contents, so the liability checks out. However, I don’t know anything about their ability to control the content/speech on their property.

If I had to guess, they have a legal right to do it, but that it is and should be exercised sparingly. This makes sense to me as the physical/memory space available is a scarce resource, but no one pays attention to who hosts a website, and the host generally doesn’t pay much attention to what goes on within the website.

Regarding market pressures, well, a host that is too heavy-handed is not going to do well, but there is some (relatively weak) incentive not to associate with bad actors, so that means hosts should be largely hands-off. This does appear to be the case in real life. A host discontinuing service based on content is not unprecedented but not terribly common either. Since the market seems to be handling the idea well (for the most part), I don’t see any reason why the government should be involved one way or the other.

And, of course, 1A protections of free speech and free association mean the government shouldn’t get involved, either, but I have to acknowledge that a hosting service is closer to a utility than a platform would be (though ISPs and email are far, far closer), and utilities can be forced to host/transmit speech they don’t like. Still, on the whole, this area seems to lean in favor of “let the market work it out” rather than “we need regulations”.

That said, I’m not terribly certain whether this is the “right” way to look at it or not. These are just my thoughts on the subject, but I’m very open to changing my position on this and would like to hear what others think about what I said.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re:

I have to acknowledge that a hosting service is closer to a utility than a platform would be (though ISPs and email are far, far closer), and utilities can be forced to host/transmit speech they don’t like. Still, on the whole, this area seems to lean in favor of “let the market work it out” rather than “we need regulations”.

If it wasn’t obvious from my other comments on this article, I’m basically of this mindset. It’s worrying to have a company as big as Amazon decide whether your speech is worth hosting, but it’s equally worrying to have the government force your speech onto their servers. I would prefer that Amazon have the right to choose whether it’ll host any given speech. But I recognize that despite my view, Amazon’s size — and its role as Internet infrastructure — makes my position controversial.

I don’t have any easy answers. I don’t think anyone does. But I don’t think outright forcing Amazon, Cloudflare, etc. to become public utlities is the correct answer.

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Amazon only decides if your speech is worth amazon hosting. Google decides if your speech is worth google hosting. You decide if your speech is worth the effort of hosting yourself if no one else wants to do the work for you, everyone else decides if your speech (and any other speech the existing ones are refusing)
is worth creating a new cloud service to host.

In my mind the meatspace analogy is basically the owner you are leasing your pub from

bhull242 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

For me, unless we’re discussing lobbying, antitrust or pro-competition laws, or taxation, I try to avoid worrying about the size of the business when dealing with policy questions. By doing so, I find it easier to deal with excesses and problems that come from big businesses without interfering with small businesses or private individuals beyond what I think is just.

Note that in my thoughts, I intentionally ignored the fact that Amazon is a big company. I thought more abstractly: regardless of size, should any company that provides cloud infrastructure be able to moderate the content it hosts? My answer was, ultimately, a (somewhat tentative) “yes”, though it should be done more sparingly than the owners of a website moderating content on their platform. Since that appears to already be the case, and there are a number of options for cloud infrastructure, my position on the relevant public policy questions is that the government has no need to be involved in this issue and so should not be.

Even with determining what are or aren’t utilities, the size of the business isn’t important to me; it’s the amount of competition, the ease with which newcomers can enter the marketplace—whether they can ultimately succeed or not is significantly less important—and the importance, fundamentality, and nature of the service provided that are by far the biggest determining factors. This is actually where I struggled, as providing cloud infrastructure is significantly more fundamental than providing a social media platform but significantly less so than an IAP. I determined that the amount of competitors readily available to anyone weighs against holding it as a utility, but I was still unsure on how strongly the nature of the service weighs in favor or against doing so. I’m still not sure, and it largely depends on stuff I don’t actually know about cloud computing. Specifically, does the provider of the infrastructure host/publish the content or merely transmit it?

Ultimately, I decided it wasn’t enough of a utility-type business to not have a free-speech and property interest in what content involves their services, but this is my main uncertainty. And in the end, the fact that there doesn’t appear to be significant abuse of their control in this area means that there isn’t a strong need for regulation on this front, anyways.

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Yes, but providing cloud infrastructure isn’t required to enter the market. Cloud infrastructure is just an attempt to be more efficient at web hosting, it’s not entry level. You can host parler off a server in your basement if you want, it will just suck and not scale well and crash under load because you haven’t put in the effort to make it awesome that amazon has

MikeC (profile) says:

Slippery Slop indeed

I do agree Amazon as an entity is entirely within their rights to kick off Parler. I keep coming back to a simple thought about being careful what you ask for or as Martin Niemoller said of the Nazis after the war (isn’t it interesting how history repeats itself?):

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Parler v Amazon

7.2 Termination.
     …
     (b) Termination for Cause.
          …
          (ii) By Us. We may also terminate this Agreement immediately upon notice to you (A) for cause if we have the right to suspend under Section 6…


6. Temporary Suspension.
6.1 Generally. We may suspend your or any End User’s right to access or use any portion or all of the Service Offerings immediately upon notice to you if we determine:

     (a) your or an End User’s use of the Service Offerings (i) poses a security risk to the Service Offerings or any third party

(Emphasis.)

I don’t see “security risk” defined under “14. Definitions”.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Parler v Amazon

Posting as a non-lawyer who just gave the TOS a look but assuming they’re going with a temporary suspension that would invoke 6.1 I imagine Amazon would point to clause (iii), though to what extent that would work would largely depend on the exact argument and judge:

(a) your or an End User’s use of the Service Offerings (i) poses a security risk to the Service Offerings or any third party, (ii) could adversely impact our systems, the Service Offerings or the systems or Content of any other AWS customer, (iii) could subject us, our affiliates, or any third party to liability, or (iv) could be fraudulent;

If on the other hand it’s a permanent ban so long as Amazon merely gave them notice that in a month they’re no longer willing to host them then 7.2 would seem to put them entirely in the clear.

7.2 (a) Termination for Convenience. You may terminate this Agreement for any reason by providing us notice and closing your account for all Services for which we provide an account closing mechanism. We may terminate this Agreement for any reason by providing you at least 30 days’ advance notice.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Parler v Amazon

We may terminate this Agreement for any reason by providing you at least 30 days’ advance notice.

Did you read the complaint?

  1. Thus, there was no uncured material breach of the Agreement for 30 days, as required for termination.

Plaintiff’s claim for breach of contract alleges defendant didn’t provide the 30 day’s advance notice.

There are also two other documents that I’ve looked over and may be partially relying on, but haven’t mentioned explicitly yet.

  • Complaint Exhibit A (attachment 1) “Correspondence from Defendant to Plaintiff”

Because Parler cannot comply with our terms of service and poses a very real risk to public safety… [Emphasis.]

Both of those documents are, of course, on the docket, along with others.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Parler v Amazon

If Amazon is going with a ‘risk to public safety’ as the justification offhand the the examples they provided and the claim that such content was only increasing seems like it will make for a compelling argument in their favor given recent events.

Reading the TRO request it might just be my non-lawyer background causing me to miss things or misunderstand but I’m definitely seeing some holes in there.

Arguing that because Amazon offers the same service to two competing companies anything that impacts one counts as a Sherman Act violation by Amazon seems like a stretch, all the more so given they don’t really seem to provide any evidence of a conspiracy which they themselves list as a requirement for a violation beyond ‘Amazon does business with Twitch’.

Claimed ‘harms’ to Amazon for being bound by a TRO would seem to be counter-balanced by potential public harm.

Arguing that having users which they themselves admit they don’t charge money from counts as a ‘valid contractual relationship or business expectancy’ for tortious interference with a business relationship law really seems like a stretch, unless that law is a lot more wide ranging than I would expect it to be.

Honestly the contract violation seems like their strongest argument there, and how well that one flies would seem to hinge on how much the judge buys the ‘public safety’ justification Amazon used.

Well, given when it was filed and the request for immediate response I suppose we’ll see in short order which way the ruling judge goes.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Parler v Amazon

… a Sherman Act violation…

Mark Lemley weighs in, along with others.

‘I doubt it has legs’: Why Parler has a weak antitrust claim against Amazon”, by Daniel Howley, Yahoo Finance, Jan 12, 2021

"As stated it seems implausible as an antitrust claim," Stanford Law School professor Mark Lemley told Yahoo Finance.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Parler v Amazon

… how much the judge buys the ‘public safety’ justification Amazon used.

Probably too late for this too show up in Amazon’s opposition to the TRO. But something like this might show up later on…

Parler Users Breached Deep Inside U.S. Capitol Building, GPS Data Shows”, by Dell Cameron and Dhruv Mehrotra, Gizmodo, Jan 12, 2021

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Parler v Amazon

Ooh, that’s going to sting. Looks like Parlor may have not just shot their own foot but blown it clean off in their bragging.

‘Finally, Parler’s allegations of harm contradict its own public statements. Parler’s CEO has assured users that Parler “prepared for events like [the termination] by never relying on amazons [sic] proprietary infrastructure,” that the site will be fully operational “with less then [sic] 12 hours of downtime” after termination, and that Parler has “many [companies] competing for [its] [hosting] business.” Doran Decl. Exs. J-K. Accordingly, the balance of the equities and public interest weigh strongly against the issuance of any injunction.’

Kinda hard to argue that Amazon kicking you off their service is a death-knell for your site and therefore a TRO is warranted when you’ve claimed that if they did so you’d be back up in less than a day because you never depended on them anyway.

As for their argument that they’re prompt in removing content and therefore Amazon was being unreasonable it certainly looks like they blew their other foot off with that one as well.

Parler itself has admitted it has a backlog of 26,000 reports of content that violates its (minimal) community standards that it had not yet reviewed. Id. Parler’s own failures left AWS little choice but to suspend Parler’s account.

Pair those with the many examples that Amazon provided of the positively charming content that they objected to and I’m not seeing Parler having a good day tomorrow.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:8 Parler v Amazon

"Parler has “many [companies] competing for [its] [hosting] business"

I’d be interested in seeing the list. Something tells me that it’s more a "redneck’s cousin who knows a bit of the cyber" type deal than it is "Microsoft, Google and DigitalOcean won’t stop calling".

"Pair those with the many examples that Amazon provided of the positively charming content that they objected to "

In case anyone’s interested, the closest I got to that particular cesspool was looking at what some braver souls posted on Reddit:

http://www.reddit.com/r/ParlerWatch

It’s fairly noisy at the moment and it takes a small amount of effort to see posts from a few months ago, but if you want to understand how deranged and dangerous that place is, it’s worth a look.

Anonymous Coward says:

Amazon did not moderate Parler. It didn’t eavesdrop on phone calls or anything of the like. It terminated their business contract in accordance to the terms of that contract, presumably because it did not want to be associated with Parler’s public reputation.

And unlike phone service which is absolutely necessary to make calls, websites can be hosted without cloud services. In the end, even if everyone else refused to host them, Parler’s owners are still free to build their own servers on their own property to do with as they please.

I would not be quick to declare web hosting a public utility, regardless of size or popularity. Any more than I would with social media.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Oh NOW Techdirt cares about censorship?!

Right wing conservatives asked, no demanded, that they not be required to bake any cakes for gay couples and the SCOTUS agreed with them, so now business need not be concerned about discriminating.

Sucks that karma can be such a bitch, I know .. been there, done that, no t-shirt.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

I can't help but think about...

Paypal (who didn’t have many competitors at the time) cutting off Wikileaks when it published embarrassing data about US administrations (including torture stuff and extrajudicial detentions) informing the US public about things its government was doing.

And Germany’s recent effort to stop the distribution of Blueleaks by seizing the physical drives that hosted the data for Distributed Denial of Secrets. The data was restored via alternative (and more obfuscated) host servers.

Content moderation at the infrastructure layer has been happening for a long time now, typically to prevent the public from accessing secrets about criminal activity by government officials.

Anonymous Coward says:

AWS is not "infrastructure"

So, I don’t know why this is even a big deal. Amazon is huge in the hosting provider arena, but by no means are they the only choice… they do wrap it all up in ways that are (apparently) convenient and lend themselves to locking you in to their platform, but it’s not anything that can’t be done by a competent team of IT professionals (or one person hell-bent on being a do-it-all).

Let this be a lesson to anyone looking at having their tech provided by another company… there’s not just a risk of being cutoff due to conflicting interests… what if the company isn’t security savvy? what if that company suffers some sort of failure that ends up deleting your data (or putting your customer data at risk)? What happens when they raise prices?

There’s a lesson to be had here, but it’s not about censorship, anti-trust or even moderation… when you build your app on a platform, you inherit whatever risk that’s part of the platform… for a hosting service, they might pull the plug on you so you need a backup plan.

AWS provides one way to put infrastructure into place for your app, but it’s not ‘infrastructure’ itself.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: AWS is not "infrastructure"

"So, I don’t know why this is even a big deal"

It falls neatly into a few of the right-wing’s obsessions. If they can pretend that this is some kind of "big tech" conspiracy rather than the natural consequences of their own actions, it deflects from the fact that the people running Parler were so incompetent that they didn’t have a disaster recovery plan for their business.

"Let this be a lesson to anyone looking at having their tech provided by another company… there’s not just a risk of being cutoff due to conflicting interests… what if the company isn’t security savvy? what if that company suffers some sort of failure that ends up deleting your data (or putting your customer data at risk)? What happens when they raise prices?"

Any company hosting on external cloud infrastructure should have a recovery plan that involves switching providers. It might be a pain in the ass, but if you already have things automated through Terraform, Ansible, etc., it should be possible to switch even a large business completely in a few hours, and you always have the option to set up your own infrastructure if you feel you can’t rely on external providers. If you don’t have such a disaster recovery plan in place, you’re incompetent. If, as with Parler, your entire business model is based around toxic and offensive content that stood to make those providers question hosting you, you’re also insane if you didn’t plan for this.

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