After years of quietly handing over the personal information of anyone who complained about its white supremacist customers, including the site that waged a campaign of harassment and intimidation against American University’s first black female student body president, a major content-delivery network pinky swore it would change its policy.
Cloudflare operates more than 100 data centers across the U.S. and acts as a sort of middleman for websites. The San Francisco-based company speeds up content and protects servers against attacks and boasts that 10 percent of web requests flow through its network. Everyone from OKCupid to the FBI uses the company.
According to a recent exposé by ProPublica, the firm is a favorite of white supremacist sites like Stormfront, American Renaissance and Daily Stormer, which recently directed its readers to harass Taylor Dumpson and her sorority sisters at American University. Part of the reason the owners of these domains like Cloudflare so much is that the company is willing to share the private information—including names and email addresses—of anyone who complains about their white supremacist content.
Matthew Prince, Cloudflare’s CEO, didn’t think there was anything wrong with his company’s practice. “A website is speech. It is not a bomb,” he wrote, defending his firm’s stance. “There is no imminent danger it creates, and no provider has an affirmative obligation to monitor and make determinations about the theoretically harmful nature of speech a site may contain.”
Prince believes this even though the neo-Nazi founder of the Daily Stormer, Andrew Anglin, has publicly stated: “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.”
Jennifer Dalton was one of the targets of the Daily Stormer’s revenge when her information was handed over to the fascist publication. “I wasn’t aware that my information would be sent on. I suppose I, naively, had an expectation of privacy,” she said after she complained that the Daily Stormer was asking its readers to harass Twitter users after the election.
With names and email addresses, internet-savvy users can find out more personal information, including phone numbers and home addresses. When Scott Ernest complained that Anglin allegedly harassed a woman in Whitefish, Mont., Ernest received emails and phone calls.
Prince promised that the company would “be more selective” with the information it shares, but said the company wouldn’t stop working with white supremacist sites, unlike many internet firms. It also won’t discontinue the practice of handing over private contact info.
“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 about the issue, adding that the companies who don’t work with white supremacists “can make whatever determination they want” with regard to their individual platforms.
Cloudflare has raised $180 million in venture capital since 2009.
Read more at ProPublica.