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Cloudflare is a technology company that provides reverse proxies[note 1] Domain Name System (DNS) servers, and domain name registration. It has been involved in multiple controversies over it providing its services to far right and other unsavory sites in the name of free speech.
Like many of the "Big Tech" cluster, Cloudflare is descended from a university research project. In this case, it's a descendant of Project Honey Pot, a group that tracked and cataloged bots that scraped web pages to find email addresses for serving spam. The theory was that they could make money off honey pot data by charging to actually block the spambots.
What started as a simple service has, from there, ballooned in complexity, starting with just blocking spambots, moving on to blocking DDoS, moving on to providing caching even when the website is operating normally and not being attacked at all, to hosting static websites entirely on their own, to hosting dynamic websites, and on from there.
Cloudflare is known for refusing to stop providing their services to sites unless the government has all the needed legal paperwork.[note 2] Not surprising since the company has a free speech absolutist, Matthew Prince, as CEO in which they staunchly supported these sites in the name of free speech. This had (naturally) led to far right and other extremist individuals and groups using Cloudflare's services to protect their sites.
Dropping far-right sites
On occasion Cloudflare will drop far-right sites from their services. However this not because of a realization that protecting far-right content that leads to real-world violence is abhorrent, but rather because of the public pressure against Cloudflare. So far only three sites have been dropped by Cloudflare.
The Daily Stormer
The Daily Stormer was using Cloudflare's services until August 2017 when Prince stopped providing it because:
...the people behind the Daily Stormer are assholes and I’d had enough. Let me be clear: this was an arbitrary decision. It was different than what I’d talked talked with our senior team about yesterday. I woke up this morning in a bad mood and decided to kick them off the Internet.
8chan was using Cloudflare's services until August 2019 after mounting public pressure due to terrorist attacks in 2019 such as the Christchurch mosque shootings and the 2019 El Paso shooting being linked to 8chan.
Kiwi Farms was using Cloudflare's services until September 2022 when it was dropped because of public pressure and what Prince described as imminent threats to human life in response to growing threats from Kiwi Farms involving the campaign against it lead by trans Youtuber Keffals.
Other dubious actions
Protecting terrorist sites
Cloudflare has been aware of terrorist groups using their services to protect their sites since at least 2012 and still continues to do so, because apparently allowing terrorist groups to spread propaganda, encourage violence, and fundraising is something that free speech has to protect.
Mishandling of reports
Cloudflare like many other online services has a page for people to report abuses of their service. Cloudflare's process had people put in their name and contact information in the reports for the site owner to contact the reporter for any further questions. Cloudflare learned in early 2014 that contact information was being used in retaliation against people who made reports. Cloudflare changed their policy to send the report to the site's host and not the site owner. In May 2017 ProPublica published an article reporting that some hosts would also forward this report to site owners, and you can guess what happened next. Shortly after the article was published, Prince released a statement saying Cloudflare would add an option to withhold a person's name and contact information from being sent in their report.[note 3]
- Which also doubles as distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) protection services.
- However protesting against Cloudflare also works, and much better.
- Not all reports allow one to withhold one's name and contact information, such as reporting a trademark infringement.
- Perlroth, Nicole (17 February 2012). "Search Bits SEARCH Preparing for DDoS Attacks or Just Groundhog Day". The New York Times.
- "Our Story".
- Hill, Kashmir (17 August 2014). "The Company Keeping Your Favorite (And Least Favorite) Websites Online". Forbes.
- "CloudFlare CEO blasts Anonymous claims of ISIS terrorist support". The Register. 18 November 2015.
- Cloudflare’s CEO has a plan to never censor hate speech again by Timothy B. Lee (2/4/2017, 8:37 AM) Ars Technica.
- Cloudflare CEO on terminating service to Neo-Nazi site by Kate Conger Gizmodo
- Terminating service for 8chan by Matthew Prince The Cloudflare Blog
- Blocking Kiwifarms by Matthew Prince The Cloudflare Blog
- Selling flak jackets in the cyberwars by Gerry Shih Reuters
- U.S. Tech Giant Cloudflare Provides Cybersecurity For At Least 7 Terror Groups by Jesselyn Cook The Huffington Post
- Anonymity and Abuse Reports By Matthew Prince The Cloudflare Blog
- How One Major Internet Company Helps Serve Up Hate on the Web by Ken Schwencke ProPublica