How Cloudflare and AWS Can Shutdown Websites at Will

PUBLISHED IN Developers, ON March 13th, 2023
How Cloudflare and AWS Can Shutdown Websites at Will

The concentration of power in the hands of centralized entities on the internet has given governments and other actors unprecedented control over information dissemination.

In some countries, authorities restrict access to specific websites, suppress content, and monitor user activity, violating privacy and freedom of expression and hindering progress and innovation. Companies like Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, Cloudflare, and others can take down websites with just a few clicks and without prior notice.

It is crucial to note that all these entities have the authority to decide which websites function optimally and which do not, compelling end-users to migrate to competitor platforms that align with their interests.

Media Network: Empowering a Censorship-Resistant Internet

A decentralized internet could distribute control among users, reducing the power of any single entity and creating a more resilient and democratic system.

In this context, Media Network’s web services marketplace is a protocol that aims to establish a more liberated internet, free from the influence of monopolistic entities that impede online freedom.

Internet corporations depend on human and private companies regulators to oversee websites accessible to end-users. However, Media Network provides a marketplace where individuals can rent high-quality web services such as CDN or computing power without relying on or entrusting humans.

The protocol operates without an ‘off’ switch, relying on trustless smart contracts. Therefore, neither the Media Foundation nor any team member can suppress clients and providers, as no single entity can claim ownership or disable it.

“In the digital age, censorship is a growing concern. Code provides a better alternative to traditional laws regulating the internet, creating decentralized systems resistant to censorship. Despite challenges, we must consider the role of code in protecting online freedom of speech and creating a more just and equitable world,” explains @jumpersdevice, COO of the Media Foundation.

The Danger of Cloudflare’s Dominance: How 1 in 5 Websites Could be at Risk of Censorship

The CDN layer of the internet, which distributes and enables access to content, is one of the most significant and vulnerable to censorship. It interacts directly with end-users by providing content such as images, videos, or websites in their browsers for their everyday tasks. Consequently, it is particularly sensitive and noteworthy.

Cloudflare, an internet infrastructure company that provides various web services, including DNS and CDN, dominates the CDN layer. According to W3 Techs, Cloudflare service is used by 75.5% of all websites that utilize a reverse proxy. This indicates that Cloudflare controls and oversees 17.7% of all websites worldwide.

In a recent publication, “The CEO who might have too much power over the internet,” concerns were raised about the level of influence held by Cloudflare’s CEO, Matthew Prince, over the whole internet.

Cloudflare’s potential for power abuse is concerning, particularly when it comes to cutting off access to certain websites or services. This kind of centralized control goes against our belief in a decentralized internet, where no single entity has too much control over what we can and cannot access online.

Prince wields unprecedented power over the internet at large, as the company can control, disable, and restrict the functioning of 1 in 5 websites.

The company knows this and has taken “a firm stance on freedom of speech.” However, reality suggests otherwise: over the years, Cloudflare has faced criticism for providing services to various controversial websites, including al-Qaeda, the Daily Stormer (a white supremacist news site), and 8chan.

Matthew Prince's post about Daily Stormer termination. (Cloudflare CEO)

Cloudflare has continuously demonstrated its ability to censor websites, such as the social media forum Switter, which served as a haven for thousands of sex workers. The company terminated its services to the site, citing a violation of its published Terms of Service.

Switter's termination announced at VICE's website.

Last year, Cloudflare also took the drastic step of shutting down Kiwifarms after public outrage over the forum’s content. In a statement, Prince explained that the threats and rhetoric on the site had escalated to an unprecedented level, posing an immediate and serious threat to human life.

Again, Matthew Prince's posting about another termeination, in this case, Kiwifarms.

“We do not believe that terminating security services is appropriate, even to revolting content. In a law-respecting world, the answer to even illegal content is not to use other illegal means like DDoS attacks to silence it”, Prince highlighted and added: “However, as the pressure campaign escalated, so did the rhetoric on the Kiwifarms site. Feeling attacked, users of Kiwifarms became even more aggressive.”

Amazon Web Services Dominance Sparked Censorship Fears

Amazon Web Services (AWS) dominates the cloud computing market with a 41.5% share, surpassing all its competitors combined. It boasts over 1 million active users, with about 10% being enterprise-scale customers and the rest small and medium-sized businesses.

In 2021, AWS came under scrutiny for its decision to ban the social network platform Parler from its servers, which was influenced by pressure from its own employees. AWS justified this action by citing a “steady increase in violent content” on Parler’s website, which violated their terms of service and posed a risk to public safety.

This situation has alerted AWS customers to the possible consequences of relying on centralized infrastructure and being aware of potential censorship risks. Although some may argue that AWS has the right to ban Parler as a private company, others are concerned about the potential for such actions to target other services in the future. The enforcement of terms of service may depend more on social media and political activist pressure than actual policy violations.

Simply put, the Parler situation underscored the fragility of the public cloud and the potential risks of relying on centralized infrastructure. AWS customers should be cautious about the implications of such actions and consider alternative approaches to managing their online presence.

Closing note

The centralization of power on the internet poses a censorship risk. Cloudflare dominates the CDN layer, powering one in every five websites, while AWS holds a 41.5% market share in the cloud industry. They certainly have the ability to censor content.
Media Network’s web services marketplace offers a decentralized alternative. To protect online freedom of speech and create a fairer world, we must consider the role of code. Decentralization can help us avoid censorship and ensure everyone’s voice is heard.

About Media Network

Media Network is a decentralized hub for web services, connecting providers and clients through smart contracts. Anchored on Media Protocol.

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