September 13, 2021
As business owners and managers or IT consultants, you have to seriously evaluate the nature of content being communicated over the Internet. If there is any possibility of risk of censorship, the effects could be catastrophic.
One of the fundamental aspects of an IT business model is trust. Can the customer trust you as a business? Can the customer be assured that you will handle their personal information responsibly? Will their personal information be secured? Can you, as a business owner or manager, be assured that the payment handler is to be trusted? Are the apps you integrate into your website trustworthy?
Yet before 2020 we would not have thought to ask a different question – Can an Internet service provider be trusted?
Texas Right to Life discovered the answer to this question when it was reported on September 3rd that GoDaddy disconnected one of their web pages from the Internet. prolifewhistleblower.com was suddenly invisible. When I first began writing this article, the website came up empty. GoDaddy is a popular site for registering domain names, the names you type into your web browser. When a name is registered, it needs to point to a specific IP address. This IP address is used to locate the physical server on which a website resides. GoDaddy has supplemented this registration service by also providing a basic platform on which small businesses can set up a web page. They provide features such as page framing, menus, image placement, contact tools, and basic business services such as inventory presentation and payment integration. It is essentially point-n-click where the business owner does not need to have an IT expert do any programming. Despite this level of automation, web pages can still take hours, if not days, to design, test and initiate. Then they need to be integrated into a marketing strategy. To suddenly have your web site suspended or disconnected from the Internet is no small thing.
GoDaddy has done this before. In January 2021, it blocked the DNS registration of Parler, an emerging competitor to Twitter, allegedly because Parler was the primary communication tool of the nutbags who stormed the U.S. Capital building. This censorious action was unprecedented. There are only two other reasons why a DNS registration is blocked. One is because the registrant has violated the law (like child pornography). The other is because an authoritarian regime has demanded it and the registering agency happens to reside in that country. In January 2021, Parler was never determined in a court of law to have violated a law. In fact, as the FBI investigation affirmed, Facebook and Twitter were the primary communication tools used by the FBI to trace back the movements of the Capital crowd. The affect on Parler, along with the actions taken by Apple, Google and Amazon, were near fatal. Parler has since transferred its registration to a more trustworthy registrar, rebuilt its server farm through a different cloud center, and relied on direct marketing channels to rebuild its client base. The management of Parler can write the book on the question “Who can you trust?”
GoDaddy, of course, will give the same ol’ excuse that their actions are justified because Texas Right to Life violated their terms of service. When you consider that the Ten Commandments occupy half a column of print in the Bible, the Declaration of Independence and the Magna Carta are one page in length, one can appreciate the mind-twisting encounter of reading a Terms of Service Agreement that is 26 pages long.
Our response is telling. Many who read this are not pro-life and probably see no reason why there should be any problem with GoDaddy’s actions. Others who are pro-life do not approve of going after people and suing them. I find nothing about prolifewhistleblower.com that is appealing. Yet one of the fundamental pillars of our society is that of liberty, of which one of its elements is free speech. Even pro-choice advocates would concur with me that the determination of who can speak is to be determined by the rule of law, and not by a Big Tech company. One only has to go to Canceled People to see that the list of victims of cancellation cuts across the political and social spectrum.
So on the one hand we have to ask ourselves of where we stand. Do we favor arbitrary censorship or liberty? It’s that simple. And as a business owner or manager, you have another question to ask – is there anything we do that is at risk? It is interesting to see where the risk spectrum has spread since the COVID pandemic began: alternative treatments, alternative names for the virus (like CCP virus, China virus, or Wuhan virus), anti-maskers, anti-vaxxers, high-risk gatherings, church assemblies. Each of these issues have been grounds for demonetization on YouTube, blockage on Twitter and even blockage from vital payment services such as PayPal. As you can imagine, this list covers dozens of business enterprises, from news services to medical clinics, from pastors to nurses. It begs the question – can Internet service providers be trusted?
If you have registered your domain with GoDaddy – probably not. If your website is hosted by GoDaddy – probably not.
Which leads to the next interesting twist to this controversy. At the same time this has been happening, the Texas legislature is debating a common carrier law. In essence, it is declaring large Internet service companies as common carriers and subject to the same standards as your local cell service and telephone company. To say the least, this will be a huge shift in how technology moves forward. For one, it will relieve service providers of having to play God. Secondly, it will direct the question of who can or cannot speak on the Internet to the rule of law. Third, it will clearly reduce, if not eliminate, risks associated with the long-term development of internet platforms for businesses and organizations.
The debate about whether Big Tech companies are common carriers is a bit peculiar. On the one hand, there are those who argue that Big Tech companies are private enterprises and have every right to establish and enforce “community standards.” Secondly, they would argue that for Texas to pass a common carrier law would be out of its jurisdiction because the Big Tech firms reside outside of Texas. I find this argument rather humorous given that if they are inter-state communication services, then they must be “common carriers” in the literal sense.
As business owners and managers or IT consultants, you have to seriously evaluate the nature of content being communicated over the Internet. If there is any possibility of risk of censorship, the effects could be catastrophic. In developing a long-term Internet strategy, you may need to consider the following:
Alternative, safer DNS registrars
Alternative, safer cloud providers for servers and/or web sites
Alternative, safer payment processing sites
Web site transference strategies
The last item is particularly complex. Web sites constructed on automated platforms such as WordPress or GoDaddy cannot be so easily transferred. When researching alternative web sites, evaluate whether they have any web site transfer tools. If they do, consider subscribing, setting up a mirrored web site and conduct transfer tests. If you are using a cloud provider for servers, consider an alternative provider and conduct mirroring tests. You do not necessarily have to replicate a mirrored site of the same scale. In the event you get canceled, you can quickly ramp up the operation at the alternative site.
Two great examples of mirrored operations are Locals and SubStack. Locals is designed to provide a secure home base for content developers. SubStack has become a trusted site for free-lance journalists and writers. Neither site provides the full feature elements of a well-developed web site, but they provide essential aspects of the owners’ business model.
Things move fast in the IT world. As of the time of this writing, the prolifewhistleblower.com web address is being redirected to the Texas Right to Life website. According to the TRTL spokesperson, the issue will be resolved in a couple of days when they reconstruct the website on an alternative provider platform. The domain is now listed under Epik, the same registrar that was used by Parler. But the website remains off-line. From what I read, TRTL has had more urgent matters to attend to such as bomb threats.
Another thing to consider is the fact that prolifewhistleblower.com is a highly vulnerable business model. As you can well imagine, the website was pounded with rogue activity, most particularly false tips. It is a bit ironic that all the machinations of GoDaddy would be unnecessary given that the website was not functioning as intended. It is quite likely that a highly controversial complaint system that is open to the world is simply unworkable. One suggestion would be a requirement that the whistleblower leave a small deposit that can be refunded once the case is validated. Content creators have been using this technique to cull out the pointless trolls that they would otherwise receive if anyone was allowed to comment on their work.
“Texas Bill Aimed at Big Tech Censorship Likely to Pass”, Breibart News, by Allum Bokhari, September 2, 2021
“BREAKING: GoDaddy deplatforms Texas Right to Life website that let people report violations of new Texas pro-life law”, Lifesite News, by Kennedy Hall, September 3, 2021
“The Invisible Hand,” EricN Publications, by Eric Niewoehner, January 26, 2021
“Disaster Recovery – the Repercussions of the De-Platforming of Parler,” EricN Publications, by Eric Niewoehner, February 18, 2021
“How America’s surveillance networks helped the FBI catch the Capitol mob,” Washington Post, by
Drew Harwell and Craig Timberg, April 2, 2021
“Texas Right to Life Receives Bomb Threat, Suspicious Package,” Breitbart News, by Dr. Susan Berry, September, 11, 2021
By Eric Niewoehner
© Copyright 2021 to Eric Niewoehner.
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