Cloudflare describes itself in its IPO documents (Form S-1):
We have built a global cloud platform that delivers a broad range of network services to businesses of all sizes and in all geographies…
What Cloudflare doesn’t tell you is that it is also the Internet provider of choice for a host (no pun intended) of unsavory and in some cases likely entirely illegal businesses that use its platform for bad stuff. How to they get away with it? Well…that depends on what the meaning of “it” is.
Cloudflare, you see, means well. And that’s what counts in the Internet economy. There must be a TED Talk about doing bad with good intentions. For example, its mission statement:
Cloudflare’s mission is to help build a better Internet.
Like don’t be evil, dude.
The problem is that it’s not just that Cloudflare fell in with bad company–Cloudflare seems to have been the platform of choice for really bad company. My bet is that wasn’t an accident.
But here’s the curious thing–the Security and Exchange Commission doesn’t seem to have looked too hard at what Cloudflare is up to. Even when the SEC is put on notice of really nasty stuff that you would expect to see in a different government document–namely an indictment.
Cloudflare evidently was the global cloud platform for both the Daily Stormer and 8Chan. Both are dealt with in a single “risk factor” in Cloudflare’s S-1 addressing “negative publicity”:
Activities of our paying and free customers or the content of their websites or other Internet properties, as well as our response to those activities, could cause us to experience significant adverse political, business, and reputational consequences with customers, employees, suppliers, government entities, and others.
Activities of our paying and free customers or the content of their websites and other Internet properties could cause us to experience significant adverse political, business, and reputational consequences with customers, employees, suppliers, government entities, and other third parties. Even if we comply with legal obligations to remove or disable customer content, we may maintain relationships with customers that others find hostile, offensive, or inappropriate. For example, we experienced significant negative publicity in connection with the use of our network by The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi, white supremacist website, around the time of the 2017 protests in Charlottesville, Virginia. We also received negative publicity in connection with the use of our network by 8chan, a forum website that served as inspiration for the recent attacks in El Paso, Texas and Christchurch, New Zealand. We are aware of some potential customers that have indicated their decision to not subscribe to our products was impacted, at least in part, by the actions of certain of our paying and free customers. We may also experience other adverse political, business and reputational consequences with prospective and current customers, employees, suppliers, and others related to the activities of our paying and free customers, especially if such hostile, offensive, or inappropriate use is high profile.
Conversely, actions we take in response to the activities of our paying and free customers, up to and including banning them from using our products, may harm our brand and reputation. Following the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, we terminated the account of The Daily Stormer. Similarly, following the events in El Paso, Texas, we terminated the account of 8chan. We received significant adverse feedback for these decisions from those concerned about our ability to pass judgment on our customers and the users of our platform, or to censor them by limiting their access to our products, and we are aware of potential customers who decided not to subscribe to our products because of this.
Ah, negative publicity is the issue, you see, because that affects profitability. Because they take money and are willing too debase themselves for an internet subscriber account. So it’s not that these sites did anything intrinsically bad, it’s that Cloudflare got caught doing business with them and they got “negative publicity.”
I’m really surprised that the SEC Examiner who processed this S-1 allowed all this stuff to just sail right through as they opened the door to the public markets for these soulless technocrats. They used to give you the microbial scrub at the SEC before they let you feed at the public trough, but I guess those days are gone.
And you have to wonder who wasn’t minding the store when Cloudflare’s lawyers passed through the Internet trope of “censorship”. A private company terminating an account of sickos is not censorship. I don’t know how much “judgement” it takes to figure out that maybe you don’t want to be in business with the Daily Stormer or 8Chan. That’s all. There’s no grandiose mystery to it, there’s no “judgement” and there’s definitely no “censorship” (which is what the government does). There’s just making a decision about who you are and who you want to associate yourself with.
This was not lost on Rep. Ted Deutch who recently asked why the Library of Congress was hosted by Cloudflare. Good question. You know, they take money from hombres good and bad.