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Cloudflare CEO admits that removing neo-Nazi site because he's in a 'bad mood' is a slippery slope

  • Cloudflare, which provides protection to websites against attacks, removed the Daily Stormer from its service.
  • CEO Matthew Prince said he did it on a personal whim, but admitted companies should not have that power.
  • Cloudflare previously rejected any request to remove alleged hateful or terrorist sites from its protection because it was not against the law.
Matthew Prince, co-founder and chief executive officer of CloudFlare Inc.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Matthew Prince, co-founder and chief executive officer of CloudFlare Inc.

Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince's decision to terminate protection of neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer because he "woke up in a bad mood" could be dangerous to the future of free speech on the internet, he admitted.

"Literally, I woke up in a bad mood and decided someone shouldn't be allowed on the Internet," Prince wrote in an internal memo to employees obtained by Gizmodo and published on Wednesday. "No one should have that power."

Prince further explained his decision to remove the Daily Stormer in an official blog post after the site claimed that Cloudflare held "secret support" for its beliefs. But he reiterated his view that policing content online is a slippery slope.

"You, like me, may believe that the Daily Stormer's site is vile," he wrote. "You may believe it should be restricted. You may think the authors of the site should be prosecuted. Reasonable people can and do believe all those things. But having the mechanism of content control be vigilante hackers launching DDoS attacks subverts any rational concept of justice."

Cloudflare provides DDoS (distributed denial of service) protection, shielding websites from efforts by outside sources to overwhelm them with traffic and knock them offline. The company handles about 10 percent of internet requests, including sites allegedly run by pro-ISIS, Chechen terrorist and white supremacist groups.

"A website is speech. It is not a bomb," Prince previously wrote in a 2013 blog post on why it was protecting any website. "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."

Today, DDoS attacks are easier to coordinate, Prince wrote. However, freedom of speech issues are trumped by due process, meaning the law should decide what is allowed online.

The company has never turned over customer encryption keys, bowed to political pressure to remove a website, worked with law enforcement to store monitoring software, or turned over customer information to the government, Prince said. By removing, the Daily Stormer, it would be "a little bit harder for us to argue against a government somewhere pressuring us into taking down a site they don't like," he admitted.

"I don't know the right answer," he wrote. "But I do know that as we work it out it's critical we be clear, transparent, consistent and respectful of Due Process."