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The CEO who pulled the plug on neo-Nazi site says he did it to protect his company

  • Cloudflare was the last U.S. internet provider to pull the plug on the Daily Stormer, an ultra-nationalist website
  • CEO Matthew Prince said he feared not removing it would hurt the company's business
  • Founded in 2009, Cloudflare wants to be ready for an IPO in the first half of next year
Matthew Prince of CloudFlare.
Getty Images
Matthew Prince of CloudFlare.

The CEO who pulled the final plug on the neo-Nazi web site Daily Stormer said he removed it from his company's Internet service to protect his firm's business in the run-up to a potential initial public offering (IPO).

"We were worried that people would say, 'We won't work with you anymore,'" Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince told CNBC.

"We had to have the conversation now because at some point we'll be a public company. We had to prompt that discussion," said Prince, who added "we want to be ready internally by July 2018," for a possible stock offering.

Cloudflare now has more than 500 workers and plans to have at least 600 by the end of 2017, said Prince, who declined to share business details such as revenue or the company's growth rate.

Cloudflare offers services that make companies' web sites faster and more reliable. In the case of Daily Stormer, Cloudflare was providing a service that made it harder for attackers to take it offline with what's known as a denial-of-service attack, where a web site is flooded with fake requests.

Stuck in the cross-hairs

Members of the Charlottesville community hold a vigil for Heather Heyer at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia, August 16, 2017.
Tim Dodson | The Cavalier Daily | REUTERS
Members of the Charlottesville community hold a vigil for Heather Heyer at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia, August 16, 2017.

In mid-August, as Cloudflare was starting its ninth year, Prince became embroiled in the political controversy over President Donald Trump's remarks about a deadly rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The Daily Stormer, which espouses white-supremacist views, then praised Trump for citing violence on "many sides" — rather than singling out those who organized the event — and wrote "we are at now at war." The site also said it would help organize similar far-right rallies across the country.

Those writings came after one protester and two state troopers were killed during the Charlottesville rally, and prompted other internet service providers like Google and GoDaddy to cancel services they provided to the site, making it harder for Internet users to find.

Prince, however, hesitated to do the same.

That's because Cloudflare had a policy, stated on its own website, that it would not terminate a customer or take down content "due to political pressure."

The stance in favor of free speech put the company in the crosshairs of those who said it was being sympathetic to violent, right-wing groups.

"We were stuck. We had this problem, [and] were very alone," Prince told CNBC, as he sat on the rooftop of his company's headquarters in San Francisco during the company's annual Internet Summit in September.

But then comments from others forced the hand of Prince, who co-founded the company with COO Michelle Zatlyn in mid-2009.

First, another CEO "whom I admire," Prince said, tweeted that Cloudlare should boot the Daily Stormer off its services, as its rivals had done.

Prince called up the fellow executive, whom he declined to name, and during the discussion, this person made a "thoughtful, rational argument."

The Daily Stormer then raised the stakes with a claim that Cloudflare's management was supportive of its ultra-nationalist ideology.

Prince, in his blog post announcing the termination of service, called that assertion "the tipping point" in his decision.

The site disappeared from the internet for some time, but is now being hosted in Iceland and is once again accessible.

After canceling the Daily Stormer's service, Cloudflare faced criticism from free speech advocates, who worried it would set a dangerous precedent.

But Prince says he has no regrets.

"I would regret that as a policy, but it was just one instance. I don't regret the decision."