The upside of big tech is Russia vs Telegram, but the downside is Cloudflare vs SESTA

Yesterday, I wrote about the way that tech-sector concentration was making it nearly impossible for Russia to block the encrypted messaging service Telegram: because Telegram can serve its traffic through giant cloud providers like Amazon, Russia can only block Telegram by blocking everyone else who uses Amazon.

That means that Telegram can shop for the best deal on censorship policies, allowing the US to export its (fragile, contingent) tolerance for secure messaging to the rest of the world.

But what about when the US has the worst policies in the world?

With the passage of SESTA/FOSTA, the US gutted the Communications Decency Act, putting platforms in jeopardy of closure if they allow any communications about sex work, pushing sex workers into much more risky situations and exacerbating the problems of human trafficking.

And since the US is the home of tech, sex workers all over the world lost their safe havens for conducting their professions — America exported its censorship regime to the rest of the world. But can't sex workers venue-shop for a friendlier jurisdiction?

At first glance, it appeared so. An Australian group set up a Mastadon instance called Switter: "A sex work-friendly social space."

But running a service like Switter at scale requires some serious cloud horsepower, and guess where all the big cloud companies are located? The USA, square in the SESTA/FOSTA crosshairs.

Switter contracted with Cloudflare, the most free-speech friendly of all the clouds, to provide the back-end for their service. And Cloudflare took a look at the language of SESTA and concluded that this wasn't a risk they could afford to take — and then kicked Switter off the service.

Now we're back to market concentration. The same factors that make Russia's ban on Telegram impractical make finding a new home for Switter equally impractical. There are only a handful of large cloud providers, they're mostly based in the USA, and if Cloudflare won't touch Switter, it's vanishingly unlikely that anyone else in the US will.

According to Assembly Four, this is the message Cloudflare's legal department sent explaining why it was terminating service to Switter:

Cloudflare has been made aware that your site is in violation of our published Terms of Service. Pursuant to our published policy, Cloudflare will terminate service to your website. Cloudflare will terminate your service for switter{.}at by disabling our authoritative DNS.

Switter moved to a new content delivery network (CDN), which Assembly Four declined to name for security reasons. The last notable time Cloudflare denied its services to a client was when it canceled protection services for white supremacist website The Daily Stormer. Previously, Cloudflare has publicly supported open internet efforts like net neutrality and democratizing protections against DDoS attacks.

Cloudflare Just Banned a Social Media Refuge for Thousands of Sex Workers [Samantha Cole/Motherboard]