Around 3 p.m. Eastern time on April 17, Switter, a social networking space for sex workers, was disconnected. His disappearance, although temporary, indicated the loss driven by FOSTA of another refuge for sex workers, this time in the form of a Cloudflare content distribution network. According to Assembly Four of the founder of Switter, the company received an email from the legal department of Cloudflare indicating that it would terminate its service due to violations of the terms of service.
Historically, Cloudflare has been careful with what it prohibits from its platform. Its most important prohibition was the notorious neo-Nazi site Daily Stormer; At that time, Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince told The Verge that "this was my decision, I do not think it is the Cloudflare policy and I think it is an extremely dangerous decision in many ways." Allowing states and victims to fight online The Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), however, companies act conservatively to avoid potential litigation. "We are big fans of helping build a better Internet," Cloudflare's attorney general, Doug Kramer, told The Verge. "That's what we do, we try to make it safe, we try to make it work well, but we also have an obligation to comply with the law."
FOSTA, signed by President Trump on April 11, aims to fight against sex trafficking by reducing legal protections for online platforms. The merging of consensual sex work with sex trafficking, as well as the threat of litigation for websites, has already led to an offensive against Google Drive, social networks and more. FOSTA is, simply, "a bad law," says Kramer, who is spreading great uncertainty. "We are trying to find out how the application of the law is going to apply it," Kramer says. "We are trying to discover what our clients will do and operate within that space."
FOSTA is, simply, "a bad law"
Assembly Four created Switter on Mastodon recently as a safe place for sex workers to come together as their spaces have been disappearing from the Internet. According to Mastodon Network Monitoring, Switter is currently the fifth largest instance with more than 48,000 users. Lola Hunt, an Australian escort who works with Assembly Four, told The Verge by email that the elimination of Cloudflare will increase her costs. "We were working on a plan to get out of Cloudflare just in case, but we did not expect it to happen so soon and without notice, especially given Cloudflare's previous views on freedom of expression and privacy," says Hunt. "We are concerned that we are not the only victim in the fight for the rights of sex workers to have an online presence, without mentioning any other community that the US government considers inappropriate."
Kramer says that Cloudflare fought FOSTA through its legislative process and the company believes there is still work to be done to amend that law. "The law does not answer fundamental questions about who it should cover, and whether it should cover deep infrastructure companies like Cloudflare," he says. "There is a lot of uncertainty about the way in which the law is drafted, so it will take some time to determine how the law is applied and how people react to the law for clarification.
"Do not get confused, this is a real threat"
"Meanwhile we are making sure that we are doing the best we can to comply with the law, which we are obliged to do, but also to make sure that the Internet works as well as it has throughout history." But make no mistake, this is a real threat to the Internet's ability to continue to function in the way it has throughout history. "
It is worth noting that in a publication last year after the Daily Stormer ban, Prince wrote that "without a clear framework as a guide for content regulation, a small number of companies will largely determine what can and can not be online". According to Prince, "It is possible that if you are going to put content on the Internet you will need to use a company with a giant network such as Cloudflare, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon or Alibaba."
Kramer says when and if FOSTA is clarified, it is possible that Cloudflare can update its current approach, including the reversal of the Switter ban. For now, Switter has moved to another CDN provider, although Assembly Four has refused to share details with the interest of not having to move again. "Switter, for many people, has become their main point of contact for communication between them and other workers, as well as between them and their customers," explains Hunt to The Verge. "Especially after the close of [Backpage] we saw an increase in member registrations, a lot of people are looking for a platform that does not start them for their livelihood."