Matthew Prince, the CEO of internet security company CloudFlare, issued an interesting statement this weekend after an article published last week called his company out on how it handles complaints.
People who submitted complaints to CloudFlare about the various websites it protects were getting harassed and threatened, the article by Ken Schwencke in ProPublica documented.
CloudFlare is a company that helps websites serve up content faster while protecting their sites from hackers. It doesn’t host websites themselves.
At issue was CloudFlare’s policy on handling complaints of abuse, which range from copyright disputes, to alerts of illegal content like sexual child abuse, to complaints of harassment by alleged hate-speech sites.
For instance, one person complained after a site asked its readers to harass Twitter users after the election, Schwencke reported. That person was surprised to discover that her contact information wound up in the hands of that alleged hate site.
People who complained about such alleged hate sites would often be subjected to harassment, online abuse, even threats, Schwencke reported.
As you might imagine, some of these sites made no bones that they would go after people who opposed them, one even writing publicly that it would “take revenge,” Schwencke reported.
Prince confirmed that the cases mentioned in the ProPublica article were legitimate, and he explained in his post that it’s his company’s policy not to get involved in disputes, but to merely pass complaints along so the parties can work it out themselves.
He said that as of 2015, CloudFlare warned people with disclaimers, telling them it would be sending their complaints to the site they were complaining about.
He then suggested that if they didn’t want their contact information to be shared, they should have known to use a “fake” one (emphasis ours):
“In a world without Cloudflare, if you wanted to anonymously report something, you would use a disposable email and a fake name and submit a report to the site’s hosting provider or the site itself. We didn’t do anything to check that the contact information used in reports was valid so we assumed, with the disclaimer in place, if people wanted to submit reports anonymously they’d do the same thing as they would have if Cloudflare didn’t exist.”
While Prince never apologised for CloudFlare’s policies, he did say that the company has decided to change them. It will now allow people submitting claims of abuse to tell CloudFlare if they do not want their contact information shared.
For its part, CloudFlare says it will continue to take on alleged hate sites as customers, explaining that it is more concerned with defending the internet against censorship than it is about defending the world against people with hateful opinions.
Prince says that if a “revolting” organisation becomes a CloudFlare customer, he donates the money it spends on an organisation that “opposes them,” writing:
“From time to time an organisation will sign up for Cloudflare that we find revolting because they stand for something that is the opposite of what we think is right. Usually, those organisations don’t pay us. Every once in a while one of them does. When that happens it’s one of the greatest pleasures of my job to quietly write the check for 100% of what they pay us to an organisation that opposes them. The best way to fight hateful speech is with more speech.”
CloudFlare isn’t the only one grappling with this issue. Last year, we reported on a case where a woman on Twitter was trying to report online harassment, and was told by someone at Twitter to use the copyright complaint form, which also led to her contact info winding up in the hands of the people who were harassing her.
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