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Amazon Web Services to keep eye out for bad actors months after Pegasus link emerged

The decision by AWS to proactively take down sites violating its terms of service could have a significant impact on the internet.

Amazon Web Services is bolstering efforts to take down websites that are hosted on its infrastructure, Reuters reported on September 2. This essentially means that the company will pull down websites that have hate speech on them. There have been a couple major instances of Amazon doing this in the recent past: the right wing social media website Parler was taken offline from Amazon infrastructure following the storming of the US Capitol; after that, they took down infrastructure tied to the NSO Group, the Israeli company behind the Pegasus spyware more recently. AWS also took down an ISIS propaganda website that had been hosted on its servers for over four months last year.

An Amazon Web Services spokesperson gave MediaNama the following statement:

AWS Trust & Safety works to protect AWS customers, partners, and internet users from bad actors attempting to use our services for abusive or illegal purposes. When AWS Trust & Safety is made aware of abusive or illegal behavior on AWS services, they act quickly to investigate and engage with customers to take appropriate actions. AWS Trust & Safety does not pre-review content hosted by our customers. As AWS continues to expand, we expect this team to continue to grow.

Interestingly, an AWS spokesperson claimed the next day that Reuters’ reporting was wrong* and said, “AWS Trust & Safety has no plans to change its policies or processes, and the team has always existed.” The news agency responded that it stood by its reporting.

Amazon Web Services is arguably the largest content delivery network in the world, hosting a major chunk of the internet. Amazon’s own shopping website and ancillary services like Prime Video and Prime Music are but a speck of what AWS hosts  Any decision to ramp up oversight of the content it hosts could have significant ramifications for freedom of expression online. There may also be an impact closer to home — social network Koo, which enjoys government support, appears to be hosted on AWS, and there are multiple reports of hate speech flourishing on the platform. Would, for instance, AWS take down Koo if its content moderation can’t catch up with such content? That’s just one thorny question that emerges from this development.

AWS’s plans

According to the report, Amazon plans on hiring a “small group of people” to work with researchers to “monitor for future threats.” The report refers to a job posting for a manager in the AWS Trust & Safety team, who would be charged with helping the company “detect abuse proactively by analysing a variety of data and signals, and mitigate the abuse through fit-for-purpose solutions”. (The posting has since been taken down and is only available on websites which had reposted it.)

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AWS revises terms: MediaNama reviewed Amazon Web Services terms, which were, interestingly enough, revised on September 2, when the Reuters report came out. The last changes to the terms and conditions were in March 2020. The company added a repeat offenders clause: its terms already prohibit hosting (and not acting against) terrorist content, child sexual abuse material, and hate speech. In the September 2 update, though, Amazon added this line to the prohibition: “We terminate the accounts of repeat infringers in appropriate circumstances.” The other changes to the terms include provisions for new services, data protection details, and tweaking of language for certain provisions.

*Update, September 4: This post was updated with a statement by an AWS spokesperson on Reuters’ report.

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I cover the digital content ecosystem and telecom for MediaNama.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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