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GoDaddy takes down site that blew the whistle against offenders of Texas abortion law

The web hosting company took the decision after facing massive backlash on social media.

On September 3, Twitter was flooded with complaints that prolifewhistleblower.com, a website that collects anonymous tips about people violating the Texas abortion law, did not comply with GoDaddy’s terms of service. Acting quickly, GoDaddy blocked access to the website and gave the domain owners a 24-hour notice period to register under a different provider, according to an NPR report

Prolifewhistleblower.com was launched by anti-abortion organisation Texas Right To Life, soon after the Texas Heartbeat Act came into effect this month. The new legislation makes it illegal for anyone to help a woman get an abortion after 6 weeks of pregnancy. The website had a form through which users could anonymously submit information about people violating the law. 

GoDaddy’s decision to withdraw support for the site contributes to a larger trend of web hosting providers and cloud services foraying into content moderation and removal. A few days ago, news reports revealed that Amazon Web Services (AWS) is considering a more proactive approach to determine what types of content belong on its servers. Such hosting and domain providers have managed to evade attention in the past, but are now entering the spotlight as stewards of the internet.  

What do GoDaddy’s Terms of Service say?

In collecting personal data without consent through the anonymous form, prolifewhistleblower.com violated GoDaddy’s terms of service, which state:

You will not collect or harvest (or permit anyone else to collect or harvest) any User Content (as defined below) or any non-public or personally identifiable information about another User or any other person or entity without their express prior written consent. — Clause 5.2, GoDaddy Terms of Service 

Texas Right To Life remained undeterred by GoDaddy’s decision to block the site. “It will be back up soon to continue collecting anonymous tips,” the group’s spokesperson Kimberlyn Schwartz told The Washington Post. The group is currently exploring its options, including seeking another company to register the site’s domain.

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MediaNama has reached out to GoDaddy for comment and will update the story when we receive a response.

AWS considers proactive approach in taking down sites

A Reuters report revealed that Amazon has decided to expand the Trust and Safety team at AWS. The company aims to “get ahead of future threats, such as emerging extremist groups whose content could make it onto the AWS cloud,” a source familiar with the matter told Reuters. However, an AWS spokesperson later denied the development.

According to research firm Gartner, Amazon has a 40% market share in cloud services. This means that even a slight change in approach or policies at AWS could significantly impact the internet at large. 

You can read MediaNama’s detailed report about the change in Amazon’s approach here

Which sites have been taken down in the past?

In the past, hosting providers have decided to take down apps and websites that violate their terms of service. Here are a few notable instances:

Nida-e-Haqq: AWS recently took down the propaganda website of the Islamic State, which was hosted on its servers, after it celebrated the suicide bombing that killed at least 170 people in Kabul, The Washington Post reported

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Sulli Deals: The Sulli Deals app, which illicitly uploaded pictures and Twitter handles of multiple women from the Muslim community, was built on GitHub. After a social-media backlash, the Microsoft-owned coding platform decided to take it down.  

Pegasus: AWS shut down infrastructure and accounts linked to the NSO Group, following investigative reports alleging that their spyware Pegasus was used to facilitate illegal surveillance practices by governments across the world.

Parler: After the attack on the US Capitol building this year, AWS, Apple, and Google decided to remove the social media app Parler from their platforms, alleging that the social media site hosted calls for violence. 

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