Why Amazon’s actions matter

I would like to quickly outline why I feel that Amazon’s behavior with regards to Wikileaks is problematic on many levels. When considering these issues, I was left with no other conclusion but to decide to boycott Amazon. I know that that might not be much, but it’s the only real power I have – except for publicizing why I made the decision I made – which I’m doing right here and now. I also hope other individuals and companies will consider not doing business with Amazon in the future.

So what was it that happened? Well, an important precursor to the story is that Amazon hosted/mirrored the Wikileaks Iraqi and Afghani War logs for some time. As far as I know, Amazon never booted Wikileaks during this time period.

After serious DDOS attacks, Wikileaks moved their content to Amazon again on November 29. On December 1st, Amazon drops Wikileaks. Joe Lieberman claims his office has made a call to Amazon before they did this. Lieberman then publicly expressed his view that Wikileaks is breaking the law. At that point other companies started to follow – first Tableau Software; then EveryDNS cancels the wikileaks.org DNS entry. After that, PayPal shuts down the Wikileaks account. PostFinance shuts down a Swiss donation account for Wikileaks. Then MasterCard. Then Visa. All or any of these companies could have made a stand and let legal process run. They didn’t.

So why am I picking on Amazon? Why am I singling them out specifically in this blog post? Because Amazon was the first. They are strong enough to take a stand. At the moment I don’t even care what they think about Wikileaks. The problem is that they could have let a legal process run its course – and when or if a court had decided that Wikileaks have broken a law (and what law-/s they had broken), Amazon could have removed the Wikileaks account. The¬†duplicitous nature of first hosting them for months, but then when they get a call from Liebermans office immediately fold, feels to me like a real problem.

A few days after, Amazon issued a press release pointing to their terms of service as explanation. Most people I’ve spoken to feels that this press release is a complete lie. It doesn’t add up, and even if it does add up, the press release also points to the Wikileaks data as being illegal. Which brings us back to the two questions – why wasn’t the Iraqi war diaries illegal enough to break the terms of service, and when did Amazon become a legal instance qualified to judge what is illegal or not?

Amazon folded first. It doesn’t matter that most companies in the US probably would have behaved the same way. It doesn’t matter that other companies folded after – in fact, that makes it worse. Amazon is a large company, a strong company. They have extreme resources at their disposal. And they decided to not use them. They could have waited for Wikileaks to become illegal before booting them out. They didn’t. How much easier did it become for other companies to make the same decision after Amazon decided to fold? I can’t help but seeing Amazon as partly responsible for the actions of the other companies that folded. Amazon was put to the test and they were found wanting.

I think that the current world events are indicative of where we are headed in the future. Amazon acting on a phone call from Liebermans office starts us down a very slippery slope. Imagine if you will that the US Supreme Court finds that Assange is not guilty of espionage and that Wikileaks is protected by the first amendment. At that point, Amazon’s actions in retrospect means they booted out a legal site with no due process. That precedent is very dangerous. And it isn’t restricted to organizations like Wikileaks. The next site that gets kicked off could by your next startup. Your safeties and guarantees from Amazon just went rapidly down. If we are to build systems on top of Amazon, we must know that Amazon will be stable enough ground for us to build on. And presumably Amazon wants this too. But these actions have sent a very clear message about what can happen if you are a bit unlucky or end up with the wrong enemies: no due process.

Webcast – The end of the Free Internet

Last ¬†wednesday, Rebecca Parsons – the CTO of ThoughtWorks, Tim Bray and Marc Rotenberg were part of a panel moderated by Paul Jay of The Real News. The subject was the future of the Internet, and what the last few weeks events tell us about what could possibly happen in the future. It’s a good panel. You can see it here.

Keith Dodds at Wikileaks Rally in Australia

I’m very proud to have a colleague like Keith Dodds. In a rally in Sydney last week he made some very good points in this speech:



This blog is something I specifically set up because I have decided to blog about some of the issues concerning the last few weeks events surrounding Wikileaks. I came to the conclusion that this would be far enough from my regular technical blog content, and thus I probably shouldn’t force it on all my readers – especially since my opinions on this might come of as strong to some of you. So this way you don’t have to unsubscribe to my regular blog.

What will I cover? I will start out with some of the issues surrounding Wikileaks, but I might well diverge into other areas of Internet freedom, privacy, democracy and other things. I make no promises on exactly what this blog will contain.

I feel strongly that the behavior of technology companies such as Amazon, PayPal and EveryDNS have acted in a disgraceful way. I also feel that the way the US government has applied pressure to anyone helping out Wikileaks without having any legal ground for doing so is something we as technologists really need to speak up about. We are risking a future where the Internet will be as closed in the US as it is in China. We are risking a future where innovation will be stifled by regulations and fear of government involvement. I don’t want to live in a future like that, and it is our responsibility to speak up when democracy is threatened.