Cloud

Why passage of SESTA/FOSTA is leading some cloud providers to terminate users

Facing regulatory interference, consumer cloud service providers are dumping users with little notice.

Building a slide deck, pitch, or presentation? Here are the big takeaways:
  • Craigslist and Google are cracking down on uses of their services that may potentially run afoul of the bill recently passed in the Senate.
  • SESTA/FOSTA has not been signed into law yet, making these measures preemptive.

One of the disadvantages of cloud computing—particularly with user-facing services, less so with infrastructure services like AWS—is the ease with which users of these services can be dumped. Depending on the service, there may be little to no recourse or means of appeal. While some account terminations are certainly justified, ones that are not can cause significant headaches for users when services do not work as expected or when they lose access to data.

This is what happened to the non-profit crowdfunding website Liberapay, which operated a small blog with "a handful of posts" detailing the operations of the website since it launched in May 2016. According to Liberapay, Medium had suspended the account and blocked access to already-published stories "with only 12 hours notice." Liberapay claims that Medium blocked access due to writing about cryptocurrencies, though they claim that no post they made is about cryptocurrency at all.

Fortunately, even under suspension, Liberapay was still able to access their Medium account in order to export the posts. In an email to TechRepublic, the cofounder of Liberapay noted that the account "looked perfectly normal, there wasn't even a message about it being suspended." Liberapay had appealed the suspension to Medium support, and the blog was reinstated after six hours.

TechRepublic reached out to Medium about the issue, but did not receive a response by press time.

SEE: The secret to being a great spy agency in the 21st century: Incubating startups (TechRepublic)

Additionally, certain activities and categories are becoming prohibited entirely on certain websites following the recent passage of the controversial SESTA/FOSTA bill, which was intended to curb sex trafficking, but has led to unintended consequences. SESTA/FOSTA amends Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, otherwise referred to as "safe harbor," which provides immunity from liability for operators of services that publish user-generated content, which includes anything from cloud-based file storage services, to bulletin boards or social media websites.

The SESTA/FOSTA bill excludes the enforcement of federal or state laws against sex trafficking from the immunity granted to service operators in Section 230. The SAVE Act of 2014 already made it illegal to knowingly benefit financially from, or distribute advertising that offers a commercial sex act in violation of existing laws. While the intent behind SESTA/FOSTA is noble, it has been criticized by the Electronic Frontier Foundation as being too overly broad, as "it could even be used against platform owners that don't know that their sites are being used for trafficking." Freedom Network USA, which advocates for victims of sex trafficking, noted that the changes would make it more challenging to identify and locate victims of sex trafficking.

Seemingly as a result of this, Google has been scanning and removing videos shared on Google Drive by sex workers who use the platform to share videos, according to a report in Motherboard. When contacted by Motherboard about the issue, a Google spokesperson pointed to the policy page for Google Drive, which does explicitly prohibit this use case. However, Google appears to have accelerated enforcement, as a spate of bans have been issued to users who had shared such content for years on the platform.

Craigslist has removed the personals section in the United States entirely, citing FOSTA as the reason, noting in a statement that: "Any tool or service can be misused. We can't take such risk without jeopardizing all our other services, so we are regretfully taking craigslist personals offline. Hopefully we can bring them back some day." Craigslist does not charge users to post personal ads, which would exempt it from the SAVE Act.

The SESTA/FOSTA bill has not yet been signed by US President Donald Trump, making these measures—if related—ultimately preemptive. The Justice Department issued a caution against passage, highlighting problems with a bill that would allow for prosecution of acts before the bill is enacted—in effect, ex post facto—as being in violation of the constitution.

What's your view?

Does your organization operate a website that accepts user-generated content? Have you taken any steps to mitigate new liabilities brought forward in SESTA/FOSTA? Share your concerns in the comments.

Also see

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Image: iStockphoto/fizkes

About James Sanders

James Sanders is a Writer for TechRepublic. Since 2013, he has been a regular contributor to TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research.

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