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Cloudflare and Apple Deal Fresh Blows to Neo-Nazi Sites

Aug 17, 2017

Neo-Nazi and white supremacist websites have taken two more knocks, after Cloudflare stopped protecting The Daily Stormer, and Apple pulled Apple Pay support for sites selling far-right merchandise.

The moves came in the wake of the weekend's violent far-right march in Charlottesville, Va., and the furore over President Donald Trump's failure to outright condemn the marchers.

The Daily Stormer is a notorious neo-Nazi website that drew heavy criticism after the weekend's events, which claimed the life of counter-protester Heather Heyer. GoDaddy and Google revoked the site's domain registration on the basis that it incited violence, so it moved to a Russian domain in order to stay online.

Cloudflare is one of the world's pre-eminent providers of protection against distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, which knock down websites by overwhelming their servers. It does so by re-routing attempts to access its customers' sites through its own networks. It also offers content delivery services that help speed up access to websites. Cloudflare claims that a tenth of all web requests go through its network—and The Daily Stormer was one of its many customers.

Many people had criticized Cloudflare for continuing to protect the site, but it remained silent on the subject until Wednesday, when it pulled the plug.

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According to a lengthy blog post written by Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince, a strong free-speech advocate, "the tipping point for us making this decision was that the team behind Daily Stormer made the claim that we were secretly supporters of their ideology." This, he said, meant staying neutral was no longer an option.

However, Prince indicated that the decision to dump The Daily Stormer had not come easily, largely because the removal of protections pretty much guaranteed the site would be knocked offline. And indeed, that's what happened shortly after Cloudflare walked away.

"You, like me, may believe that the Daily Stormer's site is vile. You may believe it should be restricted. You may think the authors of the site should be prosecuted. Reasonable people can and do believe all those things. But having the mechanism of content control be vigilante hackers launching DDoS attacks subverts any rational concept of justice," Prince wrote.

"After today, make no mistake, it will be a little bit harder for us to argue against a government somewhere pressuring us into taking down a site they don't like."

Meanwhile, Apple has joined PayPal in making it harder for white supremacists to take payments. After PayPal banned or limited the account of far-right activist Richard Spencer, Apple reportedly disabled Apple Pay support for websites selling neo-Nazi paraphernalia.

According to Buzzfeed, Apple blocked three white supremacist websites from using its payment services, which they used to sell clothing with Nazi and White Pride logos and slogans, as well as a bumper sticker "showing a car plowing into stick figure demonstrators"—a likely reference to the way in which Heyer was killed.

Apple CEO Tim Cook criticized Trump for his lukewarm condemnation of the marchers, and asked employees to join the company in donating to the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League.

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