Cloudflare CEO questions his decision to terminate neo-Nazi website

A little known tech company is at the center of a debate over power on the internet.

Cloudflare, a security firm that provides protection from cyberattacks and helps websites perform faster, removed a neo-Nazi website, The Daily Stormer, from its network last week. The move left the website vulnerable to hackers by taking away its security protection.

But Matthew Prince, cofounder and CEO of Cloudflare, is now questioning whether that decision was the right one.

In an interview with CNN’s Paula Newton on “Quest Means Business” Thursday, Prince said the removal sparked a necessary conversation about censorship online.

“You win a lot of points for firing Nazis from using your service,” Prince said. “But it sets a dangerous precedent when a company that most of your viewers have never heard of is effectively deciding what can and cannot be on the internet.”

Ten percent of all internet requests pass through Cloudflare’s network, but unlike Facebook or Google products you see all the time, Cloudflare is part of the internet’s infrastructure. It’s invisible but important.

Prince acknowledged that the internet community might not be comfortable with the notion that an obscure company has the power to censor what’s online.

Offensive and harmful internet content is by no means new, but tech companies are only just starting to confront the role they’ve played helping to distribute and support that content. Twitter, for example, plays whack-a-mole with some harassers and keeps other offensive tweets online.

The Daily Stormer site was also dumped by web-hosting services GoDaddy and Google after it published a derogatory story about Heather Heyer, who was killed while protesting against a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12.

Following the violence in Charlottesville, many tech companies cracked down on hate groups.

Facebook removed a number of white supremacist groups; PayPal blocked payments to white supremacist accounts; GoFundMe banned crowdfunding campaigns for the driver who killed Heyer; Apple reportedly blocked payments to websites selling Nazi-themed goods; and Airbnb kicked off users who were associated with the Charlottesville rally.

The Daily Stormer moved its content to a dark web website last week that’s only accessible through Tor software.

The decision to drop The Daily Stormer is controversial — and one Prince didn’t take lightly. His interview with CNN’s Newton is the latest in a string of public comments he’s made about whether he did the right thing.

Earlier this week he wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, echoing the concerns he first outlined in a blog post.

“When standing up to government requests or angry Twitter demands to silence unpopular speech, it was powerful to be able to say we’d never terminated a customer due to political pressure,” he wrote in the WSJ. “I’m not sure we can say that anymore.”

According to the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation, censoring neo-Nazi content is a “dangerous moment” for the internet and expression online.

“People cheering for companies who have censored content in recent weeks may soon find the same tactic used against causes they love,” executive director Cindy Cohn wrote this week. “We must be careful about what we are asking these companies to do and carefully review the processes they use to do it.”

The organization has worked on a number of cases where big corporations and government officials have asked companies to remove content they didn’t like, effectively silencing artists, activists, and others. Some people now applauding the censorship may one day be censored, Cohn said.

Prince told CNN there should be a public debate involving companies, government, and users about who is responsible for making censorship decisions.

He asked: Is it companies like a website’s host? The platform it uses? Or the content creators themselves?

Follow this story

Fired high school teacher accused of having sex with students says 1 wanted revenge

Local 10 News has obtained video of a hearing last year of a fired South Florida English teacher who is accused of having sex with his students.

The former Miami Palmetto Senior High School teacher was arrested in February 2016 and charged with sex crimes involving several of his former students.

“I was terminated without anyone ever hearing to this day my side of the story,” Jason Meyers said during the hearing. 

Meyers claimed that the Miami-Dade County Public School District fired him without cause.

“You’ve been accused of inappropriately kissing, grabbing the butt and the breasts of another girl,” a mediator said. 

“No. Absolutely not,” Meyers said. 

A high school senior came forward to school police and claimed that she and Meyers had sex at least twice.

She said she’d fallen for his intimate advances.

Detective Steven Webb said she even described her teacher’s privates.

“She alleged that both her (sic) and Mr. Meyers engaged in cunnilingus and fellatio behavior inside the classroom at the school, behind the teacher’s desk,” Webb said.

Meyers claimed that the student spun a story for revenge after he had rescinded her college recommendation and she lost a scholarship.

“The student was failing the class, skipping school and was caught cheating,” he said.

Since Meyers was arrested, at least four other young women have come forward with similar stories.

One has filed suit against the Miami-Dade County Public School District, claiming its leaders were notified about Meyers behavior a decade ago, but allowed him to keep teaching.

Follow this story

At least 16 Americans suffered hearing loss in Cuba, US government says

The United States says at least 16 American diplomats working for the U.S. government in Cuba suffered severe hearing loss as a result of activity attributed to a covert sonic device. 

This is the first time the U.S. has disclosed a number of Americans were affected. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said it’s possible there are more. But she said all of the 16 are U.S. citizens.

They’ve been treated by doctors either in Cuba or the U.S.

Nauert said the incidents are no longer occurring. But she said the U.S. hasn’t located a device that caused the symptoms and hasn’t identified the perpetrator.

Some of the 16 are still in Cuba and others have returned to the U.S. Nauert said Cuba is cooperating with the U.S. investigation.

Follow this story

Paul Ryan: The debt ceiling increase ‘will get done’

House Speaker Paul Ryan brushed off the President’s tweets Thursday that criticized him and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for not getting a debt ceiling bill passed yet.

“I didn’t really take it as going after me,” Ryan said in an interview with CNBC.

President Donald Trump tweeted that he told the two congressional leaders to link the debt ceiling increase — which faces a deadline at the end of September — to a Veterans Affairs bill that recently passed with wide support.

“They didn’t do it so now we have a big deal with Dems holding them up (as usual) on Debt Ceiling approval. Could have been so easy-now a mess!” Trump tweeted.

Ryan confirmed that tying the two bills together was “an option” that they were considering.

“But the VA deadline came up and we weren’t able to do that then,” he said.

A Senate GOP leadership aide told CNN earlier Thursday that members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus rejected the idea because they didn’t want to have to vote against the popular veterans affairs bill. Members of the caucus and other “debt ceiling purists” won’t support an increase unless it includes other provisions to curb government debt, like spending cuts. They “hated” the idea, the aide said.

Still, Ryan has maintained that he’s not concerned about the debt ceiling, a must-pass move in order for the government to avoid defaulting on loans. Earlier, after taking a tour of Boeing in Washington state, Ryan told a group of employees in a question-and-answer session that Congress will pass a bill before the country hits the debt ceiling.

“There are many different options in front of us on how to achieve that,” he said. “We’ll do that because this is about paying the bills we already racked up, making sure we pay our debts. We pay our debts in this country, we will continue to do so. So I’m not worried that that’s not going to get done, because that’s going to get done.”

Congress will face a busy month in September when it comes back from recess. Along with the debt ceiling, lawmakers must pass a budget or short-term resolution and find a solution to fund the State Children’s Health Insurance Program by September 30. Also big on the legislative docket this fall is tax reform.

Follow this story

Massive asteroid passing Earth to be visible with binoculars

As if Monday’s eclipse wasn’t enough, the universe is being kind enough to entertain us with another celestial event that could have actually been a lot more disastrous.

Asteroid Florence, measuring 2.7 miles, will fly so close to our planet on Sept. 1 at 8:06 a.m., we’ll be able to see it through binoculars.

The Palm Beach Post reports Florence will still be 4.4 million miles away when it zips by, but still close enough to possibly see.

Those looking to get a glimpse of the asteroid should look about 19 degrees above the southern horizon 

Florence should be “fairly bright” and trackable for about 5 to 10 minutes as it makes its closest approach to the planet since 1890.

By the way, when we say “zips,” we mean it. Florence will be traveling at a smooth 30,266 miles per hour.


Follow this story

Fired employee fatally shoots chef at Charleston restaurant, owner says

A man who fatally shot an employee Thursday at a restaurant in South Carolina has been shot and wounded by police, the mayor of Charleston told reporters. 

The owner of the restaurant where the gunman was holding hostages Thursday said he was told the man is a former dishwasher who was angry with and shot a male chef.

John Aquino told WCSC-TV that he thinks the gunman was fired and came back to Virginia’s in downtown Charleston on Thursday to get revenge.

Tom and Patsy Plant told The Post and Courier of Charleston they were eating at Virginia’s restaurant and saw a man come out of the kitchen with a gun in his hand who said, “There’s a new boss in town.”

The man looked like “an ordinary grandpa, but he had a crazy look,” the couple said. They were able to escape out a back door.

Charleston Police spokesman Charles Francis said officers were able to get the injured man out of the restaurant after the lunchtime shooting. Francis did not give any details of the man’s condition.

Francis said the shooter is holding a small number of hostages, but he has declined to give an exact number.

Witnesses said the man let diners, waitresses and some kitchen staff out of the restaurant.

Authorities said a hostage negotiation team tried to talk to the gunman. The gunman was eventually shot by police. 

Charleston police warned people nearby to stay inside buildings or leave during the hostage situation. 

The site is a few blocks away from Emanuel AME church, where nine black members of a church were killed by a white man during a June 2015 Bible study. Dylann Roof was sentenced to death in the case.

Follow this story