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Amazon is 'judge and jury' over speech after Parler ban: CloudSigma CEO

Alexis Keenan
·5 min read

Amazon (AMZN) was hit with a lawsuit Monday from conservative social media app Parler over its decision to block the startup from Amazon Web Services (AWS) — and at least one AWS competitor would make no moral judgement about hosting Parler’s content on its servers.

Amazon’s policy, and the policies of other tech giants that blocked Parler after millions of President Donald Trump’s supporters flocked to the startup, stand in contrast to those adopted by that competitor, Zurich-based CloudSigma, according to its CEO, Robert Jenkins.

“I don't like the idea ... of the company creating its own kind of taste beliefs, and deciding what is acceptable what's not acceptable,” Jenkins said. “You end up kind of putting yourself in this position where you're trying to be judge and jury on something, as a hosting provider.”

According to Parler’s suit, AWS effectively shuttered Parler’s online platforms Sunday by suspending its account from the only servers carrying its content. With less than 30 hours notice, Parler said, Amazon took its microblogging platform offline, breaching its service contract, interfering with contracts between Parler and its users, and breaking antitrust law.

“AWS’s decision to effectively terminate Parler’s account is apparently motivated by political animus,” the complaint, filed in federal district court in Seattle, states. “It is also apparently designed to reduce competition in the microblogging services market to the benefit of Twitter.”

UKRAINE - 2021/01/10: In this photo illustration the Parler logo seen in front of a silhouette hand holding a smartphone. Google, Apple and Amazon have suspended the social networking app Parler. Parler became unavailable in App Store, Google Play and Amazon Web Services, reportedly as said insufficient control over user posts that encouraged violence, reportedly by media. (Photo Illustration by Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
In this photo illustration the Parler logo seen in front of a silhouette hand holding a smartphone. (Photo Illustration by Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Parler’s CEO John Matze told Fox News that immediately migrating the platform’s data to another vendor would be “basically impossible, especially considering the increasing difficulty of finding another hosting company that would do business with it after Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG, (GOOGL) dropped Parler from their respective app stores. The tech giants cut ties with Parler over its ties to a violent siege on Capitol Hill carried out to contest the presidential election results.

Despite its popularity, Matze said it had already been turned down by several companies with the capability to serve as alternative hosts.

“Technically finding a solution is one thing; politically is something else,” says Jenkins, whose company competes with AWS in hosting and vertical infrastructure markets, in countries including the U.S., U.K., Switzerland, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and the Philippines.

For its part, Jenkins said, CloudSigma doesn’t judge what’s “acceptable” for the platform, and instead basis its services on whether or not, within the jurisdiction the company operates, its content violates the law. “We have our own personal opinions, like anybody, but we're not going to impose that on the user base,” he said, adding that the company relies on law enforcement to prosecute a user’s illegal behavior. “So, our approach is very clear, and for me it’s the only defensible position, because you basically are relying on the local cultural norms — what's acceptable in law.”

This illustration picture shows the social media website from Parler displayed on a computer screen in Arlington, Virginia on July 2, 2020. - Amid rising turmoil in social media, recently formed social network Parler is gaining with prominent political conservatives who claim their voices are being silenced by Silicon Valley giants. Parler, founded in Nevada in 2018, bills itself as an alternative to "ideological suppression" at other social networks. (Photo by Olivier DOULIERY / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)
This illustration picture shows the social media website from Parler displayed on a computer screen in Arlington, Virginia on July 2, 2020. (Photo by Olivier DOULIERY / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)

In a statement sent to Yahoo Finance, an Amazon spokesperson said the suit lacked merit, and that AWS serves customers across the political spectrum. “However, it is clear that there is significant content on Parler that encourages and incites violence against others,” the spokesperson said, “and that Parler is unable or unwilling to promptly identify and remove this content, which is a violation of our terms of service.”

Parler "does not condone or accept violence on our platform,” Matze said in a statement cited by Politico. In its lawsuit, the company criticized AWS for imposing a double standard by continuing to host Twitter’s platform despite user content calling to “Hang Mike Pence.”

Jenkins said he’s surprised that Parler didn’t build its platform across multiple cloud service providers to prevent either technical or deliberate shutdowns by AWS. Given the controversial nature of the platform, another solution could be for Parler to buy its own servers, according to Jenkins.

Several experts told Yahoo Finance this week that Parler’s antitrust claim is likely to fail, though Amazon faces continued antitrust scrutiny from U.S. regulators over its online marketplace as well as its cloud services business. The merit of Parler’s breach of contract claims will depend on the contents of the agreements reached between the two companies.

“In these well functioning societies that we're operating in, it's not for us to decide the rules. That's being provided by the legal framework, and by the government, and people voting,” Jenkins said. “And you know, if they don't like something they can vote to make that illegal. Curtail free speech and we’ll enforce it.”

Yahoo Finance requested comment from Parler’s legal counsel and will update this story if it receives a response.

Alexis Keenan is a legal reporter for Yahoo Finance and former litigation attorney.

Follow Alexis Keenan on Twitter @alexiskweed.

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