Published: Sunday, Aug 9, 2015 Last modified: Friday, May 12, 2023
[[!meta title=“Side effect of centralisation WRT censorship”]]
UPDATE 2016-01-28: Unsurprisingly Sarawak Report moved to Medium and the Malaysian government proceeded to block medium.com hilariously. If only Sarawak Report moved to http://s3.amazonaws.com … lol
I’m no fan of massively centralised services such as Google’s Youtube, Facebook, Twitter and Reddit, since I feel there is too much power in one place.
Then it occurred to me that if content is hosted on any of these services (e.g. Amos Yee’s infamous Youtube channel in Singapore), then it becomes bureaucratic for government to remove the content.
Consider the http://www.sarawakreport.org/ which is banned in Malaysia. Since Internet in Malaysia is largely controlled by the Government, they just need to block the domain www.sarawakreport.org. To block further domain variations and IPs is quick and easy.
However if the Sarawak report’s content was hosted upon Facebook, then Malaysian network administrators cannot censor it. Blocking a URL path of Facebook page is not easy and impossible over HTTPS. Of course the Malaysian government can make a request to Facebook, though that request is logged, like:
As you can see, there isn’t much transparency. We don’t know any details like who, what, when. Can we assume the information was available for days or months before it was taken down?
I wonder can we assume content disagreeable to governments hosted a centralised service can maybe be a little resilient to removal requests?
When you host on your own… you are at a distinct disadvantage
You could rely on your visitors accessing your site via a VPN or Tor, but both those options exclude anyone not computer savvy.
New domains and IPs as mentioned before are easy to block and trace for that matter… and worse… hard to find or discover! (Nevermind cost of getting IP and domain registration.)
What’s opposite to
When you host your own Website:
rel=canonical is the way to tell Google do
not index me..
mirror.dissentdaily.com/ (a copy of some content), index
www.dissentdaily.com/ (authoritative)! But what happens if
www.dissentdaily.com/ is blocked?
I have never known Google to properly index a mirrored site. In the case of The Pirate Bay, sites pointing to mirrors are indexed, but as mentioned earlier blocking domain variations and IPs is quick and easy if you control a state network, like a state power. Furthermore Google might be indexing sites that would be blocked and give a bad user experience… how would it know?
Mix in centralisation again… the cloud !
I was thinking that creating a S3 bucket is fast and easy to do for a content
publisher. For example creating
https://s3-ap-southeast-1.amazonaws.com/dissentdaily would take just moments
to do and is hard to block. Notice how the content is on the
path on SSL? That’s practically impossible to block without breaking a lot of
sites dependent on Amazon’s S3!
Update: Found an re-assuring blog on Amazon’s stance to privacy and security, however their version of the transparency report is a bit lacking!
So what’s missing for Dissent Daily on
There is still a discoverability problem on Google and hence a problem for users seeking that banned content. If Google could redirect to a mirror of a Website in case the authoritative one failed.. that would be useful for dissenters of a particular country. Unfortunately it doesn’t do that. And obviously if it did that, it might be breaking local law.
For my fictional example: DissentDaily.com now on https://s3-ap-southeast-1.amazonaws.com/dissentdaily`. Is it statically built? Is it using relative URL path structure? Controversial publishers might want to address that.
Enough food for thought for now. Do let me know if I’ve missed anything.