Amazon and Wikileaks – another #amazonfail or not?

There was an outpouring of indignation this week, calls for a boycott of Amazon and the resurrection of the #amazonfail hashtag on Twitter (first seen prominently when Amazon reached into people’s Kindles and remote wiped their copies of 1984) immediately following Amazon’s eviction of Wikileaks from their cloud hosting service.

In short – Wikileaks moved their site onto Amazon’s cloud because their existing hosting provider couldn’t handle the Denial of Service attacks their servers were coming under since Wikileaks began releasing the diplomatic cables it had acquired. That Amazon’s cloud servers are located primarily in the U.S. ought to have given Wikileaks pause for thought.

Amongst the rest of the week’s Wikileaks stories, it certainly looks like Amazon are part of a conspiracy against the site, comprising a US Senator and numerous national governments, as well as the DNS provider for the Wikileaks.org domain – that now having gone offline and Wikileaks resorting to a .ch (Switzerland) version of their domain name. Throw in Wikileaks’ founder being pursued on sexual assault charges by Interpol and it all adds up to an establishment conspiracy.

Yet taken on it’s own the Amazon story goes something like this:

Wikileaks signed up for AWS, accepted the terms of service, put their site onto Amazon’s ‘cloud’ and assumed everything would be fine. With the massive media exposure, Amazon’s admins must have noticed something big (bringing massive DDoS attacks with them sticks out somewhat), and given the content being hosted on Wikileaks, it was a clear violation of the ToS. Specifically the part about having permission to publish the content of anything that you host with them and that content hosted shouldn’t cause anyone to suffer physical harm.

Basically a service provider enforcing the terms of service and protecting themselves (and their other customers) isn’t such big news.

Whatever the knee-jerk reactions we’re seeing on blogs and on social networks, Amazon’s duty primarily is to their existing customers (on their cloud platform) and to their shareholders. Making a stand for ‘free speech’ by continuing to host Wikileaks would not serve either of those parties.

All in all, despite the wider implications of the Wikileaks case, Amazon have done nothing wrong nor could they have handled things much differently. Amazon’s biggest mistake in their handling of the whole situation was that the first statement about their decision to stop hosting Wikileaks was made by Senator Joe Lieberman, rather than a spokesman for the company. By failing to take control of the message and explain their decision in their own words, they allowed the message to be put out by an opponent of Wikileaks, this weakening their position.

Now that Paypal have stopped processing donations for Wikileaks, maybe the ire of online reactionaries will move on to the world’s largest single online payment provider.