Well I really didn’t think I would be getting in on the deplatforming discussion again and so quickly, but with several public press releases/posts from Epik, the hosting and domain name firm which often gets highlighted in a lot of very heated discussions, I thought I could dig a little deeper on what’s happening. I certainly expected, based on history, that Epik would be the next stop for Parler and reached out to confirm reports I had read on Business Insider, Newsweek, and even Variety. Robert Davis, SVP Strategy and Communications, “Our original statement was read millions of times over the past couple days, so I hope that this update here provides a responsible view towards expectations everyone should have for both Parler and Big Tech.” I do find it curious that these releases are images (therefore not indexable), and not linked from the official Epik blog.
I’m very curious about the terms of services, policies, and business practices – not the politics of these situations. If you are interested in the politics, Epik offers up a political angle in their full statement, and there are many sites other than this one to discuss those politics.
I wanted to point out an on-topic paragraph in their most recent statement:
[M]any reporters in their initial coverage appear to be confused over the role of a registrar. For the record, there is generally no involvement of consent for this basic action. Anyone can setup an account. The entire process is automated as per the common practice that nearly all registrars follow. Millions of domains are registered and transferred every month, and generally speaking, the registrar has no oversight or active participation with the names that go in and out every day. Their core function is primarily a utilitarian one, to keep track of what domain names are available, and to provide an interface for access and management.
That is very much true, and really the end of the domain name portion of the discussion, right, well except Epik’s terms of service are also pretty clear about what is not allowed (emphasis is mine).
Further, You may not use the Site or the Services provided through or in connection with the Site to: (a) defame, abuse, harass, threaten or otherwise violate the legal rights (such as rights of privacy and publicity) of others; (b) conduct or forward illegal contests, pyramid schemes, or chain letters; (c) publish, post, distribute, disseminate or link to any: (i) unlawful content, topic, material, or information, any of which are of an obscene, adult, nude, prurient, or indecent nature; (ii) software or other material protected by intellectual property laws, copyright licenses, rights of privacy or publicity, or other proprietary rights, unless You own, control such rights or have received all necessary consents for Your use of such software and other materials; (iii) software or other material that contains viruses, corrupted files, or that may or are intended to damage the operation of another’s computer (e.g., “cracks,” “hacks,” or other programs written to defeat the security measures of any computer, system or programs); (d) sell, distribute, disseminate or link to any sites for unlawful marketing, sales or distribution of: firearms, explosives, ammunition, liquor, tobacco products, food that is not packaged or does not comply with all applicable laws for sale to consumers by commercial merchants, pharmaceuticals and controlled substances, counterfeit, pirated or stolen goods, fraudulent goods, any goods or services that infringe or otherwise violate a third party`s rights, registered or unregistered securities, goods or services that: (i) You cannot legally sell, (ii) are misrepresented, and/or (iii) if sold, would cause Epik to violate any law, statute or regulation; (e)harvest or otherwise collect information about third parties, including email addresses, without the express consent of such third parties; (f) restrict or inhibit any other user from using and enjoying its rights in the Services or the Site, interfering with or disrupting the Services or the Site service or servers or network connected to the Site; (g) use a Domain in connection with Your use of the Site that is confusing or misleading to other Users or to the public; (h) email or otherwise transmit, distribute, publish or disseminate any “junk email,” “Spam,” “chain letters,” “pyramid schemes,” or any other form of duplicative or inappropriate solicitations or messages (commercial or otherwise); (i) violate the rights of any third parties, including, but not limited to, trademark, naming or publicity rights, or (j) violate any applicable government laws or regulations. Epik does not condone or allow Spam. Epik will cooperate with legal authorities and Internet service providers in releasing information about users who violate this Acceptable Use Policy.
Domain and hosting companies of all size have very similar terms, GoDaddy’s TOS includes (emphasis mine):
You will not use this Site or the Services in a manner (as determined by GoDaddy in its sole and absolute discretion) that:
– Is illegal, or promotes or encourages illegal activity;
– Promotes, encourages or engages in the exploitation of children, or any activity related to the proliferation of child sexual abuse material (CSAM);
– Promotes, encourages or engages in terrorism, violence against people, animals, or property;
– Promotes, encourages or engages in any spam or other unsolicited bulk email, or computer or network hacking or cracking;
– Violates the Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act of 2008 or similar legislation, or promotes, encourages or engages in the sale or distribution of prescription medication without a valid prescription;
– Violates the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017 or similar legislation, or promotes or facilitates prostitution and/or sex trafficking;
– Infringes on the intellectual property rights of another User or any other person or entity;
– Violates the privacy or publicity rights of another User or any other person or entity, or breaches any duty of confidentiality that you owe to another User or any other person or entity;
– Interferes with the operation of this Site or the Services found at this Site;
– Contains or installs any viruses, worms, bugs, Trojan horses or other code, files or programs designed to, or capable of, disrupting, damaging or limiting the functionality of any software or hardware; or
– Contains false or deceptive language, or unsubstantiated or comparative claims, regarding GoDaddy or GoDaddy’s Services.
– You will not perform any false, abusive or fraudulent activity. You will not perform any action that imposes, or may impose, in our discretion, an unreasonable or disproportionately large load on our infrastructure;
Or Convesio’s TOS (emphasis mine):
1. The creation, distribution, transmission, public display, or performance, and the accessing, downloading, or copying of your Contributions do not and will not infringe the proprietary rights, including but not limited to the copyright, patent, trademark, trade secret, or moral rights of any third party.
4. Your Contributions are not false, inaccurate, or misleading.
5. Your Contributions are not unsolicited or unauthorized advertising, promotional materials, pyramid schemes, chain letters, spam, mass mailings, or other forms of solicitation.
6. Your Contributions are not obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, violent, harassing, libelous, slanderous, or otherwise objectionable (as determined by us).
7. Your Contributions do not ridicule, mock, disparage, intimidate, or abuse anyone.
8. Your Contributions are not used to harass or threaten (in the legal sense of those terms) any other person and to promote violence against a specific person or class of people.
9. Your Contributions do not violate any applicable law, regulation, or rule.
10. Your Contributions do not violate the privacy or publicity rights of any third party.
11. Your Contributions do not contain any material that solicits personal information from anyone under the age of 18 or exploits people under the age of 18 in a sexual or violent manner.
12. Your Contributions do not violate any applicable law concerning child pornography, or otherwise intended to protect the health or well-being of minors.
13. Your Contributions do not include any offensive comments that are connected to race, national origin, gender, sexual preference, or physical handicap.
If you’ve survived review just small portions of these terms of service, you’ll realize that there is a lot of stuff you can’t do with your domain or site on most services. In fact even if you were to forego a managed WordPress host and roll your own infrastructure, those firms also have content terms, Steadfast:
Content that violates these Terms includes, but is not limited to, the following:
– Pirated software, including warez or any other commercial software which you do not have the legal right to distribute;
– Serial numbers and CD keys for commercially available software which you do not have the legal right to distribute;
– Music (.mp3, .wma, .ogg, etc.), Movies and Television shows (.mpg, .avi, .wmv, etc.), images (.jpg, .gif, .png, etc.) or compressed files or archives containing such files (.zip, .rar, .tar, etc.) which you do not have the legal right to distribute;
– Child pornography, rape, or bestiality;
–Security circumvention software or archives;
– Any content that facilitates in identity theft, credit card fraud, or any other type of fraud;
– Torrent files and trackers that facilitate the download of any materials included in this list;
– Any software that facilitates any activity prohibited in this policy.
Where does all this leave Epik and Parker? In my opinion, if Parler reopens somewhere as the “same” social media site, I can’t see how Epik, based on its own TOS could continue being the registrar of record. And, this would also be why we won’t see Parler being hosting at Epik. I was unable to get direct answers to those questions but I think those are fair inferences. On a final note, I was told that additional unpaid services have been voluntarily provided by Epik to Parler. I assume those primarily encompassed what Parler should be looking for with regards to infrastructure.