Another Apple Falls From the WikiLeaks Tree
Are corporate cutoffs connected to WikiLeaks justified?
Dec. 29, 2010— -- To some observers, the companies who have severed ties with WikiLeaks are traitors to free expression, led by the nose by U.S. government censors. But to others, the companies are responsible actors simply enforcing their terms of service.
The problem is, the truth lies somewhere in between.
Last week, Apple followed the lead of a host of other name brand players in the Internet ecosystem by pulling an unofficial WikiLeaks app from its iPhone and iPod app store.
According to news reports, Apple made the move after it decided that WikiLeaks violated its terms of service that requires apps to comply with all local laws and may not put an individual or group in harm's way.
The move, which follows similar decisions by Amazon, PayPal, Visa, and WikiLeaks own DNS service provider, appears unlikely to have any practical effect on access to WikiLeaks, which is now mirrored on hundreds of sites around the world.
But it adds a complex new element to an already complex controversy over leaks of government information. And that new element is the role of the powerful private actors that in one way or another impact the distribution of -- and access to -- content online.
To some observers, the companies who have severed ties with WikiLeaks are traitors to free expression, led by the nose by U.S. government censors. But to others, the companies are responsible actors simply enforcing their terms of service.
The problem with both positions is that they prove too much and too little.
In the United States, we have made a conscious decision to give Internet intermediaries broad discretion in deciding what content to host.
With the exception of notice and take down laws for copyright claims, companies are given protection from liability or responsibility for the content posted by others. But they are also quite free to develop and apply their own standards in removing questionable content.