Welcome!

Open Web Authors: Liz McMillan, Lori MacVittie, Gilad Parann-Nissany, Carmen Gonzalez, Mark R. Hinkle

Related Topics: SOA & WOA, Java, XML, ColdFusion, Websphere, Open Source, Open Web

SOA & WOA: Blog Post

Opinion: Who Made Amazon the Judge of What's Legal on the Web?

The COO of Newsweek and general manager of Newsweek Digital speaks out

[This post originally appeared on Joseph Galarneau's blog and is republished here in Cloud Computing Journal (www.CloudComputingJournal.com) by kind permission of the author.]

When you visit Newsweek.com, the words you read started their journey milliseconds earlier from an Amazon.com datacenter somewhere in northern Virginia. And if you visited Wikileaks.org earlier this week, the bytes comprising leaked U.S. embassy cables would have traveled a similar path from Amazon servers based in northern California or Ireland.

While WikiLeaks and Newsweek are very different organizations, we both relied on the 21st century equivalent of the printing press – cloud computing – to distribute our information. Amazon shut off WikiLeaks servers Wednesday, citing the company’s violation of Amazon rules, coincidentally at the same time government officials called for similar action for different reasons. For now, the site is hosted in Sweden by another company. Another part of WikiLeak’s technology – its domain name servers -- came under attack by hackers a day later, prompting another provider to cancel WikiLeak’s account and forcing the company to use a Swiss DNS provider.

The power of the press can be dramatically limited when the power to the press is disconnected. Outside the newspaper industry, few publishers actually own their own printing presses. U.S. courts rarely exercise prior restraint (orders that prohibit publication), and most printers rely on their customers to shoulder the legal liability if there are disputes. But as Amazon’s silencing of WikiLeaks demonstrates, the rules can change when media companies move on to the Internet, with its very different methods of publishing.

Nearly five years ago, Amazon popularized cloud computing by launching Amazon Web Services (AWS) to leverage the technology expertise gained by building its mammoth e-commerce website. In a matter of minutes, anyone with a credit card can visit the AWS website to rent time on Amazon servers, use storage on their disk drives, or select from an array of other high-tech services. Catering to hobbyist hackers and Global 2000 IT departments alike, AWS is now estimated to generate more than $500 million from hundreds of thousands of customers, according to industry analyst Kamesh Pemmaraju, director of cloud research at the SandHill Group.

The cloud computing business model, which permits customers to rent servers for as low as 2 cents per hour, has allowed countless dot-coms to avoid spending millions in start-up costs. Media companies have been similarly intrigued by these pay-as-you-go services, which are also offered by IBM and Microsoft, among others. At Newsweek, we started using AWS in late 2009 and moved all of our web operations to Amazon last May when the website launched a new design and content management system. As one of the first major publishers to go “all in” on the cloud, we have been very pleased with Amazon’s technology and service: Newsweek has experienced significant technology savings and is able to more easily accommodate large spikes in traffic that accompany major news events. (Full disclosure: I have spoken about Newsweek’s experiences at two Amazon-sponsored conferences this year and recently met with Amazon senior management. Additionally, Newsweek’s legal agreements and private discussions with Amazon are covered by a non-disclosure agreement).

But as part of Newsweek’s journey to the cloud, we thought about the same issue that tripped up WikiLeaks. In its 77-year history, the magazine has often published confidential or leaked government information. Amazon’s publicly available contract with AWS customers, which WikiLeaks likely agreed to, states that Amazon can turn off a website if “we receive notice or we otherwise determine, in our sole discretion” that a website is illegal, “has become impractical or unfeasible for any legal or regulatory reason … (or) might be libelous or defamatory or otherwise malicious, illegal or harmful to any person or entity.” Has Amazon anointed itself as judge, jury and executioner in matters of regulating content on its services?

First, it’s important to understand that Amazon is delivering a commercial service and isn’t bound by free-speech protections that apply to the actions of governments, according to First Amendment attorney Michael Bamberger, a partner at law firm SNR Denton. If you don’t want to be subject to their rules, don’t use their services and don’t sign their contract. Amazon and its peers have legitimate business reasons for shutting down websites: many nefarious types use their services for spam, child pornography, hacking, and pirating activities. Not only are these activities illegal, but many threaten the integrity of the services delivered to other law-abiding cloud customers.

In Amazon’s statement on the WikiLeaks incident, posted on its website Thursday, said “our terms of service state that ‘you represent and warrant that you own or otherwise control all of the rights to the content… that use of the content you supply does not violate this policy and will not cause injury to any person or entity.’ It’s clear that WikiLeaks doesn’t own or otherwise control all the rights to this classified content. Further, it is not credible that the extraordinary volume of 250,000 classified documents that WikiLeaks is publishing could have been carefully redacted in such a way as to ensure that they weren’t putting innocent people in jeopardy.”

But should there be anything for cloud computing companies to fear? Federal law doesn’t hold hosting providers liable for information-related crimes committed by their users, no more so than a phone carrier would be subject to legal action due to a customer making a harassing call. There are gray areas untested by caselaw, Bamberger added. “If the posting is a criminal act, which the WikiLeaks materials may be given the claimed national security implications,” he said, “the service may have a legitimate fear of being charged with aiding and abetting despite federal law.”

Newsweek, like many news organizations, extensively reviews its content prior to publication to ensure accuracy and adherence to the law. Editors take these duties seriously, given that our stories reach nearly 20 million people in print and 10 million online around the world each month. Even so, some people, companies and governments aren’t thrilled when they appear on Newsweek’s print and digital pages, and they rarely keep their discontent to themselves. Protests range from letters to the editor to lawsuits, with a variety of non-legal responses in between. Calling Newsweek’s printers and asking them to stop the presses would have little effect: our agreements with vendors make Newsweek solely responsible for what is printed.

Ultimately with Amazon, we agreed on mutually acceptable terms that would protect our editorial independence and ability to publish controversial information. Other media executives who use cloud computing have told me they baked in similar protections into their contracts. But Newsweek is an established media company that has more clout and resources than the average start-up. How would the next incarnation of the Pentagon Papers be handled if it were published by a lone blogger instead of The New York Times?

“Technology has changed a lot,” Bamberger said, “and it’s really hard to tell who is the press today. That whole issue is very amorphous.

The opinions expressed here are solely the author's and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of Harman Newsweek LLC.

More Stories By Joseph Galarneau

Joseph Galarneau (@jdgalarneau), a former journalist, is COO of Newsweek and GM of Newsweek Digital. The opinions expressed here are solely the author's and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of Harman Newsweek LLC.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories
Building low-cost wearable devices can enhance the quality of our lives. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Sai Yamanoor, Embedded Software Engineer at Altschool, provided an example of putting together a small keychain within a $50 budget that educates the user about the air quality in their surroundings. He also provided examples such as building a wearable device that provides transit or recreational information. He then reviewed the resources available to build wearable devices at home including open source hardware, the raw materials required and the options available to power s...
An entirely new security model is needed for the Internet of Things, or is it? Can we save some old and tested controls for this new and different environment? In his session at @ThingsExpo, New York's at the Javits Center, Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, reviewed hands-on lessons with IoT devices and reveal a new risk balance you might not expect. Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, has more than nineteen years' experience managing global security operations and assessments, including a decade of leading incident response and digital forensics. He is co-author of t...
"There is a natural synchronization between the business models, the IoT is there to support ,” explained Brendan O'Brien, Co-founder and Chief Architect of Aria Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at the 15th International Cloud Expo®, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
The Internet of Things promises to transform businesses (and lives), but navigating the business and technical path to success can be difficult to understand. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Sean Lorenz, Technical Product Manager for Xively at LogMeIn, demonstrated how to approach creating broadly successful connected customer solutions using real world business transformation studies including New England BioLabs and more.
The Internet of Things is not new. Historically, smart businesses have used its basic concept of leveraging data to drive better decision making and have capitalized on those insights to realize additional revenue opportunities. So, what has changed to make the Internet of Things one of the hottest topics in tech? In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Gray, Director, Embedded and Internet of Things, discussed the underlying factors that are driving the economics of intelligent systems. Discover how hardware commoditization, the ubiquitous nature of connectivity, and the emergence of Big Data a...
We certainly live in interesting technological times. And no more interesting than the current competing IoT standards for connectivity. Various standards bodies, approaches, and ecosystems are vying for mindshare and positioning for a competitive edge. It is clear that when the dust settles, we will have new protocols, evolved protocols, that will change the way we interact with devices and infrastructure. We will also have evolved web protocols, like HTTP/2, that will be changing the very core of our infrastructures. At the same time, we have old approaches made new again like micro-services...
The Internet of Things is a misnomer. That implies that everything is on the Internet, and that simply should not be - especially for things that are blurring the line between medical devices that stimulate like a pacemaker and quantified self-sensors like a pedometer or pulse tracker. The mesh of things that we manage must be segmented into zones of trust for sensing data, transmitting data, receiving command and control administrative changes, and peer-to-peer mesh messaging. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Ryan Bagnulo, Solution Architect / Software Engineer at SOA Software, focused on desi...
Today’s enterprise is being driven by disruptive competitive and human capital requirements to provide enterprise application access through not only desktops, but also mobile devices. To retrofit existing programs across all these devices using traditional programming methods is very costly and time consuming – often prohibitively so. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jesse Shiah, CEO, President, and Co-Founder of AgilePoint Inc., discussed how you can create applications that run on all mobile devices as well as laptops and desktops using a visual drag-and-drop application – and eForms-buildi...
Enthusiasm for the Internet of Things has reached an all-time high. In 2013 alone, venture capitalists spent more than $1 billion dollars investing in the IoT space. With "smart" appliances and devices, IoT covers wearable smart devices, cloud services to hardware companies. Nest, a Google company, detects temperatures inside homes and automatically adjusts it by tracking its user's habit. These technologies are quickly developing and with it come challenges such as bridging infrastructure gaps, abiding by privacy concerns and making the concept a reality. These challenges can't be addressed w...
The Domain Name Service (DNS) is one of the most important components in networking infrastructure, enabling users and services to access applications by translating URLs (names) into IP addresses (numbers). Because every icon and URL and all embedded content on a website requires a DNS lookup loading complex sites necessitates hundreds of DNS queries. In addition, as more internet-enabled ‘Things' get connected, people will rely on DNS to name and find their fridges, toasters and toilets. According to a recent IDG Research Services Survey this rate of traffic will only grow. What's driving t...
"For over 25 years we have been working with a lot of enterprise customers and we have seen how companies create applications. And now that we have moved to cloud computing, mobile, social and the Internet of Things, we see that the market needs a new way of creating applications," stated Jesse Shiah, CEO, President and Co-Founder of AgilePoint Inc., in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 15th Cloud Expo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
The Industrial Internet revolution is now underway, enabled by connected machines and billions of devices that communicate and collaborate. The massive amounts of Big Data requiring real-time analysis is flooding legacy IT systems and giving way to cloud environments that can handle the unpredictable workloads. Yet many barriers remain until we can fully realize the opportunities and benefits from the convergence of machines and devices with Big Data and the cloud, including interoperability, data security and privacy.
Things are being built upon cloud foundations to transform organizations. This CEO Power Panel at 15th Cloud Expo, moderated by Roger Strukhoff, Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo conference chair, addressed the big issues involving these technologies and, more important, the results they will achieve. Rodney Rogers, chairman and CEO of Virtustream; Brendan O'Brien, co-founder of Aria Systems, Bart Copeland, president and CEO of ActiveState Software; Jim Cowie, chief scientist at Dyn; Dave Wagstaff, VP and chief architect at BSQUARE Corporation; Seth Proctor, CTO of NuoDB, Inc.; and Andris Gailitis, C...
Since 2008 and for the first time in history, more than half of humans live in urban areas, urging cities to become “smart.” Today, cities can leverage the wide availability of smartphones combined with new technologies such as Beacons or NFC to connect their urban furniture and environment to create citizen-first services that improve transportation, way-finding and information delivery. In her session at @ThingsExpo, Laetitia Gazel-Anthoine, CEO of Connecthings, will focus on successful use cases.
The Internet of Things will greatly expand the opportunities for data collection and new business models driven off of that data. In her session at @ThingsExpo, Esmeralda Swartz, CMO of MetraTech, discussed how for this to be effective you not only need to have infrastructure and operational models capable of utilizing this new phenomenon, but increasingly service providers will need to convince a skeptical public to participate. Get ready to show them the money!
The 3rd International Internet of @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that its Call for Papers is now open. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the biggest idea since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago.
The industrial software market has treated data with the mentality of “collect everything now, worry about how to use it later.” We now find ourselves buried in data, with the pervasive connectivity of the (Industrial) Internet of Things only piling on more numbers. There’s too much data and not enough information. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Bob Gates, Global Marketing Director, GE’s Intelligent Platforms business, to discuss how realizing the power of IoT, software developers are now focused on understanding how industrial data can create intelligence for industrial operations. Imagine ...
The Internet of Things is tied together with a thin strand that is known as time. Coincidentally, at the core of nearly all data analytics is a timestamp. When working with time series data there are a few core principles that everyone should consider, especially across datasets where time is the common boundary. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Scott, Director of Enterprise Strategy & Architecture at MapR Technologies, discussed single-value, geo-spatial, and log time series data. By focusing on enterprise applications and the data center, he will use OpenTSDB as an example t...
There is no doubt that Big Data is here and getting bigger every day. Building a Big Data infrastructure today is no easy task. There are an enormous number of choices for database engines and technologies. To make things even more challenging, requirements are getting more sophisticated, and the standard paradigm of supporting historical analytics queries is often just one facet of what is needed. As Big Data growth continues, organizations are demanding real-time access to data, allowing immediate and actionable interpretation of events as they happen. Another aspect concerns how to deliver ...
The 3rd International Internet of @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that its Call for Papers is now open. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the biggest idea since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago.