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[dupe] Digital Ocean said it would shut down my blog if I didn’t edit a blog post. (vpsexperience.wordpress.com)
189 points by voidr 1382 days ago | hide | past | web | 155 comments | favorite

Am I the only one who sees Digital Ocean as acting ethically here?

This guy is a jerk. He harassed a guy, because the guy works at Google, into giving him his opinion about a semi-controversial topic in a private forum. Then he writes a blog hit-piece in which he explicitly identifies him and disparages him for the opinion he gave! I don't know if he has a legal right to do this, but you don't just do things like that. This Googler is not a spokesperson for the company. He's not in a public forum. He's just some guy who works at Google as a developer, who gave you his opinion "off the record", and you do something like that!? He could lose his job over this if somebody at Google PR overreacts. He may have a family, a mortgage, car payments, school debts, and without any reason, you decided to just screw him over. Don't do things like that!!!! Be nice!

All DigitalOcean asked him to do is to anonymize references to this Googler. This is the ethical move because this jerk didn't get the Googler's permission to have him "on the record". Depending on your jurisdiction, you are in a legal grey area anyway.

All DigitalOcean asked him to do was to give them editorial control over his blog. That isn't a small thing to me.

At a quick glance it looks like a public forum (which has a bearing on how I view the ethics of the situation although even if it was private I don't think DO should act). When you are asked a question about your employer in public you are speaking for them and if you say something dumb that your company doesn't like that is your action and responsibility not someone who reports it. When I worked for a large company I used to speak (and particularly write online) very carefully except when truly in private. I also don't see any reference to anything being "off the record" so I don't see why you assume it wasn't "on the record".

Would I write that article like that? No. Do I think DO should claim editorial control over it? Hell no.

Maybe DO could request the blog owner provide contact details (I can't see any on the current site) so that legal action could be brought directly against them as the publisher rather than against DO. Not offering such may be reasonable grounds to have DO demand editorial changes or cease service.

> All DigitalOcean asked him to do was to give them editorial control over his blog. That isn't a small thing to me.

A nitpick. They didn't ask for editorial control; they asked for observance of the Terms of Service, with the option on their side to discontinue service. Nothing in the ToS gives DigitalOcean any right to editorial control and nothing in their communications says "give us control".

It's a binary proposition. Stick to the agreement, or the agreement is off.

"You can't publish it if we don't like it"; is editorial control. "Change this or we will take it down"; is editorial control.

They asked for a specific change: the removal of the name. That seems like editorial control to me. They took the view that anything embarrassing (even if not private) about someone who is not a public figure cannot be hosted on their servers. That is an editorial policy and they are asserting editorial control.

It isn't completely clear to me that he was breaching the terms. The closest part of the quoted terms is "harrass and embarrass". If it was an "or" then he would have breached them as an "and" I don't think he has unless there is further unrevealed harassment.

Regardless of whether it qualifies I would have expected the clause mostly to be used for serious harassment and/or posting nude images of people rather than accurately quoting statements that they have made recently.

See my reply further down. I disagree with that characterisation.

I also note that asking for particular changes was a mistake. They should have stuck with "take it down or we will take it down", to avoid people making the argument you just made.

If only because being seen to exercise editorial control might introduce significant new legal risks that the ToS, and its policing, is presumably meant to avoid in the first place.

If they have the final say on whether you can publish they have editorial control. A request to take down a whole article would be no better in my view. They are entitled to have TOS that do this and apply it strictly (although I don't actually see the breach in this case but we can we assume there was one for this discussion).

I don't like the article and if I was editing a paper or a website I would not publish the article in that form but DO is not a publisher but an infrastructure provider and for something that is not clearly illegal it seems highly inappropriate.

However they have guaranteed that I would not use them for any public facing service or content by stepping in this way (I might consider them for testing, internal or pure compute workloads).

I disagree. It seems to me that they wanted editorial control via proxy. "You change this for me or I'll delete your droplet."

The thing in this which really irks me is that the staff were neither co-operative nor reasonable. If you're a paying customer, the least they could do is put the complaint into a state of investigation whilst they looked into the claim. Instant ultimatum seems a bit steep.

I use Digital Ocean and like the service, but I really disagree with how they've handled this. I'm sure I won't be the only one moving providers this weekend.

I understand where you're coming from, but while the shape is similar, "editorial control" and "upholding a ToS" are essentially different things.

For example. Suppose instead that DigitalOcean staff wanted him to write about penguins. If they said "write more about flightless antarctic birds or we will pull the plug", they would be trying to exercise editorial control, because they'd be making positive assertions about the content of the site. And, because they had no previous agreement in place to give them editorial control, they could be rightly told to sit and spin.

But that is not the situation. They have a ToS which forbids certain kinds of content and they are within their rights to terminate service entirely if the terms aren't adhered to by the customer. What they can't do is directly edit, or expect to directly edit, or otherwise direct the content.

When I studied law I learnt that different things, even when they lead to identical outcomes, are different, and should be dealt with independently.

If they made a mistake, it was in trying to be friendly about it, which gave a misleading impression. Sometimes legally-worded requests are best.

If they made a mistake, it was in trying to be friendly about it, which gave a misleading impression

No, their mistake was being lazy. They did not effectively explain their application of the terms of service and how, specifically, his post violated those terms until far too late in the process. [1]

At first all he got was "your post violates section 2.8: harassment, defamatory content, etc.". If just anyone can claim harassment and have a blog shut down for any reason with no review that would be a serious issue for customers that wanted to host content on Digital Ocean. He said "please explain how this violates your terms of service" and it wasn't until several mails later in the exchange that he finally got a barely adequate answer (by my standards).

Now, maybe in legal/asshole world, a service provider is not obligated to explain to a user in a reasonable fashion how the ToS has been violated (or even discouraged because that would make them liable for some bullshit or another). But in the human world, such neglect is a gross violation of customer service. If you are a potential customer of Digital Ocean, "friendliness" is not the takeaway from how they handled this.

The key issue is the risk of a service provider shutting you down because someone complained about your content. No one, no matter what sort of content they host, wants that risk if they can avoid it. From that perspective, the distinction between "Editorial Control" and "Threat of Account Termination for violation of section 2.8" is most definitely nitpicking.

[1] Note, of course, that we are seeing only one side of the story here. There may be unpublished emails that address my accusations that DO was lazy (although I don't personally believe there are)

> When I studied law I learnt that different things, even when they lead to identical outcomes, are different, and should be dealt with independently.

That may be true in a court of law. This is not a court of law. Insistence on treating it like one is a great example of why people hate lawyers.

This is not a court of law, but the situation is still being governed by the law. Terms of Service don't exist in a vacuum.

I think there are other variables in play here. Treating it like a court of law and not like the theatre of the internet is the reason why DO have embarrassed themselves. They will definitely have lost customers other than just myself, and that has nothing to do with law. That has to do with principle.

They handled this badly, and they'll pay for it, however small the impact.

No, it's governed by our own individual senses of right and wrong. You may allow your sense of right and wrong to be dictated by legal documents, most of us do not.

>I don't see why you assume it wasn't "on the record".

Because it's a nice thing to do when you're dealing with private citizens.

We're talking ethics here, and the thing about ethics is that they can essentially be boiled down to "don't be an asshole".

This blog post can seriously hurt someone who never asked for it and doesn't deserve it. Why not be a little bit fair? If you're not sure if it's "off the record", ask. If you can't ask because the party 'muted' you (!!), assume it is 'off the record' - why? Because that's the ethical thing to do.

I look at this author, and all I see is a bully.

It's good that you always have the presence of mind to censor yourself accordingly. Clearly the Googler made a big mistake because he didn't expect somebody to write an entire blog post from some off-the-cuff remarks he made in a chat room.

>Do I think DO should claim editorial control over it?

They don't. They didn't change his blog post. They asked this guy to anonymize his post because it looks like slander and defamation which is against their TOS. That's how I interpret it as well. AND IT'S THE RIGHT THING TO DO!

There are at least two assholes involved in this story. If there were only one there would be no story.

I think exposing what people say in the open (not private but also not quite public) isn't exactly something someone who works at google should be complaining about. If "stuff you do online can come back to haunt you" shocks you then you probably shouldn't be working at google (except perhaps as a contractor with no benefits, right?)

Two assholes?

Really? Ok, lets think about it, one of them tells his opinion about certain topic on a chat system which has very small community. Once he notices something fishy going on there, he mutes the other person.

The other one has different thoughts about the same topic and tries to get contradicting opinion. Than writes a blog about it in a manner that shows how bad and unfair that opinion is, even though that is really arguable topic.

And yet we end up with having to assholes. Quite a careless use of words I would say.

>There are at least two assholes involved in this story.

Whose the other asshole?

I don't like any of the three participants in the story from this telling of it. Googler expressed fairly unpleasant views, blogger was petty personal and nasty in how he wrote up the story and DO overstepped the mark for an infrastructure service in taking it down. I don't see any winners or heroes here but I don't feel the need to call any of them arseholes either.

"all I see is a bully."

I think that's a good word for him. Unfortunately, this is the way many journalists act much of the time - exactly how they create "stories" out of nothing. I guess while playing journalist this guy forgot that the didn't have the resources of a news organization to back him up, and now he has to fend for himself.

Hmm. It's not really about having the resources of a news organization. The "resources" are the inertia and hard-won philosophical reasoning behind having a free press. An individual's free speech has just the same amount of weight behind it as a large organization's.

So he's hardly fending for himself - he has the backing of all those who support free speech behind him. There are rather many of us.

Also, if your opinion of journalists is that many of them act this way, may I respectively suggest that it would benefit you to upgrade your news sources?

Except this isn't a free speech issue. Just like Reddit disallowing the identifications of individuals in certain kinds of stories is not a free speech issue. There are no free speech issues when a company does not wish to be associated with certain kinds of discourse on their servers. DO may have policies against hosting sites with hate speech, or pornographic content - that's ok, even though neither is illegal. This guy clearly crossed a line with the content and tone of his blog post. I think DO is being reasonable.

There are no free speech issues when a company does not wish to be associated with certain kinds of discourse on their servers.

As usual, it's difficult to discuss this when there's no distinction between first-amendment style free speech and the general concept of it and various interim consequences.

A site like Digital Ocean is a general-purpose hosting provider. As a general-purpose provider, their perspective on censorship and free speech is important to anyone who would be a customer of their service. "How are they going apply their ToS?" is a legitimate and important question to any user of their service. Will they be rigorous and fair? Or Will they be biased towards people who complain? Will they be biased towards certain political factions? Will they be biased towards the whims of their executives? When they apply their ToS, what recourse will you have? What is their appeal process like?

In other words, it's a "free speech" issue in the sense of "is Digital Ocean's behavior and policy adequately permissive for the content I want to host?"

This guy clearly crossed a line with the content and tone of his blog post.

How do you 'cross a line' with tone? If I am looking for a hosting provider, I am not looking for one who takes a complaint at face value, then scans my content carelessly trying to get a feel for the 'tone'. I want a specific, incontrovertible infraction that is fair and explained to as precisely as they are able.

Honestly this guy seems like a jerk to me and just from the two posts I've seen I don't like him. But it doesn't matter how I feel, it matters whether he violated the terms of service (both the letter and the spirit).

Now imagine if every hosting provider and internet provider had the same policy, such that it was essentially impossible to discuss many viewpoints and ideas via the internet (which is the best - arguably even the only - avenue most people have to disseminate their views to a wider audience). That pretty substantially restricts the kinds of speech that can actually be communicated effectively. Indeed, part of the reason why hosting providers are under such pressure to have anti-hate-speech provisions is because it will make disseminating those views difficult.

I agree with that.

What does an individual do at a time like this? It seems his solution is to try to rally up people in anger and emotion against DO.

Although this guy is clearly a jerk, I'm crossing DO off my list of providers that I'm willing to use. I sometimes write controversial articles on my own website. These articles can make certain groups of people very angry and have elicited a range of responses up to and including me getting sued for defamation by two public figures (they lost). I have no interest in fighting with my hosting provider in addition to everything else, and don't expect to as long as I don't use their servers for anything illegal.

> I have no interest in fighting with my hosting provider in addition to everything else

This is really the issue here. The hosting provider should err on the side of its customers as opposed to random third parties. There are a lot of edge cases on what can or should be legally hosted. The hosting provider may have the legal right to take down controversial content, but it's an absolutely cowardly thing to do. The free speech-friendly approach would be to side with its customers UNTIL the third party has obtained a court order that the content be taken down, rather than insist that their own customers get a court order insisting that the content stay up.

>The hosting provider should err on the side of its customers as opposed to random third parties.

Maybe they do. This is a fairly clear case of online harassment. The guy acted like bully and it shows in his post. All they wanted from him was to remove references to his name. This is fairly standard - for example, Reddit frowns upon identifying people in certain stories because they had issues with vigilante mobs forming.

As someone who spent a non-trivial part of my childhood being bullied, I wouldn't call this bullying. It seems more in line with public shaming than anything else.

At any rate, bullying generally isn't illegal. Neither is naming names. In order to be legally actionable, harassment usually has to get to the point where there's some threat of violence or some pattern of behavior. As far as I can tell, there has been exactly one blog post about this guy (two if you include the post about DO) about some conversations in a chat room that's open to the public. That's not harassment. Were it otherwise, every blog that mentioned Justine Sacco should have been taken down.

Reddit is a community with its own social norms. I have no issue with Reddit policing itself in a manner to create an environment welcoming to others. But DO is a service provider! They may have the legal right to do so, but I don't expect them to be making value judgments about my (lawful) expression, anymore than I expect Comcast or Gmail to.

All of what you said misses the point entirely. Was the original blog post stupid? Certainly. Is it irresponsible and probably harmful to a guy who did nothing wrong besides saying something maladroitly? Yes.

I don't care though: all of those things are well-within the law. If DigitalOcean's TOS means that they personally police content, then I'm out.

This is how I see it too. If Google or the guy had a problem and contacted the blog, and then Digital Ocean, then it would seem fair for Digital Ocean to maybe step in depending on rules and whatnot, but to pseudo-personally step in and ask that the person's name be made anonymous feels like nepotism at work.

That's a small minded way to look at this. Consider for a moment that now Digital Ocean has just signaled that you can't reliably host anything on DO for more than just technical reasons. Post something someone doesn't like, despite it being true? It can be removed.

Let that sink in, because your comment is calling out the OP for being a jerk. You are making claims, legal claims, such as "he harassed a guy" as if they he was already guilty of the crime of harassment.

Yup, after hearing good things about DO on here lately, I was hoping to give them a try.

This kind of fracas, though - in which ONE person is able to fabricate a story and exercise tyrannical control via proxy - dissuades me heavily from that. Maybe if I were to use DO, one of my competitors could trump up some charges and persuade them to drop my "droplet"? Do I want to deal with that possibility?

Hell, I feel nervous just posting this here, now! Who knows what they'll do to me in the future based on this text! (/me copies this post, logs out, creates new user id.)

This leads me to think that in terms of "digital society," we are still behind Hannurabi's Law and even Sharia Law. We are in the Wild West and power in the form of oligarchy is the rule. I hope more of us geeks read up on their philosophy. [1]


Welcome to the bottom of the pile, DO. It could have been magic.

I fear the same. Post anything that DO doesn't like or one of their friends do not like they can take you down. If DO wants to censor honest publications whether legal by their TOS or not then their future customers need to be aware of this as I for one would have never thought it was possible unless doing something illegal with a website.

>Post something someone doesn't like, despite it being true? It can be removed.

Which service would allow you to just post anything you like?

Outside of things like child porn and other blatantly illegal things, there are lots of hosting providers that allow you to post things others may not like.

Basically, it's as if Amazon threatened someone's account on AWS because someone posted an article about something Jeff Bezos actually said.

I've used this example above, but requesting he remove identifying information from the post is a prudent and reasonable request. Reddit, for example, had major issues with vigilante groups forming after some inflammatory posting which also named some private individuals. More often than not, it led to innocent people being harassed. I've just re-read the original post, and it's a total personal attack against a private individual for no good reason. What's he trying to do? Embarrass him? Get him fired? Why target some random Google employee for a semi-controversial opinion. What's his motivation?!

>Basically, it's as if Amazon threatened someone's account on AWS because someone posted an article about something Jeff Bezos actually said.

Jeff Bezos is the founder, CEO and the public face of one of the biggest corporations in the world. This Googler is not Jeff Bezos. He's just a developer, one of thousands at Google. There is a difference here.

It doesn't matter if they were ethical or not, what they did is not right. They are not law enforcement. If everybody would be allowed to enforce the law, then I would be free to shoot you in the head just because you made a negative comment about my cat, because I feel that's ethical.

What 'law' are they enforcing here? They are enforcing their own TOS, which is perfectly within their right. I'm not saying this is the right thing for them to do, but he is using their service, so they have a right to enforce their TOS. He is perfectly able to move his blog post, unedited, to another VPS provider if he does not like what they are asking him to do.

slander... the guy he was blogging about is not famous, not a public figure, talking trash, about someone by name in a public way is slander - perhaps this helps explain further: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defamation

DO - TOS is like a slander clause

Oh I understand what slander is, and whether or not the blog post actually is slander or not is debatable. My point was that, in this case, DO has decided to use the 'slander' clause in the TOS to ask this person to edit his blog post. I don't necessarily think they should be doing this, but I am saying that they are perfectly within their right to enforce their TOS how they see fit. If the OP doesn't agree with them, there is nothing that says he can't move his content to another provider that may not make the same decision DO has.

> whether or not the blog post actually is slander or not is debatable

Yes it is, it's relative to the laws of a given country what is considered slander and what is not.

> I am saying that they are perfectly within their right to enforce their TOS how they see fit

There are laws around slander and DO has no right to enforce them, because last time I checked vigilantism was illegal.

> If the OP doesn't agree with them, there is nothing that says he can't move his content to another provider that may not make the same decision DO has.

How easy or hard to move his content is irrelevant, the fact is he paid for a service which the provider terminated citing unproven(innocent until proven guilty) claims based on a one liner email from some random person on the internet.

The TOS is a contract. If the poster has "defamed" someone within the meaning of the contract, then DO is within their right to terminate. Moreover, the TOS also gives DO a lot of discretion to make their own determination of what constitutes defamation.

It is not vigilantism because DO is not threatening to throw the poster in jail over an allegedly illegal act. They are simply enforcing their contractual rights.

You could argue that this is a breach of contract, and that the poster must be shown in court to have defamed someone before the contract is terminated, but note that the section of the TOS that DO cites also says that the poster cannot "harass or embarrass" someone. That's pretty vague and gives DO a lot of leeway to argue that the poster breached the TOS. It's a pretty crappy TOS to be sure, but I wouldn't bet money on the poster winning a court case here.

It is "harass and embarrass" not "harass or embarrass" which again throws uncertainty on the breach.

You keep saying they are enforcing 'the law,' when in fact they are just enforcing their own TOS, which is perfectly within their rights.

> the fact is he paid for a service which the provider terminated

This makes it sound like they just shut down his account, when in fact they communicated with him, telling him exactly what he would need to do to bring his content into compliance with their TOS, at which point he would presumably have continued access to his account. At this point, it would be his choice about whether to continue his relationship with DO, or to move to another provider.

> You keep saying they are enforcing 'the law,' when in fact they are just enforcing their own TOS, which is perfectly within their rights.

Relevant links:



There are laws regarding defamation, I don't think DO can just opt in to enforce them. They can write anything in their TOS, wether or not it's legally enforceable is another question.

The key to any defamation claim is that it is a false statement. Truth is an affirmative defense.

> Truth is an affirmative defense.

This varies by jurisdiction.

It's a defense in New York, which is Digital Ocean's jurisdiction.

"This varies by [the sanity of the] jurisdiction."

slander implies the quoted information was false. The argument isn't that the information presented was false. It was that it was presented at all.

You are generally free to speak with someone and report it.

Which part of his statement was untrue?

Which wins, the TOS or the law?

"Wins?" I'm not quite sure what you mean by "winning." In this case, DO is enforcing _their_ own TOS, on content that is served from _their_ servers. That seems legit to me, whether or not I think it is the right thing for them to do. Is there a law stating that they don't have a right to do this?

> In this case, DO is enforcing _their_ own TOS, on content that is served from _their_ servers.

And they are terminating a service that the OP paid with it's _own_ money. There are consumer protection laws.

> Is there a law stating that they don't have a right to do this?

They don't have the right to enforce the law, they are not the police, and as it turns out there are laws against slander.

law always win of course, the TOS are always full of stuff that is unenforceable in the eyes of the law. That being said you do need to hire a lawyer to check if thats the case every time and thats spendy.

I totally concur if a group of people decides to go all out in asshattery, the worst thing is for business is to participate - they become partial which is never good when you start taking sides in this sort of thing.

If you get court order to take a page down do that - probably because it is illegal. IMO the more drama the more your business is visible. For one I heard very good things about Digital Ocean - however I am very libertian minded and I think whatever people go going between themselves - they should figure it out. If things turn criminal let police deal with it.

>It doesn't matter if they were ethical or not, what they did is not right.

Ethics matter to me. And they matter to many people. This guy is pure bully and I feel bad for the Googler. I'm glad DO stepped in and politely asked him to anonymize his post.

I think you are the Googler who was harassed, based on your distorted justification for Digital Ocean's unethical behavior and the fact that you don't see it as unethical.

Here's a major reason why Digital Ocean was unethical: they took unilateral action based on a complaint from some googler transmitted to a highly placed Digital Ocean executive who the googler knew personally. If that's an acceptable resolution to someone being mean to someone on the internet, then is Digital Ocean going to provide the entire world with personal access to this executive, in case one of their customers is ever mean to anyone else? No. So it's a recovery only available to privileged technocrats.

This is by no means the only reason why Digital Ocean's action is unacceptable, but it deserves more consideration. Google itself is well known for being impossible to deal with unless you know someone on the inside. This googler should carefully consider whether he was really the wronged party here, or whether he is part of a larger problem.

>I think you are the Googler who was harassed

I have no connection to this Googler, to author, to Google or to DO. Believe it or not.

>they took unilateral action based on a complaint from some googler transmitted to a highly placed Digital Ocean executive who the googler knew personally.

They took unilateral action because they own the service, and maybe they took this action because it's quite evident what happened just by reading his post.

And all they did was ask him to remove identifying information, that's it. That's a very prudent and reasonable request. Reddit, for example, had major issues with vigilante groups forming after some inflammatory posting which also named some private individuals. More often than not, it led to innocent people being harassed. I've just re-read the original post, and it's a total personal attack against a private individual for no good reason. This bully went so far as to find out where the Googler lives.

The entire conspiracy theory around the fact that some DO executive may or may not know the Googler personally and that's why all this happened, is just some hand-waving speculation. I don't know anyone at DO and I don't know this Googler, and yet, I think this was the right move.

> Am I the only one who sees Digital Ocean as acting ethically here?

Yes. Digital Ocean is just providing his VPS. Why should they be involved at all? If i say something about Scientology are they going to kill my VPS because they happen to like Scientology? What if i criticize anti-vaccination supporters?

I sympathize with the Googler, in that his comments may not have been written and polished by a PR person, but they weren't at all as offensive or insensitive as the OP hyped them to be, especially given the constraints of the "meatspace".

But look at what you just wrote. That complaint has been raised against Google many times, because Google's index captures not only what you say in public, but what others say about you, even if you feel that it is misleading. For example, if a news story comes out about me being implicated in a crime, and 1 week later, I'm completely exonerated...but whoever wrote the headline used poorer SEO, and fewer people cared 1 week later...Google, via algorithm, may rank the outdated story higher.

There's very little recourse because, on technical grounds alone, it is tricky to do. But in a "moral" sense, once you make that move for someone, how do you argue that you don't do it for someone else in a similar situation?

The Googler spoke in a place that would not legally be considered private and he is not naive about technology. Is the OP a jerk? Sure. But that's not the topic here....the topic is, would Digital Ocean have been a jerk to say "Sorry buddy, but we can't just take a blog down because you regret your comments"?

IMO, No. And it's not because DO is a jerk. Anymore than Google is for not taking down clearly harmful -- but not illegal -- results. As Matt Cutts put it:


> *Unfortunately there’s not much I can do. The page you pointed out is not spam, and pretty much the only removals (at least in the U.S., which is what I know about) that we do for legal reasons are if a court orders us. We typically say that if person A doesn’t like a webpage B, only removing page B out of Google’s search results doesn’t do any good because webpage B is still there (e.g. it can be found by going to it directly or through other search engines). In that sense, the presence of that page in Google’s index is just reflecting the fact that the page exists on the wider web....There you have it. People usually aren’t happy to hear that reply, but I hope they can understand the reasoning behind it.

So if you're talking about ethics, what DO did here, IMO, crossed a line, because now it sets a very low bar for what is privacy and what is defamation. If the OP quoted the Googler correctly...and the Googler offered his opinion knowing that it was being read...he may not like how his comments were interpreted or published, but he doesn't have legal recourse.

For the record, "off the record" has no real legal standing. It's a term reporters use to set the boundaries with their sources...if they break it, then it's unlikely sources will talk to those reporters again. In this case, of course, the Googler can exercise that right to not speak to the OP again. But it really shouldn't be up to DO to intervene on his behalf in such a ham-fisted way.

>That complaint has been raised against Google many times, because Google's index captures not only what you say in public, but what others say about you, even if you feel that it is misleading.

What does have to do with anything?!

The real issue here is whether Digital Ocean should be enforcing a term in their ToS to prevent users from using their network in various socially negative ways. As a liberal-ish European, I think they should, but I appreciate this stance doesn't necessarily play well in the US.

Nonetheless, taking quotes from an informal chat room and turning them into a biased, borderline libelous blog post isn't cool. It's immaterial whether Collins told the author they didn't care about the post or not. If Collins made an official complaint as per the ToS, the post in question - http://vpsexperience.wordpress.com/2014/01/05/googler-speaks... - strikes me as defamatory and embarrassing enough to legitimately fall under term 2.8.. so the real question has nothing to do with the complaint but more is term 2.8 a good idea or not?

Thats interesting. As a liberalish European, I think DigitalOcean shouldn't be allowed to police their content, just as ISPs shouldn't be allowed to block websites at their whim. Thats clearly in the realm of courts and lawyers. DigitalOcean can cancel the contract once others found the blog post to be defamatory.

Perhaps the two of you are only disagreeing on what "liberal" means; it tends to mean something quite different in Europe than in the US :)

Looking in the dictionary, I see liberal as "willing to respect or accept behaviour or opinions different from one's own", which is what I (as a European) had always thought -- what does it mean in America?

Politically left-wing.

Increasingly these days, it seems to be a term for anyone who doesn't give credence to the theory that global warming is a hoax made up by Satan so Barack Obama can marry his secret Kenyan gay lover.

It means "leftist" AFAIK

They said they're both European

I guess both are liberal in the US sense of term but are not agreeing about if they have to mandatory delete the contents or to mandatory do the reverse. :)

Sure, but Europeans are quite capable of using a term differently if they believe that's what their audience expects; and most people on HN are probably still USA-ian ;-)

Thats precisely the point ;).

"Shouldn't be allowed" is a bit strong. It is not unreasonable to remove questionable content when you are made aware of it; if only to protect the business from threat of legal action. It becomes policing when a website has to actively check up on its customers which places an unfair burden.

Exactly. If the post is "socially negative," then that interaction is between the two people having the interaction. They have to work it out between themselves and let other people make up their own minds based on what they see. If the playground/commons/social theatre gets terminated every time two people disagree, then we'll never be able to work out anything worthwhile, justice will be harmed.

Harassment is pressure and intimidation. Travis Collins is a prevaricator for fabricating the story that the author was following him online and harassing him. DO doesn't have the resources, wisdom or dissociated self-interest to be able to properly police things and will botch themselves up seriously if they try. They should learn from history instead of retreating into Cover Your Ass mode.

> DigitalOcean can cancel the contract once others found the blog post to be defamatory.

Well ... that's what's happening. It's not "policing content", it's holding up their side of the contract.

and their contract, it seems like, says that they can police content.

It's still policing content. As a customer I didn't expect that they would for anything short of illegal.

Their interests are not the same as yours. That particular clause allows them to require the removal of content that places them at legal risk.

"Policing" incorrectly applies that they are actively trawling the site and telling people what to write about. That is clearly not true.

I see this sort of non-argument on HN a lot. Why do you believe that just because someone has the right to do something, that changes its nature? I have the right in the US to walk down the street shouting racist slogans. If I did so, should I be immune from criticism because it's within my rights? Is one magically not-racist just because the law says racist behavior is legal?

No-one's saying you should be immune from criticism, surely? FWIW: yes, you should totally be able to say whatever you want, even if it's bigoted, flat-out wrong, outdated, whatever; as long as I'm free to say that it's dumb and bigoted, flat-out wrong, outdated, whatever ;)

I think you're perfectly within your rights to criticise Digital Ocean. And I am perfectly within my rights to argue about the nature of Digital Ocean's actions.

The others, to clarify, in that case being: a court.

Libel implies it's not true. If it is true then it is legal (as far as I am aware).

The original blog post strikes me as possibly slightly biased, but probably true, therefore not libellous.

Indeed; political campaigning 101 (at least here in the UK) is that libel must both:

    * contain false statements AND
    * be designed to damage reputation.
If only the latter, then it's not libel.

However, if it's the former as well, then both the author and the publisher/printer can be sued, so DO in this case are protecting their own legal status by removing libelous material.

Saying you don't like someone online, quoting them and making inferences, are all part of normal political debate and are not libelous.

Quoting somebody out of context, or changing the quote, and implying that they believe the direct opposite of what they actually said, would be untrue and therefore would be libelous. True quotes, backed up by screenshots, would not fall into this category, at least in the UK.

Exactly. If it was libellous, then DO do need to protect themselves. However I felt that blog post was genuine, on first impression of reading it, and I think there was enough evidence that it may actually be true that DO should not have been anywhere near as quick to take it down, perhaps they should have investigated it more.

That is, if the reason for taking it down was entirely to protect themselves legally. From what I've read, it's hinted that this might not be to protect themselves, but might be more down to them just wanting it gone.

In the U.S., there is the concept of "false light", which is similar to defamation, except that the plaintiff can claim damages even if the implication is true.


A classic case (though for some reason, I haven't been able to find it through Googling), according to my law professor, involved Time LIFE Magazine (or perhaps one of its peers), which had a photograph of a cowboy, and the silhouette, perhaps it was the back of his saddle, appeared to imply that the man was exposing his member.

The photo was unaltered and thus, true, but the cowboy was able to claim damages. Again, I'm citing from memory but haven't been able to find the case via web searches (it's likely to have happened decades ago, though).

Since the U.S. is more permissive on the issue of libel than most countries, I imagine the concept of "false light", or something similar to it, exists in most countries.

It's best not to speculate on defamation matters, because defamation laws vary from place to place. Quite a lot, sometimes.

The original article reminds me of the usual SUN/Bild/Fox News style which makes it really hard to defend the author in any way. In addition to that he calls names, basically gives out the address of the person in question.. ugh.

Due to few (any?) countries truly considering ISPs as common carriers most ISPs have to be the police at some stage. So it's a matter of how they handle it. It doesn't sound like DO have handled this well.

I'm not sure how valid this view is but I feel that the lower level (as in closer to infrastructure) the service provided the higher level the threshold for editorial interference should be. Against this feeling DO massively overstepped the mark here and have massively put me off using them.

I'm not saying that they should never have control; at least spamming, illegal content and DOS attacks need to be dealt with but requesting editorial changes to blog posts just feels off the chart.

Edit: Typos and clarifying that lower level referred to infrastructure.

> the lower level (as in closer to infrastructure) the service provided the higher level the threshold for editorial interference should be

That was my instinct too, but I see no real reason why we should expect that to be the case. We've grown up with the idea that servers are generally managed by reasonably "legit" entities. Now that it's trivial to sign up for a VPS, we probably have to expect providers to pay more attention to what goes on on their machines. This is thought provoking, for me anyway.

So Digital Ocean could freely decide if a content is harassing without any legal court order or something?

So if I decide to use their service(which I was considering btw) should I worry about wether or not they will deem my content inappropriate?

So if I want to have a site where I would have users who can say/post whatever they want(freedom of speech and all that human right stuff) I can't host it on DO, because somebody might just send a bogus email to them and they would act on it?

> So Digital Ocean could freely decide if a content is harassing without any legal court order or something?

Their TOS presumably allow this, as do the TOSes of most hosts, but this seems like a pretty bizarre use of discretionary terms, and would definitely put a lot of people off using it for anything much.

It's perfectly fine for a TOS to allow a service provider to comply with the law. The problem is when they have their own highly ambiguous laws and lack a proper system to resolve violations.

I don't think what they are doing is the right thing to do, but they are perfectly within their right to enforce their TOS. If a person does not like that, they should use a different VPS provider.

Solution: Stop using a 2-bit cloud provider.

But none of this would have happened if the article author realised that companies all over the world are doing this. In the UK there are even "zero hour contracts". Welcome to capitalism and life not being fair :)

Other than the Googler clearly being an unsympathetic simpleton. I'd hazard a guess that almost all other permies at Google, or any company, would be equally as disinterested and unversed in the subject at hand. It simply doesn't come on to the average, particularly the "well employed", person's radar.

This is a spoof right?

"One member of the community half-seriously (I assumed) threatened to harm me, proposing to “Godwins law this fucker.""

"Another member of the community [...] had taken note of my browser “fingerprint” and was now offering to share it with everyone."

So they were going to compare him to Hitler as punishment, and share with the community information used mainly for ad targeting?

FWIW, all I ever read about on HN is how DO is constantly a disaster. Why you would choose to host there is beyond me. Just move your blog- It takes all of a few hours.

I had an incident where there was a problem with one of my droplets and their response was to shut down all of my droplets, and only leave me a message saying they needed to verify my identity. I had to ask questions to even figure out why my droplets were shut down. After communicating with them for about a half a day they agreed to turn them all back on and in the future to only shut down the offending droplets (without giving them my identity, by the way). I'm still using DO but will definitely scale back in the future, they seem to be run like a hobbyist gaming clan forum.

More information about the 'incident' would allow readers to make an informed judgement about whether this was reasonable behavior or not.

Not sure what information you want. Do you think it's ever reasonable for a VPS provider to suspend an account without telling the customer why the account was suspended?

Doesn't the fact that they agreed to handle it differently in the future indicate that they even believe they handled it inappropriately?

This is not remotely rare in web hosting. If you're on a shared host and over consume resources you'll be shutdown before the admin has a chance to even generate a ticket. Some hosts don't even generate a ticket, they just suspend the account with a page that informs the owner that they've over consumed resources.

Not saying it's great, but when you're dealing with hundreds of thousands of VPS/cPanel accounts and one account affecting 5000 other accounts on a server you're sometimes forced into a corner where you have to act as quickly as possible.

yes except these are independent hosts not one host in a shared hosting service. s/host/droplet/

It's very cheap and very fast - ideal for testing your deployment scripts. I would never run a live service from there however. (you can't even do realistic HA on their service without involving some third-party for being the front-end)

FWIW, this is one of only a few 'bad' DO incidents I've seen, among many very positive things.

As a DO user for over a year, I can say I am mostly very happy with the service I have received, although I hope they issue a statement about this, apologising to the author and pledging to review their policies on this.

Same here. I've been very pleased with their service but DO is way out of line here. Shutting down content based on a single complaint, without a court order or any kind of injunction -- and then saying that the customer has to get a court order from a NY court to keep it open? Exactly the opposite of what I expect from a VPS.

Some of the bad I've read in the past couple months alone are bad enough that no amount of positives base on loose reviews of recent users is going to counter the few bads.

I'm quite happy with them. I run two production servers and a development server on them. Way more barebones than the AWS ecosystem, but significantly cheaper, which gives me a better margin in my maintenance agreements with clients.

Enjoy the cloud. Nothing more to be said. With the current "Waiver all rights in the TOS and no legal protections for the customers" it is only going to get worse.

I think that cloud services and telecoms and ISPs should be designated as common carrier with the protections and obligations that come from that.

That depends (as one commenter hinted to) on the level of service that the cloud services provider is providing.

If they are providing essentially a bare machine or VPS, then clearly they shouldn't have editorial control over your blog that happens to be hosted on the hardware. But when it gets to more managed services I think the issue is blurred.

- Scenario 1: hire a VPS, set up a mail server on it, send emails that your host doesn't want you sending. - I'd say there's nothing they should be able to do here. - Scenario 2: using a scalable email service (like Amazon SES?) to send emails that the host doesn't like. - I'm much less sure about this.

How do you host content then? Don't most collocation facilities and ISPs have their own TOS that are not that different?

My theory was that they shouldn't be allowed to have such TOS and be given immunity from lawsuits about the way their services are used.

So basicly the only reasons a hosting provider should have grounds to terminate/interfere with service are - court order/stopped payment/the way service is used actively disrupts other customers.

We should have service "first sale doctrine" equivalent - once you have sold the access service etc you have no say in how it is used.

I don't disagree but don't really get the relevance of your "Enjoy the cloud…" comment. Web hosting is something that needs some provider with terms of service and whether "cloud" or not doesn't seem to make much difference to me.

I would say that the cloud is not only a mix of technologies and solutions, but also a worldview with abusive attitude toward the catt ... consumers. In the 90s web hosting was simple - if it is not CP and you pay your bills anything goes. Right now everyone on the chain thinks and demands rights to interfere with your experience. Everyone is trying to become a gatekeeper and editorialize.

I'm not sure it is a cloud issue I think it is creeping regulation (and PR concern) about controversial content being hosted. The copyright lobby has moved the bar and courts are increasingly taking actions over content posted online (although in many cases directly against the poster rather than the host).

There is obviously an increased risk if many layers claim the right to interfere. E.g. SAAS operated on Heroku running on Amazon gives at least three parties ability to interfere (or just have downtime/issues).

In this case however there was only one party Digital Ocean who operate the data centre and provided the service so I'm not sure it matters that they are a 'cloud' service rather than offering traditional hosting or a colocation service. That said I think that DO got this decision badly wrong.

This clown covertly recorded (spied on) an established engineer who was casually conversing in a well-known if niche and informal chat room. He then decided he was justified to publish the excerpts of the covertly recorded conversation as if they were journalistic quotes provided to a media outlet. This is the most pathetic kind of muckraking by a would-be engineer drawing attention to himself by attacking an established figure. Unwise, perhaps, for Digital Ocean to TOS him like this, but certainly within their rights as a service provider. As for the original poster, he may in turn feel violated by DO's TOS, but the violation of privacy he committed is without question much more severe.

Does their TOS really say you can't embarrass anyone? That seems totally retarded, some people get embarrassed about the stupidest things.

I guess as a DO customer I should have read their TOS more carefully =/

Did Digital Ocean just lose any DMCA safe harbor status it had, by policing client content in this way?

Don't use Digital Ocean. Every time I hear their name, it's a complete index of WTFs.

Find me another service that praises you for violation of their TOS. I'd be really pleased to find at least one.

TOSes are what they are, but at least Rackspace's TOS doesn't prohibit acts that "embarrass" someone.

However a lawsuit against them would. And it is very logical to try and avoid having such a lawsuit as you'd have to spend quite a few bucks on a decent lawyer.

If someone sued rackspace for that, chances are they'd get ignored. They're too big to bother with frivolous threats that would be thrown out immediately.

I wouldn't say you can so easily throw away a court order.

You need to win in order to get one of those.

So? DO is a private company offering a service. They're not obliged to accept your money. Don't like them, go elsewhere.

I'm glad I found out what kind of service they offer before I signed up for it, which I might have been tempted to do otherwise.

This is the definition of online harassment. This guy Josh at vpsexperience.wordpress.com sounds like a real piece of work.

It saddens me to see this petty bullshit on the front page of Hacker News.

How many times is this story going to be killed and reposted?


I get that he is trying to get this to go viral and thereby bring attention to his pathetic muck raking but maybe a ban for gaming the system is in order I believe it's been submitted three times and killed or flagged each time, how many times can you submit the same lame, self aggrandizing content?

Digital Ocean are going through all the kinds of problems that newbies to the ISP business go through in their early days, but DO are having to do it after having already got enormously popular. Not a lot of fun for them I'm sure.

He is a dickhead and Digital ocean might be a bit contradicting when allowing harassment on the forum. That was however harassment towards his alias/username not to a specific individual.

I still think digital ocean did the right thing and contacted him, And asked him to fix the ToS breakage he committed.

All DO are asking the blog author to do is to just honour the Terms of Service that he himself agreed to. I don't see any controversy here; it is all very simple.

Maybe, the blog author is attention-seeking and trying to manufacture outrage by trying to cast himself as a "victim". The real victim, if there is one, is the Googler who has had his conversations in a closed forum relayed to the world and editorialised by someone who obviously didn't explain his true intents. Anyway, if the blog author disagrees and doesn't feel that he wants to honour his contract then he can just move his blog or, as DO suggest, launch legal action and get an injunction. I suspect though he will just skulk off and look for some other controversy to rant about.

Replace DO with AWS and the Googler with Jeff Bezos, and the blog format with the NYTimes.

...and it wouldn't make any difference.

If the NY Times signed an agreement with AWS that stated that they couldn't do X against anyone and, at a later date, they did X against Jeff Bezos then AWS would be well within their rights to demand that either NYT adhere to their agreement or leave.

I note that you use the example of two related entities (AWS and Jeff Bezos). Are you implying that there is a relationship between DO and the Googler equivalent to that between Jeff and AWS?

No one is suggesting DO shouldn't enforce their ToS. Rather, it's their ToS that is at issue. The use of AWS and NYTimes was too look at it another way. Everything the NYTimes prints would fall afoul of the ruling from DO.

More importantly, NYTimes wouldn't agree to such a stipulation from their provider precisely because of an issue like this. That should be a warning sign.

As for the use of Jeff Bezos, it was because I had mentioned AWS. Replace Bezos with anyone. It was merely the first name that popped into my head.

Here, I'll make it easy: AWS is the hosting provider, NYTimes is the site, and a member of the NSA is mentioned in the article.

1. Has none of the "alpha geeks" involved ever hear of or Google the "Streisand Effect"?

2. Though the issue raised is one that's worth debating, what Collins said wasn't particularly newsworthy or inflammatory and may not even disqualify him from some day winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Yet the way the OP referred to his remarks, by the time I clicked through to see the juicy details, I was expecting something on the order of "Let them eat cake", but with racial slurs thrown in. The purportedly shocking statements were, IMO, not terrible, give the concise format. And yet they may have very well been given the sinister connotations DO's alleged actions give them

I thought the entire article sounded like a bit of an overreaction. It sounds like hashbrownchew (vpsexperience.wordpress.com) wrote this article with the intent of stirring up as much controversy as possible. However, when I read through it I was perplexed. Reading the article[1] that DO asked him to edit did not give me much sympathy for hashbrownchew either. He refers to Collins as "one obnoxious Googler" and then somewhat-creepily investigates (with instructions) where Collins is lives to use for another inflammatory point. This entire article sounds much like a hashbrownchew is a papparazzi trying to provoke a reaction from Collins and then trying to further stir up controversy after misrepresenting Collins gets him into trouble. I really do not see why he didn't just edit the article to be anonymous. Whether he _has_ to edit it or not isn't clear, but it is the polite thing to do.

1. http://vpsexperience.wordpress.com/2014/01/05/googler-speaks...

When companies decide to get into personal matter of two unknown individuals which could have been easily went unnoticed, DO did a disfavor of putting them both on face of social media bringing bad words for both themselves and Travis Collins.

Given his sensationalist writing style, I'm not at all surprised to see that it was a Gawker piece he questioned Travis Collins about. Gawker is Yellow Journalism[1] and as such deserves no response.

The larger issue makes for interesting discussion, however. I believe he's right that the complain ought to have been directed at the author initially, rather than at the hosting provider. I doubt it would have accomplished anything to complain to this individual, but it is nonetheless the correct procedure.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellow_journalism

So, let's be clear:

1. The blogger signed up with DO and agreed to some TOS that prohibit certain types of activities.

2. He then, by his own admission, lurks in a chatroom.

3. He asks a Googler a question but does not disclose what he intends to do with it. By his own admission, he had no plans to write a piece.

4. He takes the Googler's comments, contorts them, and constructs a poorly written screed in which he, amongst various other calumnies against good taste, investigates the home address of the Googler and uses that to add dramatic effect to his hit piece.

5. The hoster -- whose TOS he explicitly agreed with at the start -- asks him politely to edit his piece to comply with the agreement. They seem to only require him to remove the personal identifying information.

6. Despite the fact that removing the name of the person would not really diminish the albeit half-baked and poorly thought out idea that the author is trying to get promote, he acts as though he is the one that should feel aggrieved and outraged for removing the Googler's name.

7. By doing so, he reveals his true intent. He isn't interested in making a point about Google; he is interested primarily in presenting the said Googler in a negative light and personally maligning him or inciting others to malign him.

Or, the shorter version, the blog author is an odious and obnoxious attention-whore and troll who is trying to build a reputation by demolishing the reputation of an innocent engineer; and then who is so blinded by his desire to get attention that he doesn't realise that he looks like an ignorant jackass by whinging and whining that DO are asking him to simply adhere to the TOS that he himself agreed to.

Exactly. What's this bully's motivation? Does he want this Googler to be fired? To be disciplined at work? To apologize publicly? Or simply to embarrass him publicly and move on to something else?

I don't know anything about DO, but it aggravates me that they are being disparaged here when all they did was make a reasonable request.

Most services frown upon posting identifying information in certain kinds of stories. Reddit, for example, had issues with vigilantism against innocent people after certain inflammatory posts.

Freedom of press is guaranteed only to those who own one. -- A. J. Liebling

Freedom of press and freedom of speech are complete red herrings here.

DO is a private company and they are free to agree to whatever they want in their contracts. They don't owe anyone any obligation other than to adhere to the agreements they form with their customers.

This is no different from asking someone a question, slyly videoing their answer on your Google Glass, and uploading it to Youtube.

And then having your ISP drop you as a customer.

DO are not unusual in having AUP/TOS that is more restrictive than the law allows.

A number of people here are saying that they feel uncomfortable with DO's stance, but plenty of other providers would come close to that level of policing.

Luckily there are options if you want someone to just host stuff with tolerant AUP/TOS.

Tldr: contracts mean stuff.

All a bit petty and grubby isn't it? I don't think the claims of libel or defamation really hold much water given the evidence presented (I am not a lawyer), but it seems to me DOs clause of avoiding embarrassment could cover pretty much anything.

That said the tone and approach of the original poster's blog posts leave an unpleasant taste in my mouth in that way that something can be technically correct, whilst simultaneously feeling morally repugnant; more self aggrandising than injustice fighting, and it's interesting how keen the original poster is to explicitly name and shame the random dude from Google, while remaining conveniently anonymous himself.

Bah, I feel grubby just from having commented on this.

For the sake of comparison, it seems worth mentioning a hosting provider that takes an explicit stance in their policies against things like this happening, to the extent that they actually named their company around the idea: https://www.nearlyfreespeech.net/help/abuse

Unfortunately, NFSN's technology stack is so far behind the times that it's hard to use them for much of anything these days. I'm not affiliated with them, just a long time customer.

Get this off of HN. This blog doesn't deserve the publicity.

Leave DO. Go to goip.com, publish whatever you want. Its Netherlands.

To those who say the guy is jerk and his blog does not deserve the publicity. This is typical orwellian situation with some animals more equal than others. DO hosts a lot of things and does not police them, but this one was voluntary attempt of editorial control (censorship) and it is not acceptable from infrastructure provider. As it seems, DO is not behaving ethically (nor does the guy).

It's surprising that wordpress.com leaves this petty post up. OP is likely violating their ToS too...

How's that surprising? Most blogging providers (Wordpress, Blogger etc.) and indeed large ISPs in general are pretty tolerant of things that are merely potentially offensive to an individual, as opposed to libellous.

freedom of speech much

freedom of speech protects your speech from the government , not from a private business where you host your blog. Did they shut down his blog ? no.

This is basically a ploy by someone who is seeking publicity for his attack on this other individual by taking his words out of context and altering their meaning.

Here is a previous submission of HN of the disputed post: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6984487


His is a repost under another date of the same bat-shit crazy "nothing" that makes Gawker seem reasonable.

The author is an attention monger who probably has some sort of a personal vendetta against the person he is attacking, I suggest not to take his account of things on face value.

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