The 2020 presidential election turned out exactly as I and anybody else who has witnessed two children fighting over a toy expected. The only thing missing was Biden giving Trump a wedgie and calling him a poophead after his victory was certified.
What has been far more interesting to me is the response by our technology overlords. It seems that online service providers are participating in a competition to see who can best signal their hatred of Trump and the Republican Party. MSN is acting as the high score record keeper and listing every online service that has banned Trump or anything related to the Republican Party. Some of the entries were predictable. For example, Facebook and Twitter both banned Trump and Reddit announce that it banned /r/DonaldTrump.
Some of the entries are a bit more interesting (although still not surprising). Apple and Google both banned Parler (basically a shittier Facebook marketed at Republicans) from their respective app stores. Then Amazon, not wanting to be shown up, announced it had banned Parler from using its AWS services (which Parler stupidly chose as its hosting provider). For over a decade I’ve been telling anybody who will listen about the dangers of relying on tightly controlled platforms and other people’s infrastructure (often referred to as “the cloud”). These announcements by Apple, Google, and Amazon are why.
If you use an iOS device, you are stuck playing by Apple’s rules. If Apple says you’re no longer allowed to install an app to access an online service, then you’re no longer allowed to install an app that accesses that online service. The same is true, although to a lesser extent (for now), with Android. Although Android is open source Google exercises control over the platform through access to its proprietary apps. If a device manufacturer wants to include Gmail, Google Maps, and other proprietary Google apps on their Android devices, they need to agree to Google’s terms of service. The saving grace with Android is that its open source nature allows unrestricted images such as LineageOS to be released, but they generally only work on a small list of available Android devices and installing them is sometimes challenging. I’ve specifically mentioned iOS and Android, but the same is true for any proprietary platform including Windows and macOS. If Microsoft and Apple want to prohibit an app from running on Windows and macOS, they have a number of options available to them including adding the app to their operating systems’ build-in anti-malware tools. The bottom line is if you’re running a proprietary platform, you don’t own your system.
Anybody who has been reading this blog for any length of time knows that I self-host my online services. This blog for instance is running on a computer in my basement. Self-hosting comes with a lot of downsides, but one significant upside is that the only person who can erase my online presence is me. If you’re relying on a third-party service provider such as Amazon, Digital Ocean, GoDaddy, etc., your online service is entirely at their mercy. Parler wasn’t the first service to learn this lesson the hard way and certainly won’t be the last.
I’ve had to think about these things for most of my life because my philosophical views have almost always been outside the list of acceptable ideas. I developed absolutist views on gun rights, free speech, and the concept of an accused individual being innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in school and continue to maintain those views today. Opposing all forms of gun and speech restrictions doesn’t make you popular in K-12 and especially doesn’t make you popular in college. Being the person who wants a thorough investigation to determine guilt during a witch hunt generally only results in you being called a witch too. However, that list of acceptable ideas has continuously shortened throughout my life. Absolutist or near absolutist views on free speech were common when I was young. They became less common when I was in college, but the general principle of free speech was still espoused by the majority. Today it seems more common to find people who actually believe words can be dangerous and demand rigid controls on speech. It also seems that any political views slightly right of Leninism have been removed from the list.
If you hold views that are outside of the list of acceptable ideas or are in danger of being removed from the list, you need to think about censorship avoidance. If you haven’t already started a plan to migrate away from proprietary platforms, now is a good time to start. Likewise, if you administer any online services and haven’t already developed a plan to migrate to self-hosted infrastructure, now is actually at least a year too late, but still a better time to start than tomorrow. Our technology overlords have made it abundantly clear that they will not allow wrongthink to be produced or hosted on their platforms.
3 thoughts on “Silence!”
Excellent column; thanks! I’d be interested in knowing what downsides of self-hosting you’ve experienced. Hardware expense? Time spent keeping things up and running? Electricity consumption? Bandwidth challenges connecting to the world? I’m a programmer but am quite ignorant of what’s involved.
As the noose tightens, the government may stick its nose into the content of self-hosted web pages, but until then it seems like the way to go as Big Tech leaps in to purge anyone who doesn’t toe the line.
Is there a “Self-Hosting for Dummies” book you’d recommend? I don’t blog currently, but that could change.
“…the only person who can erase my online presence is me.”
Unfortunately that is not actually true. With a few keystrokes at your internet/communications service provider, they can lock you out entirely or just a specific device. The granular control admins have on the back end of their services is quite precise and absolute. Doesn’t matter if you’re using Amazon’s cloud hosting services, or rolling your own server in your basement.
The internet is not an open road or sidewalk (never really was, but before 2000 it was pretty folksy — much like a pleasant gated community, especially if you were in University or a Research Lab). It’s more loosely akin to a toll way with lots of police & traffic cams around every swerve, and behind every bush — some more aggressive and intolerant in some sections of road vs others (and lately they are all becoming aggressively intolerant).
My ISP can disable my connection, but they cannot disable one of my devices. But that doesn’t erase my online presence because I still possess all of the data and my servers are still intact. All I have to do is connect them through alternate means. I could host my infrastructure through a cellular connection using a WireGuard tunnel to a hosted gateway that would prevent the cellular provider from seeing what my traffic is. The WireGuard endpoint host could cut that off, but then I just need to spin up another endpoint and redirect my DNS records to that IP Address. In a worst case scenario I could utilize a Tor hidden service, which would guard against DNS records being erased (although make the website only available over Tor).
So long as I maintain control of my data and servers getting them connected to the Internet again is trivial (as The Pirate Bay has been effectively at demonstrating).
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