In the wake of Capitol riots two weeks ago, a number of large tech companies have Parler, a social network like Twitter that supporters of Donald Trump have increasingly favored since its launch in 2018. Apple and Google have removed the Talk app from their digital stores and Amazon Web Services has cut back on platform hosting services. After more than a week offline, the site is now partially backed up, in the form of a landing page that promises a full return. To take it this far, Parler has hired DDoS-Guard, a Russian digital infrastructure company, to defend it against the endless barrage of attacks that virtually every site faces online, especially those as controversial as Parler. .
DDoS-Guard told WIRED that it is only providing defense against denial of service attacks, not hosting the Parler site. But even this level of support requires access to all traffic passing through Parler, so that it can “clean up” malicious traffic aimed at flooding the site. In view of the active efforts of the Russian government to isolate internet from country and having access to all the data, Parler could expose its users to Russian surveillance if the site ever relaunched in full with DDoS-Guard.
“It seems like the time has come to remind all of you – in love and hate – why we launched this platform,” the Speaking homepage currently proclaims. “We believe that the protection of privacy is paramount and that freedom of expression is essential … We will solve any challenges that come before us and plan to welcome you again soon.”
Talking Chief Operating Officer Jeffrey Wernick Told The New York Times Tuesday that the social network would prefer US-based providers and is working to find them. The platform registers its domain through Seattle-based Epik. But Talking has been shunned by the biggest names in the American tech industry, and pretends have over 12 million users, which makes the platform too big for most small hosts. Its domestic options are scarce.
By adopting DDoS-Guard, even as a stopgap, Parler joins a growing list of far-right sites like 8kun (formerly 8chan) and the Daily Stormer that US infrastructure companies have taken offline, only to see companies in countries with limited Internet freedom – like DDoS-Guard – activate their re-emergence.
“At this time, Parler.com does not violate our Acceptable Use Policy or applicable US law to our knowledge,” DDoS-Guard said in a statement to WIRED. “DDoS-Guard responsibly maintains customer data without disclosing it to third parties. In addition, the provider only stores the information required for the service and explicitly provided by customers. “
But Russia has Laws adopted that force tech companies to comply with government demands, and has deployed a physical network infrastructure to monitor everything from web user IP addresses and communications to location data. Using Russian infrastructure services could expose users of a site to the country’s surveillance programs, says Alp Toker, director of the non-partisan connectivity monitoring group NetBlocks. More posts on Speak are intended to be public, but the platform also offered direct messaging and many types of “verified” accounts, including red badges for anyone who uploads a picture of their government ID card. All of this information, along with granular data on user activity and user IP addresses, would potentially be exposed to the Kremlin if Parler returned with those same features while routing its data through Russian servers.
No matter where Parler eventually lands, he seems likely to find a home somewhere. The decentralized design of the Internet helps ensure connectivity, but also makes it difficult to silence people or platforms. Even the repressive governments of countries like Iran and China have struggled with the logistics of full control of the regional Internet.