Parler’s de-platforming: Power of Cloud providers

Trinath Bera

02-04-2021

Google suspended social media app Parler from its play store and Apple did the same the following day. Also, Amazon Web Services (AWS) had deplatformed Parler from its servers within a few days in light of the Capitol building attack.

Parler, a right winged social media app, was getting traction once it housed contents that encouraged the capitol building violence and Twitter banned former US president Donald Trump. Google suspended social media app Parler from its play store and Apple did the same the following day. Also, Amazon Web Services (AWS) had deplatformed Parler from its servers within a few days in light of the Capitol building attack.

Though, Parler had filed suit against Amazon to stop from suspending Parler’s account, It did not have access to the internet for more than a month(Parler went offline on Jan-10,2021 and it opened for its existing users on Feb-15, 2021). This clearly shows the kind of power the biggest cloud providers hold since so many companies depend on it to deliver computing and data storage. As of 2019, Amazon controlled 45% of the world’s cloud infrastructure, more than any other company (source: Gartner).

Parler was in talks with Amazon for proprietary AWS database and artificial intelligence services. But for Parler to figure out how to have the same features with the same performance in their own servers or another cloud is time consuming when time is the most crucial for Parler since it has recently started getting attention and the user base was expanding following Donald Trump’s twitter ban.

But the speed with which Amazon acted should not come as a shock. There are other companies such as DNA sequencing company Complete Genomics, Gaming company Zynga who have been disclosing details about their deals with their cloud providers which includes this kind of sudden discontinuation. Generally, there is a notice period within which service providers can terminate the agreement in case of breach of agreement. But they can even terminate or suspend immediately under certain circumstances as it did in 2010 with Wikileaks, pointing to violations of AWS’ terms of service.

Companies like Parler have recognized the drawbacks or restrictions of using a cloud provider but the flexibility in terms of performance, high traffic these companies like AWS can provide, it's impossible to ignore.

While social media website Parler was completely offline and trying to find its feet, rival social media networks like Gab were picking up in its user base. Gab is similar to Parler in its philosophy since both are heavily leaned to the right and call themselves “free speech” which is now receiving a lot of traction on its user base. Gab is thriving on its year long quest to remove third party dependency like Parler and receive customer payments via bitcoin.

Parler resumed its online services for its existing users on Feb-15, 2021 and declared that it will open its new user sign-ups the following week. The Parler posts from before the shutdown are no longer available. Parler announced that it would monitor the content with artificial intelligence and hide any content which attacks based on sex, sexual orientation, race, religion etc. But the users will have option to remove the filter and view content if they wish for. Parler's new host is SkySilk Cloud Services, a web infrastructure company based in Los Angeles. As per the company, "Skysilk does not advocate nor condone hate, rather, it advocates the right to private judgment and rejects the role of being the judge, jury, and executioner."

The developments for the past few months shows the power of the big players in the cloud service providing world and the kind of influence they have in the world. May be this time, the cloud providers were right but it needs to be made sure that these big companies are not making any biased decisions. Only time will tell.