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WikiLeaks, the nonprofit site that publishes leaked government documents, was booted off Amazon.com’s cloud computing services today following political pressure from Senator Joe Lieberman.
Personally, I’m disappointed by Amazon’s action, because I think WikiLeaks performs a valuable service. (Gawker’s Ryan Tate has a great post highlighting why the move is hypocritical.) At the same time, I realize that this is a complicated, sensitive issue, and that Amazon may only have done what it believed was legally required or morally right.
Too bad the company isn’t explaining itself at all.
We emailed an Amazon spokesperson for comment, but they didn’t respond. The company also declined to comment on its relationship with WikiLeaks to the Associated Press and hasn’t released a statement to any news organization as far as I can tell. (The announcement, such as it was, came from Sen. Lieberman’s office.)
This seems to have become Amazon’s standard approach to controversial decisions — just refuse to comment and hope that things blow over. For example, when it temporarily pulled books published by Macmillan from its website while the companies were in the middle of tense pricing negotiations, Amazon didn’t announce what it was doing, it didn’t respond to requests from more information from reporters or authors, and instead it posted a passive-aggressive comment on the Kindle forum.
More recently, when Amazon came under fire for selling a self-published “pedophile guide”, it again declined to comment, and instead pulled the book without explanation.
In this case, I’d be particularly concerned if I was a Web company hosted by Amazon or thinking about signing up with them. If there’s controversial content on my website, is Amazon going to take it down as soon as it’s pressured? Political blog Talking Points Memo points out that Amazon’s terms of service prohibit illegal activity, but it’s not clear yet whether WikiLeaks has done anything illegal.
Meanwhile, the WikiLeaks site is back up on a Swedish hosting service, and unlike Amazon, the organization has been very open about what it thinks. On its Twitter account, WikiLeaks said, “If Amazon are so uncomfortable with the first amendment, they should get out of the business of selling books.”