Three months ago, CloudFlare CEO Matthew Prince began his day poring over an operations team report on network incidents overnight when he noticed a Russian-language client had gone down under a denial-of-service attack.
The site only used CloudFlare’s free security product and was quickly overwhelmed, the report showed. After his team did a little digging, they discovered the site was one of the leading blogs covering the ongoing dispute between Russia and the Ukraine.
“I felt sick to my stomach,” Prince says. “We’d terminated protection for a customer that was doing something that was extremely politically important.”
On Thursday, Prince’s company is unveiling a new program to prevent that sort of thing from happening again. CloudFlare is launching a new free protection program, called Project Galileo, for sites which have been deemed by outside free speech groups to be “politically and artistically important.”
CloudFlare is a content delivery network, basically one of the Internet middlemen that helps sites speed up their traffic by routing it more efficiently or optimizing their content. The company also offers cyber security services to websites to help prevent denial of service or other malicious attacks. It has about two million customers.
The company says it will offer enterprise-level protection to the sites, which will be vetted by fifteen outside organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Freedom of the Press Foundation, Mozilla and Access, the global digital rights group.
The groups can nominate sites they think need protection or vet requests by nonprofits or other entities that meet the general guidelines for protection.
The company is trying to insulate itself from making any decisions about who gets protection, since it’s pretty likely that organizations that espouse unpopular views are going to be on the list.
If the Westboro Baptist Church, known for its demonstrations against the gay community, were on the list “we would protect them, even though I find their opinions disgusting,” Prince said.
“The solution to speech is more speech,” he said. “It is not our role to pick what speech is good speech and what speech is bad speech. We’ll do everything we can to keep that speech online even if someone is trying to shut it down.”
Recipients of the extra protection won’t be publicized, the company said, to avoid making them targets.