Parler Attempting to Come Back Online, Still Insisting The Site’s Motivation Is ‘Privacy’ Despite Leaking Details On All Its Users

Last week, I explained my thoughts on why the Parler takedown from AWS didn’t bother me that much — considering that there were many other cloud and webhosting solutions out there. Yet Parler has quickly discovered that many other providers aren’t interested in hosting the company’s cesspool of garbage content either. As I pointed out, at some point, some element of that has to be on Parler for attracting such an audience of garbage-spewers. Either way, we figured the site would eventually be back up, and now it appears that it’s on its way. The site put up a holding page with a few “Parlezs” (their version of tweets) from its execs and lead cheerleaders.

The site appears to be using Epik for hosting and DDoSGuard for DDoS protection. Neither of these are that surprising. Epik has built up something of a specialty in hosting the garbage, hate-filled websites no one else wants to touch. It has hosted Gab, 8chan/8kun, and The Daily Stormer among others. DDoSGuard is a somewhat sketchy Russian company that provides services to an equally sketchy group of sites — and some terrorist groups. Brian Krebs has recently discussed how DDoSGuard may create some significant liability issues:

A review of the several thousand websites hosted by DDoS-Guard is revelatory, as it includes a vast number of phishing sites and domains tied to cybercrime services or forums online.

Replying to requests for comment from a CBSNews reporter following up on my Oct. 2020 story, DDoS-Guard issued a statement saying, “We observe network neutrality and are convinced that any activity not prohibited by law in our country has the right to exist.”

But experts say DDoS-Guard’s business arrangement with a Denver-based publicly traded data center firm could create legal headaches for the latter thanks to the Russian company’s support of Hamas.

Ooof. There’s a lot more in Krebs’ writeup.

But what struck me as most ridiculous about Parler’s holding page (beyond trying to hide behind MLK Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” as if Parler’s raging nut job userbase is somehow oppressed) is that the company is still claiming that beyond being a place for (a misunderstood concept of) “free speech,” that the impetus behind the site was about “protecting privacy.”

That reads:

Now seems like the right time to remind you all — both lovers and haters — why we started this platform. We believe privacy is paramount and free speech essential, especially on social media. Our aim has always been to provide a nonpartisan public square where individuals can enjoy and exercise their rights to both.

We will resolve any challenge before us and plan to welcome all of you back soon. We will not let civil discourse perish!

The “privacy is paramount” line is one that Parler really only started spewing more recently. Rebekah Mercer used a similar line when she outed herself as a co-founder of the platform and it never made any sense at all. After all, Mercer was also behind Cambridge Analytica, a company involved in what is now considered one of the biggest privacy breaches in the history of social media. The whole “privacy” claim seemed like little more than a convenient talking point to pretend that their approach was somewhat different than Facebook’s or Google’s.

But in the case of Parler, it’s even more ridiculous. After all, this was a company that required users who wanted to get its version of “verified” to hand over their social security numbers. And, of course, before Parler shut down, a hacker was able to grab nearly the entire corpus of Parler posts, including pictures and videos that did not have location metadata stripped out. This allowed multiple reporters to find and highlight Parler users as they stormed the Capitol, exposing exactly who was raiding the Capitol and what evidence they revealed about their own activities. Indeed, it’s becoming clear that law enforcement is using this data to go around arresting tons of people.

Doesn’t seem that privacy protecting, after all, now does it?

Of course, much of this seems to be due to just plain old incompetence, rather than malice. Last week there was also a fascinating thread on Parler’s clueless CTO, who didn’t seem to understand some fairly basic things about running a large internet-scale service. That thread, by software engineer Sarah Mei is worth reading, if only to reach the conclusion, that Parler “might have done better with four ferrets in a trench coat.”

So, yes, the site may be coming back, but to say that it takes privacy seriously, while asking for social security numbers, hosted on a dodgy host, with a DDoS provider best known for its Russian home-base and its willingness to provide services to terrorists and online criminals… I would suggest that anyone who thinks of Parler as supportive of privacy, do so at their own risk.

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