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Message to Google and Amazon on domain fronting: You break it, you bought it

Washington D.C. — Reports indicate that Amazon Web Services (AWS) has joined Google in blocking “domain fronting,” a practice that enables millions of people around the world to exercise their human rights online. Access Now calls on both Amazon and Google to work with affected communities to ensure that users are not negatively impacted.

Domain fronting is the practice of routing application traffic through a larger platform to mask its destination. This enables apps and services to circumvent some forms of repressive censorship and surveillance. Governments and internet service providers (which are often controlled by governments under authoritarian regimes) cannot shut down the targeted service without blocking access to the whole suite of popular Google products.

“Domain fronting has become a valuable tool for internet freedom around the world. Services using domain fronting are not freeloaders trying to save a buck. In many cases they are human rights defenders trying to protect their rights to free speech, free association, and freedom from undue surveillance,” said Nathan White, Senior Legislative Manager at Access Now. “Our message to Amazon and Google is ‘you break it, you bought it.’ Unless the world’s wealthiest companies want to be known for abandoning the world’s most vulnerable, then they now have an obligation to work with affected communities to ensure that human rights are not negatively impacted.”

“Domain fronting requires a well-resourced company for it to work — companies like Amazon and Google have the size, the market share, and the capital to prevent censorship and stand up to repressive regimes. By cutting their systems off to domain fronting, they are not only abdicating their responsibility to defend human rights, but doing it in a way that cannot be effectively mitigated,” added Amie Stepanovich, U.S. Policy Manager at Access Now.

“Unlike Google, Amazon has never put itself out as a protector of the free and open internet, but even so, both companies appear to agree that now, of all times — amidst massive blocking campaigns in Iran and Russia — is the time to set adrift the most vulnerable and marginalized communities who depend on their tools,” said Peter Micek, General Counsel at Access Now. “We call on these dominant platforms to meet their human rights responsibilities and protect users at risk. That responsibility can’t fall on the shoulders of smaller companies or volunteer-run organizations alone, as ingenious as they may be; the market leaders that have the resources to fight for human rights must be just that — leaders.”

Access Now has found approximately a dozen human rights-enabling technologies which rely, in full or in part, on domain fronting. These programs and services include: Signal, Psiphon, Lantern, Telex (in development), Tor, obsf4, ScrambleSuite, meek, meek_lite, Collateral Freedom, and GreatFire FreeBrowser.