A while back, MindSpring Enterprises pulled service from a controversial anti-abortion Web site. The site, known as the Nuremberg Files, included a so-called "hit list" of 200- plus abortion doctors. The site listed personal information about the doctors, including home and work addresses, their children's names and where their children attended school. The shutdown came the same day the Web site operator announced the site soon would include real- time video from cameras deployed outside clinics.
"We evaluated it and determined it was not consistent with our appropriate use policy," Sam DeSimone, MindSpring's executive vice president, told USA Today.
As more people become familiar with accessing and navigating the Net, the issue of what is proper content will come under more scrutiny. A Web hosting company or ISP may be judged by the sites it hosts and may not be able to distance itself from a controversial site simply by claiming it is only providing hosting services.
If this happens, a Web hosting company will have to weigh their client's desires versus their policy on what they deem proper content. However, denying service, regardless of the reason, always carries a negative connotation and Web hosts don't want potential clients to perceive them as obtrusive or too strict.
Surely, this is the dilemma MindSpring faced. The decision to pull a site is by no means cut and dry. While many people have supported MindSpring's decision, others, including an editorial in the Sacramento Bee, have raised the question whether this decision threatens free speech on the Net.
MindSpring's decision to stop service will probably not impact their business in the long-term. But any business, on the Net or not, wants to avoid any negative press, regardless of the situation.
In addition, providing service to a controversial site could affect a Web host in a more direct manner. An Irish ISP, Connect Ireland, acts as a server for Web sites under the .tp domain, which is the country domain for East Timor. East Timor was invaded by Indonesia in 1975 and annexed a year later. The country domain of .tp represented East Timor's symbolic independence on the Web.
The East Timor Web site prompted a global hacking assault on the .tp domain forcing Connect Ireland to shut down, a decision that affected all of their clients, including 100 Web sites in the United States.
As for now, Web hosting companies will have to determine individually what they deem appropriate. No doubt, Connect Ireland will get the .tp domain up and running again and the Nuremberg Files Web site will find a new host.