By David Ibsen
Barely a decade old, cloud computing has revolutionised the way individuals and companies host and access digital content from anywhere in the world.
Dropbox, a well-known cloud storage and file sharing provider, has more than 500 million users. They upload more than 1.2 billion files daily, create more than 100,000 new shared folders and links every hour, and make 4,000 edits every second. Dropbox is used worldwide. Unfortunately, the service is also being exploited by terrorist groups. To tackle terrorism's influence, the EU must ensure its regulation on the removal of terrorist content applies to cloud computing services like Dropbox.
As they have with social media platforms and other online tools, terrorists and their supporters have been misusing cloud services as conduits to radicalisation and a means to incite supporters to commit acts of violence. However, despite increasing international recognition of the threat posed by terrorists’ use of the Internet in recent years, there is currently no government that has focused much attention on the way in which cloud services can be manipulated to the same ends.
The Counter Extremism Project (CEP) is deeply concerned about the lacklustre response from Internet and social media companies to the continuing problem of online radicalisation. Only after a string of attacks rocked European capitals and cities, did the European Union (EU) begin to focus on ways to pressure tech companies to take the reality of online-inspired extremist violence seriously. Technology giants such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google have been rightly called out by governments to do more to take responsibility for the dangerous content hosted on their sites.
With the EU preparing to launch new legislation on the mandatory flagging and removal of terrorist content next month, now is the perfect time for EU officials to consider the broader online environment and specifically address the terrorist content on cloud computing services. In announcing his intention to move from a voluntary to a mandatory scheme, European Commissioner for Security, Sir Julian King, said that Brussels had not seen enough progress on the removal of terrorist material by technology companies, therefore, it would be necessary to “take stronger action in order to better protect our citizens’’.
There is no reason that the Commission’s new regulatory approach should not be applied as well to cloud services, obligating them to also eliminate illegal content within one hour of being notified.
In the past, Dropbox has employed technologies to identify and eliminate copyrighted materials and images of child pornography. In March 2018, the file hosting company removed a folder containing hundreds of explicit topless and nude photos of American military women. There is no reason they should not be expected to employ the same techniques to eliminate extremist content. Protecting the privacy of their users and protecting public safety are not conflicting goals. This should not entail extra effort as the Dropbox Acceptable Use Policy already indicates the company’s commitment to limiting hateful content - which includes terrorist materials - on the platform. The obligation must now be enforced.
The speed at which illegal content is found and taken down is very important. CEP research shows that terrorist content which has been identified on Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft One Drive, as well Amazon Cloud Drive is often removed in approximately one to two days, but is sometimes available for longer. In that amount of time, these often violent propaganda materials can be seen and shared hundreds, if not thousands of times.
Terrorism, in all its forms and manifestations, affects us all. Terrorist propaganda and radicalisation content crosses national borders, as do cloud computing services. The existence of such troubling content on cloud storage platforms like Dropbox helps extremists expand their reach beyond traditional social media channels. The European Commission should acknowledge this reality and address this very serious challenge before it’s too late.
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