Web Hosting Companies Should Remain Impartial
It's a tough question: what level of responsibility do web hosting companies have for the content they are hosting? Copyright infringement and explicit content can often cross lines that lead to fines and a host of other problems, like a site shutdown. But should we be holding web hosting providers more accountable for the content on the websites that they host?
It's true that the Internet is a vast place, full of any content you can imagine. This means that there will be content that some find offensive. But just because it's offensive to some doesn't make it illegal. That, in this author's opinion, is the only way to conduct a web hosting company. Impartial is the best way to go — anything goes, as long as it's legal in the country it's being hosted in.
Impartial the Problem: Define Acceptable
If web hosting companies wanted to, they could judge for themselves what content to host, and some do this to a certain extent with in limits of impartial. But some, in favor of making as much money as they can, don't censor content whatsoever. Both situations are equally bad.
The second scenario, the host that doesn't censor content whatsoever — kind of the “don't ask, don't tell” of web hosting — can land the user in hot water depending on the content they are hosting. For example, if they were to host child pornography, that would be a big no-no, and most certainly illegal.
When you look at the first scenario, the hosting provider that censors pages they find offensive or inappropriate, it seems harmless at the surface. After all, it is their company providing the hosting services. Shouldn't they have some say?
Yes, and no. In my opinion, a web hosting company should maintain some impartiality when deciding what to host. Basically, if it's not against the law, go for it!
Impartial: Who Decides?
Think about it: who is judging what is hostable content? There are those that find girls in short skirts offensive. Would we then shut down every site featuring pictures of girls in short skirts? There goes the site of just about every gossip and entertainment site that exists.
This is why hosting companies should ignore the morality issues they may see and keep it strictly legal and impartial. So copyright infringement: no. Online fraud: no. Online bullying and harassment: no. Girls in short skirts: why not? It's not illegal to wear a short skirt.
What Should A Web Hosting Provider Do?
As long as you lay out your stance in the Terms & Conditions — that you will not tolerate illegal content — you're fine. If you happen to come across illegal content, head directly to the authorities in order to take proper action.
Don't run around censoring the sites you host. No “If you don't remove those pictures of the girls in short skirts, we're shutting down your website.” Only go after those who keep sites hosting illegal content, and always get the authorities involved. Your job is to point them out, not police them. If you keep it in the law's hands, you're job as web hosting provider will be much less stressful!
What Can I Do As An Internet User?
So you have come across a site with illegal content. It can be tough for a web host to keep up on content all of their sites are hosting, especially as it can change day to day. If you do come across something you know is against the law, report it to the hosting company and let them take the next step.
What are your views on web hosting companies responsibility in terms of the content they host? What would your solution be?