Host: Big Traffic, Not Big Media Responsible for Bugmenot Shutdown

  |  August 24, 2004   |  Comments

Implications that Bugmenot's site was shut down because of pressure from media companies are utterly false, according to the site's former host.

Claims that media pressure spurred the shutdown of the controversial Bugmenot site are utterly false, according to a spokesman for Hostgator, the site's former host.

Bugmenot, an online service that allows users to bypass compulsory registration by providing shared username-password combinations for many popular content sites, was unavailable for most of last week, and the anonymous owner of the site has implied that media pressure was behind it.

"Our stinkin' host pulled the plug on us without notice (pretty obvious they were pressured somehow). But everything is sweet again. I've been in talk with our new hosts nearlyfreespeech.net -- they are very sympathetic to the cause and won't be pulling the plug on us again. Thanks for your support and concern but they are going to have to pry this site from my cold, dead hands," the site's anonymous owner told BoingBoing, a popular blog that has chronicled Bugmenot's fortunes.

Online media companies, especially newspaper sites, have increasingly come to rely on registration data to better target online advertising. Given this trend, the Bugmenot site in recent weeks has attracted a wide variety of media attention, which included coverage of its abrupt disappearance.

"This freedom of speech conspiracy story is far from the truth," said Brent Oxley, spokesman for Hostgator. "Nobody approached us, we had no idea what the site even did, nor had we heard of it before."

According to Oxley, the Bugmenot site began crashing the host's Apache Web server multiple times, and that is the reason it was deactivated.

"I guarantee we weren't pressured. It seems everyone's trying to turn it into something it's not," he said.

The site owner and the new hosting company, Texas-based NearlyFreeSpeech.net, have implied otherwise, though they are careful not to make any definitive statements. According to NearlyFreeSpeech.net spokesman Jeff Wheelhouse, "At some point before the 19th, the Bugmenot site was shut down by the original hosting provider without explanation, for reasons unknown."

While admitting no firsthand knowledge about the cause of the original shutdown, he speculated that legal threats may have been responsible. "If that was the case, we anticipate finding out firsthand who instigated the shutdown and why in short order. Unlike [the original hosting company], we will not shut the site down without making the circumstances well known to all interested parties. NearlyFreeSpeech.NET supports and defends the free expression rights of www.bugmenot.com and all our members to the very limit of its terms of service," Wheelhouse said

The anonymous site owner, described as a male programmer from Australia, reported the cause of the outage in the MozillaZine discussion group, posting under the name bgm: "Our host pulled the plug. I reckon they were pressured. If anyone has got some secure, preferably offshore hosting in mind, then please let us know so we can get the service back up as soon as possible."

Before settling at NearlyFreeSpeech.net, the Bugmenot site owner said he moved the site to a second hosting company, but moved it again after experiencing some delays. At some point during this period, the second host allegedly forwarded some or all of the site's traffic to one or more racist Web sites, causing some content filters to block Bugmenot for racist content, Wheelhouse said.

Apparently some big media sites have taken note of Bugmenot as the site gained a higher profile, at least according to the site's owner. "It's become obvious that certain news sites are spidering the bugmenot site to autoblock accounts," bgm explained in MozillaZine. It is unclear whether this alleged spidering played a role in the server crashes. Bugmenot offers registration information for sites such as NYTimes.com, WashingtonPost.com, LATimes.com and ChicagoTribune.com.

NearlyFreeSpeech.net, is quite outspoken about free speech issues, as you would guess from its name. "We care enough about free speech to put it in the name of the site. And, more significantly, we care enough about free speech not to censor those who use our service to post content that is antithetical to our beliefs," Wheelhouse said. "Large foreign governments have unsuccessfully attempted to pressure us to remove sites and/or disclose information about the people who operate them. We have never shut off a site because of its content or disclosed someone's identity in response to any threat. Like most people, threats just make us dig in our heels."

He made it clear that NearlyFreeSpeech.net would disable sites for confirmed copyright infringement or violation of U.S. Law.

According to Bugmenot's site, the motivation behind the service is a philosophical objection to what it believes is a breach of privacy. It calls registration "contrary to the fundamental spirit of the Net", and says it is a pointless, annoying waste of time. Between 10,000 and 15,000 unique visitors per day agree, according to bgm.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kevin Newcomb

Kevin Newcomb joined ClickZ in August 2004, covering search marketing and other online marketing topics. He has been reporting on web-based businesses since 2000.

Before the bubble burst, Kevin was a marketing manager for an online computer reseller, handling copywriting, e-mail marketing, search marketing and running the affiliate program.

With a combination of real-world marketing experience and years of business journalism, Kevin brings to ClickZ a unique ability to deliver news and training materials that help online marketers do their jobs better.

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