GoDaddy Silences Police-Watchdog Site RateMyCop.com
By Kevin Poulsen
March 11, 2008
A new web service that lets users rate and comment on the uniformed police officers in their community is scrambling to restore service Tuesday, after hosting company GoDaddy unceremonious pulled-the-plug on the site in the wake of outrage from criticism-leery cops.
Visitors to RateMyCop.com on Tuesday were redirected to a GoDaddy page reading, "Oops!!!", which urged the site owner to contact GoDaddy to find out why the company pulled the plug.
RateMyCop founder Gino Sesto says he was given no notice of the suspension. When he called GoDaddy, the company told him that he'd been shut down for "suspicious activity."
When Sesto got a supervisor on the phone, the company changed its story and claimed the site had surpassed its 3 terabyte bandwidth limit, a claim that Sesto says is nonsense. "How can it be overloaded when it only had 80,00 page views today, and 400,000 yesterday?"
Police departments became uneasy about RateMyCop's plans to watch the watchers in January, when the Culver City, California, startup began issuing public information requests for lists of uniformed officers.
Then the site went live on February 28th. It stores the names and, in some cases, badge numbers of over 140,000 cops in as many as 500 police departments, and allows users to post comments about police they've interacted with, and rate them. The site garnered media interest this week as cops around the country complained that they'd be put at risk if their names were on the internet.
"Having a website like that puts a lot of law enforcement, in my eyes, in danger because it exposes us out there," Officer Hector Basurto, vice president of the Latino Police Officers Association, told ABC television affiliate KGO.
Since undercover officers aren't in the database, and the site has no personal information like home addresses, that fear seems unfounded. Chief Jerry Dyer, president of the California Police Chiefs Association, voices what sounds like a more honest concern: that officers will face "unfair maligning" by the citizens they serve.
Sesto says police can post comments as well, and a future version of the site will allow them to authenticate themselves to post rebuttals more prominently. Chief Dyer wants to get legislation passed that would make RateMyCop.com illegal, which, of course, wouldn't pass constitutional muster in any court in America.
Unfortunately for the startup, the company it chose for hosting is known to be quick to censor its customers. In January of last year, GoDaddy took down entire computer security website -- delisting it from DNS -- to get a single, archived mailing list post off the web.
On that occasion, at least, it gave the site's owner 60 seconds notice. GoDaddy notified Seto by posting its "Oops!" message to his public website.
"You put on my website for me to call you, when you have my phone number?," says Sesto.
March 12, 2008 | 6:00:00 PM RackSpace Cops Out. Sesto says he'd arranged for the Texas-based hosting firm RackSpace to take over permanent hosting for RateMyCop.com, and paid them $2,000 for the first two months of service. But he heard from RackSpace's lawyer minutes ago, and the deal is off.
"We believe that the website to be found at www.ratemycop.com
as described to our sales representative could create a risk to the health and safety of law enforcement officers," wrote general counsel Beth Sherfy, in an e-mail to the startup provided by Sesto.
Sherfy didn't immediately return a phone call from THREAT LEVEL.
At the moment, the site has temporary hosting on its own server, but Sesto says it won't be able to handle the kind of traffic he expects as RateMyCop.com becomes more popular. He doesn't sound too worried, and there's little doubt that he'll be able to find a hosting company.
Our prediction: A year from now RateMyCop.com will have won public service awards. Good cops, and clean departments, will have come to think of the site as a friend, and its founders will be sought-after speakers at police gatherings. Hosting companies that reject them on "health and safety" grounds will look like fools and cowards.
March 12, 2008 | 19:40:00 PM GoDaddy Breaks Its Silence. The company insists the RateMyCop.com takedown had nothing to do with the content of the site.
"The site's operator has publicly disclosed the concerns were over bandwidth," spokeswoman Elizabeth Driscoll writes in an e-mail "More accurately, GoDaddy's concerns were about how the RateMyCop site was far exceeding the amount of server usage for which it had contracted."
I asked for clarification, and Driscoll agreed with Sesto that RateMyCop.com hadn't exceeded its monthly bandwidth allotment. But the spike in popularity that followed the police backlash resulted in far more simultaneous connections than GoDaddy can handle under the low-budget shared hosting plan Sesto signed up for.
There's no hard contractual limit on the number of connections a customer can receive at once, but Driscoll says GoDaddy pulled the plug under a broad provision of its terms-of-service that lets it "remove your website temporarily or permanently from its virtual dedicated servers if GoDaddy is the recipient of activities that threaten the stability of its network."
"Basically, he was paying for compact car, when he really needed a semi-truck," Driscoll writes. "The customer was not willing to work with our staff to resolve the issue."
Sesto refutes that last part, and says GoDaddy didn't contact him before cutting off the site.