The InterPlanetary File System, more broadly known as IPFS, has been around for a few years now.
While the name may sound a little alien to the public at large, the peer-to-peer file storage network has a growing user base among the tech-savvy.
In short, IPFS is a decentralized network where users make files available to each other. A website using IPFS is served by a “swarm” of users in much the same way BitTorrent users share content with each other.
The advantage of this system is that websites can become completely decentralized. If a website or other resource is hosted on IPFS, it remains accessible as long as the computer of one user who “pinned” it remains online.
The advantages of IPFS are clear. It allows archivists, content creators, researchers, and many others to distribute large volumes of data over the Internet. It’s censorship resistant and not vulnerable to regular hosting outages.
IPFS is also a perfect match for ‘pirate’ sites. Due to its decentralized nature, IPFS sites are virtually impossible to shut down. This aspect was already highlighted by Pirate Bay co-founder Peter Sunde back in 2016. More recently, IPFS was promoted by Z-Library after its domain names were seized.
Cloudflare’s IPFS Gateway
IPFS has also been embraced by many legal services. Most notably, Cloudflare gave it a boost by launching its own IPFS gateway, allowing the public to access IPFS resources without having to install specialized software.
Cloudflare’s IPFS gateway has been running for a few years now. Technically, the internet infrastructure company has no control over any of the content being made available, but that doesn’t mean there are no complaints.
Apparently, some people or organizations have complained about the content that can be accessed through Cloudflare’s IPFS gateway.
While the accessed content is in no way controlled by Cloudflare, the San Francisco company takes these complaints rather seriously. The same also applies to the Ethereum gateway, which offers easy read-and-write access to the Ethereum network.
Cloudflare Disables IPFS Access
In its most recent transparency report, Cloudflare explains that it will respond to valid abuse requests by disabling access. This includes spam reports as well as copyright infringement complaints.
“Although Cloudflare does not have the ability to remove content on IPFS or Ethereum, Cloudflare may disable access through Cloudflare-operated gateways to certain content on IPFS and the Ethereum network in response to abuse reports, including reports of copyright, technical, and other abuse.”
“This action does not prevent access to that content through other gateways, which Cloudflare does not control,” Cloudflare clarifies.
In the first quarter of 2022, Cloudflare reports that this policy resulted in 1,073 IPFS actions. Presumably, this means that the company disabled access the same number of items on the IPFS network. No such actions were taken for the Ethereum gateway.
Cloudflare’s actions are notable for a couple of reasons. For one, it shows that decentralized and censorship-free networks lose their key feature when they are accessed through centralized gateways.
IPFS vs. DNS vs. CDN
What also stands out is that Cloudflare disables content in response to copyright complaints. The policy for its CDN service is different; it only forwards complaints to the affected users.
For example, when rightsholders send a complaint about The Pirate Bay, which uses Cloudflare, the company takes no action aside from forwarding the notification to The Pirate Bay team.
We asked Cloudflare about its motivation to take action in response to copyright complaints for its IPFS gateway, but the company didn’t immediately respond. If we had to take a non-informed guess, we expect that the lack of forwarding options for IPFS content might have something to do with it.
Cloudflare has no option to forward any complaints for IPFS content because it does not know who controls it.
That said, this raises the question of how the IPFS gateway is different from Cloudflare’s DNS resolver, which essentially operates as a gateway to the regular Internet. Cloudflare previously said that it will fight copyright-related DNS blockades, even if they’re backed up by a court order.
Apparently, that’s not the case for IPFS.