Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Down the Web Hosting Rabbit Hole - Bluehost Terms of Service

I've been doing some research into web hosting providers for a couple of different projects. One of the projects involves looking at a simple shared hosting provider for small business and web development. A couple of quick searches on Google will produce a series of top ten web hosting provider sites, each with reviews and some categorizations for specialization (my expectation is that there is some sponsorship-based promotions driving a number of these). You can also find links on the Wordpress and Drupal sites pointing to preferred hosting providers.

I don't really want to run through the list of all of the providers that I looked at; rather, I want to point out what came up as a big surprise to me with one -- Bluehost. Over the course of my review and analysis, I was pretty impressed with the offering from Bluehost. They're listed on the Drupal site and they rank up well across a host of the different top ten sites. They offer a wide range of software easy-install scripts for everything from content management to business tools. But one of the biggest differentiators for me was that, unlike most shared server providers, they offer SSH shell access to your server root. All in all, their service looks impressive and their cost seems very reasonable.

Gotcha - the Bluehost Terms of Service Agreement
More often than not, you don't expect to find surprises in contract forms like user agreements and terms of service. For a web hosting provider, you probably expect things like no hosting illegal content, copyright-infringing material, or porn. You might also expect no spamming, malware, or other malicious activities. What surprised me in Bluehost's terms of service -- and you probably would not expect to find in a ToS -- was a prohibition on profanity. That's right, if your site contains profanity, they can shut down your service.

I was so surprised by this that I did a deeper Google search and found multiple complaints and concerns about Bluehost and profanity. One even included a transcript from an online chat with their customer support regarding the policy. To be fair, I haven't had an opportunity to contact Bluehost regarding their policy -- I was looking for an email address to request a comment, but I couldn't find one. Some of the complaints expressed concern or suspicion that the policy (or it's interpretation) might be shaped by Bluehost's location in Utah.

Ultimately, I don't really care to explore what drove this policy or the moral prism by which web site content might be interpreted. As someone who publishes a blog that's often targeted to business readers, I am very conscientious about the content that I publish and how it might be picked up or read in the workplace. And as a professional spokesperson for numerous businesses, I also understand the importance of keeping communications with certain frameworks. That being said, as a writer, I reserve the write to use whatever language I deem appropriate and I'm not about to have my web site hosting provider function as a censor.

And that's why what I would say to Bluehost is, in the words of Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz to Michael Arrington, "F*ck Off!" I will be taking my web hosting business elsewhere.

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