Jun 12, 2014 · 2 minutes

CloudFlare today announced a new initiative meant to prevent distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks against sites devoted to independent journalism, political dissent, or art. The effort is called Project Galileo, and it has tasked fifteen non-profits with alerting it when sites meeting those criteria are attacked so it can offer them "whatever resources are necessary to keep them online," according to an Ars Technica report.

The company has been criticized for protecting politically sensitive websites in the past, but as chief executive Matthew Prince explained to me at the time, he thinks that it's CloudFlare's job to make sure its customers stay online, not to decide what can or can't be published.

"I just don’t think that any technology provider, when they are in a position to shutdown an entire medium, that they should be doing that," he said. "That is a long-term risk both to the medium and to a free exchange of ideas." Put another way: CloudFlare was just doing its job.

Project Galileo extends that belief by proactively offering small sites protections usually offered to established companies, effectively making CloudFlare a proactive defender of free speech. It isn't offering protection to only those who can afford it -- it's asking groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation to identify potential targets for attacks and making sure they are able to share their messages despite attackers' best efforts.

CloudFlare isn't the only company offering an anti-DDoS network to politically sensitive sites. Google has announced a similar initiative called Project Shield, and the Verge reports that the two networks will actually have some overlap in the sites they are protecting. While this might seem like a strange waste of resources by two technology companies doing essentially the same thing, it actually ensures that even if someone convinces Prince or Google to stop defending a site, the other will continue on.

Yet neither Google nor CloudFlare will reveal the sites they are defending. Some of that might be politically motivated -- there's a reason why people want to knock 'em off the face of the Internet, after all -- but it might also be meant to prevent this from becoming a PR stunt. It's rare to find true idealism in the technology industry, but in CloudFlare's case, it seems that Prince's commitment to free speech is more important than any return on Project Galileo.

In a world where anyone can attack a website with which they don't agree, where Microsoft is reading through a journalist's emails in search of a leak within its company, and where many people don't know how to defend themselves from such attacks or intrusions, something like Project Galileo is a refreshing reminder that some companies still believe in free speech. Now we'll just have to see if other companies will follow CloudFlare's lead and put idealism first.

[image adapted via thinkstock]