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Al Jazeera Denied Akamai Services

By Kevin R. Lang


One-time MIT startup Akamai Technologies canceled a contract with Arabic news network Al Jazeera Wednesday after briefly working with the Qatar-based television and Internet news company.

Joanne Tucker, managing editor of the network’s English-language Web site, told reporters she was frustrated by the decision but not surprised. “It has nothing to do with technical issues,” Tucker said. “It’s nonstop political pressure on these companies not to deal with us.”

Al Jazeera has been struggling to get its English-language Web site running, after the site was shut down by hackers some 12 hours after going online March 25. Users trying to access the site were redirected to a page showing an American flag. The network hoped to use Akamai’s broad server network to protect against further hack attempts, and signed a contract with Akamai on March 28, according to Tucker.

Akamai quiet on decision

Akamai officials have declined to comment on the matter, but Jeff W. Young, director of public relations, issued a statement to The Tech confirming that the company would not be working with Al Jazeera. Young declined to comment on whether Akamai had actually signed a contract or was merely in discussions with the network, but several major news outlets have reported that the company did indeed have a contract. It is unclear whether Al Jazeera has any grounds for seeking damages at this time.

“Akamai worked briefly this week with Al Jazeera to understand the issues they are having distributing their Web sites,” the statement said. “We ultimately decided not to continue a customer relationship with Al Jazeera, and we are not going to be providing them our services.”

Young said that Akamai has an acceptable use policy that applies to all potential customers, but declined to comment on anything specific to Al Jazeera. The policy, available on Akamai’s Web site, states that “Akamai takes no responsibility for any content created, accessible or delivered on or through the Akamai Network and Services. Akamai does not monitor or exercise any editorial control over such content.” Material deemed unacceptable includes anything that is “illegal, indecent, obscene, pornographic, defamatory, libelous, or inconsistent with the generally accepted practices of the Internet community,” according to the policy.

MIT has no say

The company’s content delivery technology has been licensed by the MIT Technology Licensing Office since it was developed on campus in the mid-1990s by Professor of Applied Mathematics F. Thomson Leighton PhD ’81 and then-graduate student Daniel M. Lewin SM ’98. TLO Counsel and Technology Licensing Officer Karen K. Rivard said that neither MIT nor the TLO was consulted in making the decision.

“That’s absolutely appropriate,” Rivard said. “We don’t have any direct say in how our companies do business or who they license to.” She said the only requirement placed on companies using MIT-developed technologies was a requirement by the government that in an exclusive license agreement for a patent, products sold in the U.S. must be “substantially manufactured” domestically.

Akamai, located in Cambridge, was founded in 1995 by Leighton and Lewin, and was taken public in 1999 with a skyrocketing initial public offering. Leighton continues to serve as the company’s chief scientist. Lewin, a former member of the Laboratory for Computer Science, was among those killed onboard American Airlines Flight 11 in the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Leighton did not return an e-mail message seeking comment.

Al Jazeera faces series of setbacks

As of press time, Al Jazeera was operating what it called a “temporary site” at . Tucker told reporters that without Akamai’s network of servers, the site would be more susceptible to hackers.

“It doesn’t derail us,” she said. “We can withstand the hacking up to a point, but if they focus it all on one server it would put a lot of pressure on that server.”

“We hope that won’t be the case,” she added. “We’re working on it all the time.”

Tucker called the hacking attempts “pathetic,” saying, “it’s a narrow, pro-censorship attempt to silence a news site,” she said.

The Doha, Qatar-based network has come under fire from U.S. government officials for broadcasting images of dead and captured American soldiers in Iraq. Following the incident, the New York Stock Exchange barred Al Jazeera correspondents from its trading floor. Al Jazeera has also had run-ins with Iraqi officials, including one correspondent who was expelled from Baghdad on April 2 and another who was barred from reporting there.