In the latest attack by Big Tech on the individual rights of American citizens, the encrypted chat and file-sharing service Keybase, owned by the video conferencing giant Zoom, says it will begin banning users who share files for 3D-printed guns on the platform. The news was first reported by the anti-gun news outlet The Trace on Tuesday, though the story notes that the change to Keybase’s terms of service were quietly changed almost two months ago, in early December.
Two months later, Keybase has yet to enforce the rule change. “We have informed [3D-printed gun groups] that we will discontinue hosting them in the coming days,” a spokesperson told The Trace, adding that the rule change was part of an effort to bring the company’s acceptable use guidelines in line with those followed by Zoom, which acquired Keybase last summer.
Assuming the company does indeed follow through, the most popular creators of 3D-printed firearms on the internet will be moving to a new home — again. As The Trace reported in 2019, 3D-printed gun groups found refuge on Keybase after a wave of bans from more widely used social media sites like Twitter, YouTube, and Reddit. They took advantage of the platform’s encrypted messaging to crowdsource design tweaks and plot the group’s next projects, and its file-sharing capabilities to refine blueprints.
Membership boomed. Deterrence Dispensed, an informal group of online activists who make and distribute files to 3D-print guns, operates one of the largest “teams” on Keybase. Its membership increased from some 500 users in July 2019 to nearly 27,000 in January of this year. Roughly 11,000 members joined between October 5 and the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6.
As a practical matter, Keybase’s decision to ban the sharing of files for 3D-printed firearms may not have too much of an impact on the community of builders. The Trace notes that Deterrence Dispensed has already moved its operation to a privately-run server using open source software, and other chat groups are also making plans to migrate off the site and reestablish themselves on an independently-owned platform.
Still, the informal membership of Deterrence Dispensed is down about 80% from when it left Keybase, according to The Trace, and the company’s new restrictions weren’t made in a vacuum. Many other platforms have already banned the sharing of these files. Big Tech has simply decided that you don’t need to be able to print a gun from the privacy of your own home, and they’re doing everything they can to stop you.
“This is yet another example of why we need to move back towards a decentralized Internet,” says tech writer and Second Amendment enthusiast Jon Stokes. “It’s critical not just for 3D printing, but about every form of speech and commerce.”
Not to date myself, but I remember logging on to local BBS’ in my tween years back in Oklahoma City, so I’ve grown up alongside the Internet and have seen firsthand how Big Tech has changed it and our relationship to the online world over the past few decades. It used to be that Big Tech was mostly interested in our money. Now they’re interested in us. Not only do they want our data in order to monetize it, but the cult of wokeness in Silicon Valley is very interested in using their platforms to amplify their own worldview while de-platforming all those who dare not to conform to it.
I think these types of restrictive speech codes only spur on the development of a decentralized Internet, which is not to say I support them. Ideally these tech giants would be just as committed to the idea of free speech as they were when they were tiny little start-ups working out of a garage in San Jose, but I think those days have passed. The era of the “don’t be evil” ethos is over in Big Tech, and the way forward for those who love freedom is go small and decentralized instead.
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