Thursday, April 27, 2006

Messin' Wi' Peepul Biggern You.

Update (1 May 2006, 06:30 UTC): The individual pages of VGS's PBR began to reappear on the Google search-engine later on the day of the original post. I am pleased to think that it came down to nothing more than a massively coincidental, one-and-one-half-day alogorithmic burp.

I've added this update (27 April 2006, 04:09 UTC) to the following post:

Thanks mr. Purdy's latest accomplishment. Linking to a site that took a poem from poetry without proper attribution, rather than linking to Poetry He proudly says NPR is using his screed against Wikipedia. He also brags that the admins here removed the complaints about him--actually it was just archived. Sigh redux.--Beth Wellington 00:51, 28 April 2006 (UTC)

It turns out that the defaming chat-thread, openly describing the plans for a personal attack against me, are only archived, not removed. Ms. Wellington ("a Roanoke, Virginia-based poet and journalist.... contributing editor to the New River Free Press,... book reviewer for the Roanoke Times and... member of the Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative (SAWC) and the Appalachian Studies Association"), who lives and works near Claudia Emerson, describes my phrase "To Wikipedia's credit" as "also brags that the admins here removed the complaints about him". More to come about Ms. Wellington, who, it turns out, actually began the ugly events described in Is Wikipedia Handing Out Your Browsing Information to Thousands? in order to maintain personal control over her fellow Virginian's (and personal friend's, perhaps?) Wiki fan-page in the wake of Emerson winning to Pulitzer for Poetry.

On to the original post:

Well, if I thought the incident described in Is Wikipedia Handing Out Your Browsing Information to Thousands? was astonishing, all I had to do was to wait a couple of days to wonder if it hasn't been out done by a mile.

To Wikipedia's credit, as of yesterday the first development was generally positive: the chat thread ( in which Wikipedia users and administrators openly discuss going after me, in the world at large, has been removed.

At the same time, I could not help but notice that Virtual Grub Street's Palm Beaches Review had not received a Google search engine hit in a day and a half. That has not happened since the first couple of days of its existence. Upon checking, I discover that many if not all of the individual pages of Virtual Grub Street's Palm Beaches Review no longer appear on the Google search-engine. Could someone among the Wikipedia Users have a contact in the Google search-engine offices that (s)he contacted after the fashion described in Is Wikipedia Handing Out Your Browsing Information to Thousands? There are thousands of such users, after all, and a whole lot of power networking goin' on.

I strongly advise that no one donate to Wikipedia so long as such behavior is being indulged in.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Wikipedia and the Question of LinkSpam.

As more and more readers become aware of the extremely unfortunate incident of misusing browsing information - described in Wiki Watchdog's earlier piece Is Wikipedia Handing Out Your Browsing Information to Thousands? - they may find themselves asking the question: "What exactly is LinkSpam?" If they had even so much as heard of it before, they probably thought it referred to links inserted by machine ("bot") into blogs and public pages, the defining quality being that they link to pages that have little or no genuine content other than advertising.

The terms "Spam" and "LinkSpam" have become perjoratives - even extreme perjoratives - on the Internet given the degradation of the browsing experience that they represent. It is not difficult to understand the stigma that goes along with being a "Spammer".

Wikipedia, in its own definition of LinkSpam goes a bit farther. In Wikiworld LinkSpam is any link that:

...takes advantage of link-based ranking algorithms, such as Google's PageRank algorithm, which gives a higher ranking to a website the more other highly-ranked websites link to it.

Being one of the most visited sites on the web, and linking to it being easier than writing out and maintaining one's own definition pages, Wikipedia's definition is powerfully supported by the fact that Google links to it.

But what does Google or any other entity link to when they link to Wikipedia? They link to a page that is open edited on a continuing basis with a few persons checking off on the changes when they can find the time. From one day to the next Google has no idea what precisely is the content of the page.

Again, Wikipedia is one of the most visited sites on the Internet. This creates an interesting example of convenient reasoning: being a "highly-ranked website", any link that has been removed from it can be labeled "LinkSpam" because it was presummably posted at Wikipedia in order to "take advantage of link-based ranking algorithms, such as Google's PageRank algorithm". Because any user can remove a link that they personally find unacceptable, without having to cite any specific rule that prohibits it, each of the thousands of registered users of Wikipedia individually defines whether a link meets the criteria of Spam or not. In Wikiworld LinkSpam, it turns out, is nothing but a link a registered user of Wikipedia does not like. And because Spam - as was mentioned above - is a perjorative of the first order, that registered user is released to publically defame an unwelcome guest as a "Spammer". How convenient!

This is exactly the present situation. If your link has been removed you are a Spammer. Let the matter lie and perhaps it won't be too highly publicized. Perhaps your browsing information won't be tracked in order to network an end to your access to the Internet. If your link has not been removed, you are not - at least until another user with a different set of personal interests comes along and declares the link to be Spam.

Other more legitimate terms, such as "reverted link," are available, and perfectly expressive, but it doesn't have the force of defamation - and it is clear that that is the point. Not only is it a wilfull attack, but, repeated in high-traffic Wiki chat-pages, it is an attempt to effect the reputation of a third party by the misuse of tools provided one through being registered with Wikipedia.

Variations upon this type of behavior are not at all uncommon in chat-pages, it is true, but can Wikipedia actually think that their "Administrator Chat" (or any Wikichat, for that matter) is just another chat page? That it need not hold itself to any standard? How, then, under such circumstances, can legitimate companies such as Google continue to support it? It is a sad day when Wikipedia stands quietly by and allows its users to defame third parties and to track them via their browsing information looking for vulnerabilities that might be exploited.

Related Story:

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Important Removal Tool Note

One of Virtual Grub Street's several missions is to provide a clearinghouse for information regarding freeware removal tools available on the Internet. For this reason, it attempts to provide a wide range of information to help you identify which malware your computer is infected with. This may include files names, common infection names, associated url's, and explanatory notes, etc.

But this does not mean that following the VGS instructions will free your computer of all malware and associated files. Your computer may have acquired more than one infection in its various travels. More and more malware (and adware) is bundled. More and more often, the bundling is clearly designed such that removing one malware item merely unleashes another installed "behind" it. For example, removing EliteBar, such that your computer is no longer hijacked to the SearchMiracle and YupSearch advertising search engines, may result in your computer being hijacked to the Mirar search engine instead (Mirar having been bundled with together with EliteBar at the point of origin).

The approach generally used by HijackThis experts available on the Internet is to "bomb" an infected computer with 6-8 generally trusted anti-adware/spyware utilities (including the most recent version of HijackThis) and to instruct the user to consult two or more free online scanners and to post the results. They then use HijackThis to remove the remaining files associated with the infection(s).

As long as the infection is addressed by at least one of the software packages, the approach is likely to be successful. There is no harm in having downloaded the 6-8 freeware (or trialware) items onto your computer, although keeping them up to date can be a bit of a chore and your computer's execution time can be effected. The online scanners, of course, will generally download registry values, ActiveX files and tracking cookies, and may even create data files for future consultation: the stuff, that is to say, that you were trying to prevent the malware from depositing and periodically transmitting. As for the fix, itself, it will necessarily take some number of hours to accomplish the downloads and further hours to run the software. This will be followed by a trip to the HijackThis expert where the various scan reports will be posted, analyzed and further directions given.

If the HijackThis forums offer what you are seeking, the VGS clearinghouse offers you information that may help you to understand what the resident expert is doing. Choose your forum carefully. The best attended forums tend to have the more capable experts. Always be aware that the expert will provide a disclaimer that you must agree that she or he will be held harmless should the process fail, or, worse, damage your computer. Directions to delete a suspect file can easily leave your computer seriously hobbled.

Should you prefer, the VGS clearinghouse is designed to bring you together with targetted information and one or more targetted freeware removal tools. The removal tools may or may not perform precisely as advertised by the persons who created them. Moreover, you may be infected with a variant that the suggested tool can not remove. VGS has, however, gone to considerable effort to verify that the various tools that appear in its pages have been positively reviewed by those who have used them. The information is yours to use entirely as you choose and entirely at your own risk. It is always advisable to follow-up a removal with a scan by your preferred anti-virus/malware software in order to verify the condition of the computer. The choice is yours whether or not to let dormant files, that may be leftover after removal, remain on your computer.

VGS Alert:

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Is Wikipedia Handing Out Your Browsing Information to Thousands?

By Gilbert Wesley Purdy.

"Any user, it would appear, is provided access to the browser
information of anyone who checks onto any editing platform throughout all public Wikipedia pages!"

I have been a fan of Wikipedia. I agree that it must be closely watched to prevent inappropriate material being added to its pages. Perhaps that is why it and I have gotten along so well over the past several years. I have provided it with links to fully legitimate and documented secondary source material specifically targetted to the subject pages. Its articles have been greatly enhanced as a result. Thousands have availed themselves of the information.

A considerable portion of the work I do on the web is of the information clearinghouse sort, computer, history and literature. I have received numerous information queries and messages of appreciation and thanks as the result.

This past week, when Claudia Emerson won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, I posted a link-list to a wide range of Emerson information at my Palm Beaches Review. I know the Wikipedia pattern quite well by now and I realized that Emerson fans, personal friends, etc., would begin a Wiki page on her. I went to the page and put on the 2nd and 3rd links to appear on it, one to the Emerson poem at my blog family. The effort cost me some two hours.

'Thus the following "Administrators' noticeboard/Incidents" chat thread in which I am freely and publically defamed, my personal information is posted and a plan is discussed about attacking me via that information...'

When I checked back, the next day, I discovered that the links had been removed. But that was not all. My two hours of research had been appropriated by whomever had removed the links. Someone had blatantly stolen my labor. I reposted my link and otherwise did nothing. This began two days of someone removing the link and my replacing it.

Finally a Donald Albury (of nearby Delray Beach, Florida, as it turned out) left a message. The message identified him as nothing more than a "User". It was posted on a public "discussion" page:

Please do not add commercial links (or links to your own private websites) to Wikipedia. Wikipedia is not a vehicle for advertising or a mere collection of external links. You are, however, encouraged to add content instead of links to the encyclopedia. See the welcome page to learn more. Thanks. -- Donald Albury(Talk) 01:16, 22 April
2006 (UTC)

It was astonishing to hear from a "User" who felt he could repeatedly remove my links and then direct me to pages (there would be others) none of which prohibited the links. I would later check the various Wikipedia pages on the subject of external-links and found that mine resoundingly qualified as "appropriate" according to the rules. I returned my link to the page and left the following reply in the "discussion" section:

I am going to try this just once. I am a freelance writer of some reasonable reputation on the web and in the literary and academic communities of the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Australia and elsewhere. You have removed my material because you personally find it unacceptable. When you removed the Claudia Emerson Page, you took the individual links listed on my page and placed them on the C.E. Wiki page thus stealing my labor. [It turns out that more than one "User" was involved and Donald Albury may not have been the one to do that particular dirty deed.] Furthermore, nearly every one of those links you found quite acceptable, so long as my site wasn't associated with it, has advertising on their pages and are happy to have the shot at some extra earnings. The material I posted is entirely appropriate. It will almost certainly earn me nothing in advertising. It will, it is true, help people to think of my sites as an information resource. In the case of the other page you have removed material from, it will provide verifiable and pertinent topic[al]/historical information on the subject covered. My sole benefit will be that people might take the opportunity to look around at related material also verifiable and pertinent.

If you will check, well over half of the "external links" listed on Wikipedia have advertising on their sites and/or are commercial concerns and/or have paid workers and officers.

Happily, you are located in Delray Beach: only a few miles away. I also am provided with your name, address and Bell South account info. I am sorry to have to say that, should you persist, I will have to contact my attorney and consult him about having legal papers served in this matter. I will also contact Bell South about the use you are making of their product. It is you who are harrassing me, vandalizing my links which I have as much right to post as anyone else. These are publically edited pages. You have no legal authority over any page of it. I am providing absolutely legitimate information.

The first astonishing discovery was that any user is indeed allowed, by the Wikipedia system, to go to his compatriots, and, finding one in agreement, can have the IP address of the "offender" (of the two imperious souls) blocked.

But this was by no means the most astonishing discovery. Any user, it would appear, is provided access to the browser information of anyone who checks onto any editing platform throughout all public Wikipedia pages!

Not only did all of this occur, but Donald Albury also removed my comment and characterized the entire three paragraphs as simply and only "a legal threat against me". He is simply permitted to do this as a WP user. Imagine my surprise when I found myself identified by name and accused of vandalizing and spamming Wikipedia. It turns out the Mr. Albury is also a member of a recently formed Wikipedia vigilante group dedicated to defining links they do not personally approve of as "spam". The only authority anyone in this group has is that they have agreed among themselves to perform this function as site censors and no other Wikipedia users have tried to form a group to prevent them.

More on this particular subject in another post.

Instead, I return to the particular subject of this post: Any user, it would appear, is provided access to the browser information of anyone who checks onto any editing platform throughout all public Wikipedia pages! That is, anyone who becomes a registered user can view the browser information by virtue of the mere fact of having registered. Adminstrator status is not required. Thus the following "Administrators' noticeboard/Incidents" chat thread in which I am freely and publically defamed, my personal information is posted and a plan is discussed about attacking me via that information:

Legal threat against editor (talk • contribs) has made a legal threat against me on his/her talk page because I have reverted linkspam he/she has posted repeatedly to several articles. -- Donald Albury(Talk) 03:10, 22 April 2006 (UTC)

I have reverted said legal threats and I suggest a block and possible page protection, especially if the person replaces the threats. Pegasus1138Talk Contribs Email ---- 03:33, 22 April 2006 (UTC)

A block will be very difficult to set. This editor has used three different IP addresses today, (talk • contribs), (talk • contribs) and (talk • contribs), all registered to BellSouth. -- Donald Albury(Talk) 03:39, 22 April 2006 (UTC)

I don't see anyone else in the range 209.214.14.*, but I haven't checked all of them. Maybe a range block for that set? JoshuaZ 03:42, 22 April 2006 (UTC)

I suspect that's a dial-up bank for BellSouth. I have no idea what the collateral damage would be. -- Donald Albury(Talk) 03:50, 22 April 2006 (UTC)

And he's now switched to (talk • contribs). A range block would have to include 209.214 and 209.215. -- Donald Albury(Talk) 03:55, 22 April 2006 (UTC)

Hmm, I suspect that that is too large a range for a long block, maybe block them for 15 minutes? JoshuaZ 03:57, 22 April 2006 (UTC)

Semiprotection of the articles in question might be a better solution at this point. -Loren 03:57, 22 April 2006 (UTC)

Good point, although is our main concern the spam or the legal threats? Semi-protection only deals with one of those problems. JoshuaZ 03:59, 22 April 2006 (UTC)

That is too big a range, it is, and mediawiki only allows up to /16, not even mentioning that would be 131,072 addresses.... Prodego talk 04:01, 22 April 2006 (UTC)

Well, I take issue with both the spamming and the legal threats. But blocking isn't really a feasible option due to the offending anon being behind a dynamic IP, hence the only way of stopping the continued addition of linkspam is to prevent anon users from editing the pages in question. I'm not terribly familiar with the allegations the anon is making having not been involved with the articles in question, but someone may want to tell the anon to state his/her rationale for including the external link in question on the article talk page to gauge the general consensus, which IMHO, will be the only long term solution to this problem. -Loren 04:04, 22 April 2006 (UTC)

Can someone hurry and semi the pages and then maybe the anon will be willing to talk? JoshuaZ 04:06, 22 April 2006 (UTC)

I'll semiprotect the page, but I'll leave it to people farmiliar with the article to engage the anon in dialouge and request unprotection when the time comes. -Loren 04:08, 22 April 2006 (UTC)

Note: It appears the sites in question were first linked to by (talk • contribs), registered to Palm Beach Community College. Possibly the same person judging by the anon's comments. -Loren 04:15, 22 April 2006 (UTC)

Ugh. I used to take classes there back in 2000,2001. Completely unsecured computer labs, and an uninterested administration staff. His legal threats appear to be baseless, but if you'd like I can call my friend who's a PBCC student, and ask him for the phone number for PBCC's appropriate staff department. ⇒ SWATJester Ready Aim Fire! 07:18, 22 April 2006 (UTC)

All of the links inserted by the editor are to Virtual Grub Street, which apears to be the work of Gibert Wesley Purdy. Purdy is a poet, translator and critic. He has a post office box in Lake Worth, and may well have a connection to PBCC. While I regard the legal threat as baseless, I am concerned that he is only ten mile or so from me, and I have been very open about my identity. However, I now am fairly sure I know who he is. -- Donald Albury(Talk) 11:13, 22 April 2006 (UTC)

Try contacting BellSouth, perhaps? NSLE (T+C) at 11:16 UTC (2006-04-22)

It's a possibility, as far as the legal threat goes. I need to think how I would approach it. Any contact with BellSouth about the spamming is more problematic, and certainly shouldn't come from me. I'll defer to the judgment of others on that issue. -- Donald Albury(Talk) 14:03, 22 April 2006 (UTC)

PBCC has a large campus in Lake Worth. ⇒ SWATJester Ready Aim Fire! 11:32, 22 April 2006 (UTC)

I used to live off of Lake Worth Road 2 or 3 miles west of the campus. -- Donald Albury(Talk) 14:03, 22 April 2006 (UTC)

Rather than continue my personal issues on this page, I have opened a discussion at User talk:Dalbury#Response to legal threat. I woild appreciative advice from seasoned editors. -- Donald Albury(Talk) 14:22, 22 April 2006 (UTC)

Well then Wikifascism lives! Of course, parts of this are illegal, others are a blatant and egregious legal tort and all of it is shameful in the extreme. This is the kind of behavior people too often show when they feel that electronics gives them impunity. Among other things, they set up as a law unto themselves (and to satisfy themselves), actual laws be damned!


"Many Wikipedians remove personal attacks on third parties on sight, and although this isn't policy it's often seen as an appropriate reaction to extreme personal abuse. " -- Wikipedia:No personal attacks


A stroll back through the pages of the various WikiChats makes one thing very clear. The Wikipedia crew is grossly out of control. The tendency among its members is toward regular mob-action against individuals over which they have no lawful authority. Personal vendettas are constant and laws appear to be freely broken. Replies to their actions are removed when considered inconvenient and characterized, in whatever fashion proves servicable, in public chatrooms were defamation is freely indulged in. In the process, the "collateral damage" caused is enormous.

I strongly advise that no one donate to Wikipedia so long as such behavior is being indulged in. At a minimum, the following changes are clearly necessary:

  1. Access to browsing information of visitors to Wikipedia must be securely in control of the site administrators only. It is probably best even to limit the number of administrators (their are presently over 700) who are allowed to access the information.
  2. Wikipedia members who remove posted material must post their reason for doing so, in the "discussion" (or some equivalent) area, and cite the rule under which the removal was effected.
  3. A clearly identified link must be provided to the administrator's/user's page which must clearly describe the extent of the authority of the administrator/user: the actions that can be taken by a member at the given level. Available appeal processes should also be listed.
  4. Any Wikipedia member who threatens to use Wiklipedia generated browser information to attack another person must immediately and permanently have his membership revoked.

It would be wise for the leading administrators of Wikipedia to regularly hire a consulting attorney to go over their process pages and to recommend policy and other changes. I sincerely hope that Wikipedia will recover from this deeply disturbing period in its history and continue as a fine resource for us all.

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