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:


http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Wikipedia:Administrators%27_noticeboard/Incidents&diff=50171464&oldid=50170801
#Legal_threat_against_editor

Legal threat against editor

209.214.14.138 (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, 209.214.14.184 (talk • contribs), 209.214.14.15 (talk • contribs) and 209.214.14.138 (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 209.215.55.111 (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 209.214.0.0/15, 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 216.114.82.71 (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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12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Did you read the nice friendly warning saying:

"You are not logged in. You are free to edit pages; be aware that your IP address will be recorded in this page's edit history."

or are you too damn thick?

Anonymous said...

Dude, get a grip.

IP addresses of anonymous Wikipedia posters are listed so as to provide some identity and continuity, so people can have a discussion. If you don't want to have your IP address listed, just register an account. Quit libelling Wikipedia as some kind of spyware. Libel is _really illegal_.

GWP said...

Dude you're totally missing the point,

1. No matter. The IPs (or any browsing or personal information) must remain carefully under lock and key in the possession of someone at least of the level of a system administrator. The chat thread makes the reasons perfectly clear. The brave "Users" of Wikipedia for some reason tend to use handles for the same (and, presently, far less savory reasons. Handles can just as easily be used for purposes of internal discussions.

2. I did read the warning and was not disturbed because I knew they were surely protected and in the hands of those who would not misuse them. Ooooops! Guess not, huh. By-the-bye, Mr. Brave

Anonymous #1: Don't threaten me. The minute you guys provide me with the identity of a verifiable Wikipedia "company representative" such comments will be dealt with.

Anonymous #2: Too bad. How long have you had the problem of not being able to put two paragraphs together without sounding like a rather slow sixth grader?

Anonymous said...

I got to "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.", and then you totally lost me. People aren't supposed to add links to their own sites on Wikipedia, just like they aren't supposed to edit articles about themselves or those with whom they have a personal connection.

As for the rest of your supposedly shocking discoveries, it's all listed in Wikipedia's documentation. If you didn't like the idea of somebody changing things that you'd written, or of having your IP attached to edits made after you logged out, you have nobody but yourself to blame. Next time, RTFM.

GWP said...

You just keep making the point for me, friend. Not having administrator-only access to browsing info invites wolf-packing and other abuses by people who just never took mommy and daddy's (or the correction officer's) lessons to heart.

Anonymous said...

Browsing information is not available to the general public, editors or administrators. Editing information is, as documented on the privacy policy linked to from _every_ page. Your identity was revealed not by the IP addresses you use, but because you were linking to your own page. Regards, Richard.

Anonymous said...

No browsing information is displayed, only your IP address. The information obtained and displayed on the Administrators' Noticeboard was just what could be gained from a whois, which anybody can do. The GNU Free Documentation License requires that every contributor be attributed, so Wikipedia must give out IP addresses- to everyone, not just users. Click the "history" tab to see.

IT Engineer said...

Legal threats no matter the situation are heavily frowned upon by the system.

--

Your 'IP' by itself is handed out with every email you send, wikipedia records nothing more than that for 'everuser' access. It just so happens, that ~any~ internet user with annother's IP can reduce the area they are from to a general locality, that fact has absolutely ~nothing~ to do with wikipedia. It's called a 'whois' and has been around since the bit twiddling days of the net. Please do your reseach before inserting foot futher in mouth.

GWP said...

In reply to the previous three comments:

To 4:14 AM, Anonymous: 'The edit histories can easily display discrete IDs of non-registered users in a fashion something like the following: "Anon 06-21-06-00012" (indicating the 12th non-registered user to edit on the 21st of June, 2006). The tag would then...' For the rest of my reply to your comment see From the Mailbag: "...meat-turd god-kings...".

To 4:20 AM, IT Engineer: 'I would not be surprised, at that rate, to learn that the Gambino family is considering buying Encyclopedia Britannica so that it can pursue its interests with impunity before the law. I can see it now: "Legal threats no matter the situation are heavily frowned upon by The Family." They apparently would also qualify for non-profit status in the state of Florida.' For the rest of my reply to your comment see From the Mailbag: "...meat-turd god-kings...".

To 10:24 AM, Anonymous: The information the Users in the chat thread gathered in a few hours (most of it in just a few minutes) would have been considerably less invasive without the IP addresses and the editing histories. While IP addresses are not brows-er information, they are brows-ing information and clearly can be inappropriately used. For more on the subject see From the Mailbag: "...meat-turd god-kings..."

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this publication, Mr. Purdy. I too am quite disenchanted with Wikipedia for the very reasons you mention, among others. It may be only a matter of time before their administrators realize that it is not in their best interests to allow such efficient and unrestricted access to every user's full editing history and personal information to the extent that one has been made it available.

Anonymous said...

Wikipedia is clearly being run by a group who cleverly work the site to promote self interests and prevent anything they personally deem as a threat to their secret business. They are hypocritical. When you complain, they makes up bogus issues, create twisted article criteria with double standards and continually delete and ultimately blocks/ban any further articles.

They have posted statements which are corrupt and without merit and have wrongly accused me. Clearly people like Aparna aka Blackpearl14 knows how to take advantage of the wikipedia system, to wrongly target anyone with facts. She clearly has an agenda and works with other editors to support each other and their corrupt actions. Wikipedia - you should add a new listing the GANG MEMBERS WHO RUN WIKIPEDIA

I will never support your site. Shame on what you let your resource to become.

Anonymous said...

"Wikipedia is clearly being run by a group who cleverly work the site to promote self interests and prevent anything they personally deem as a threat to their secret business. They are hypocritical. When you complain, they makes up bogus issues, create twisted article criteria with double standards and continually delete and ultimately blocks/ban any further articles.

They have posted statements which are corrupt and without merit and have wrongly accused me. Clearly people like Aparna aka Blackpearl14 knows how to take advantage of the wikipedia system, to wrongly target anyone with facts. She clearly has an agenda and works with other editors to support each other and their corrupt actions. Wikipedia - you should add a new listing the GANG MEMBERS WHO RUN WIKIPEDIA

I will never support your site. Shame on what you let your resource to become."

This guy, Royce Mathew, was in trouble for harassing a minor, who is, by the way, the very same BlackPearl14. And you wonder why people like him get blocked, huh? Sick freak.