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"History is a human right"—first-ever transparency report released as Europe begins hiding Wikipedia in search results

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By The ed17
This so-called "monkey selfie" was the target of a copyright takedown request that the WMF denied

The Wikimedia Foundation has published its first transparency report, covering from July 2012 to June 2014. The move comes on the same day the organization announced that Google, in order to comply with a recent court order upholding the "right to be forgotten", has removed a number of Wikipedia articles from their European search results.

Transparency report

The transparency report reveals that the WMF has given out users' personal data on eight out of 56 occasions. There are few details given about the specific circumstances, but all of the granted requests were the result of US civil or criminal subpoenas; of note, the WMF granted every instance of the latter. Eleven different accounts were affected.

The data revealed can include the IP address used by the editor, regardless of whether they are using an account or not, or their proxy server and user agent.

The WMF states that the eight requests abided by their requirements for requesting such information. Excepting emergencies, these stipulate that the demands fully comply with US law, must be reasonable and not overly broad, and note that there is "generally" a 30-business-day waiting period so that the affected user has time to reply.

However, most press coverage of the report focused on the amusing aspects of the other half of the report: content alteration and takedown requests. This page featured examples, including a photographer's request to remove a "monkey selfie", featured at right. According to the WMF, "A photographer left his camera unattended in a national park in North Sulawesi, Indonesia. A female crested black macaque monkey got ahold of the camera and took a series of pictures, including some self-portraits. The pictures were featured in an online newspaper article and eventually posted to Commons. We received a takedown request from the photographer, claiming that he owned the copyright to the photographs.

"We didn't agree, so we denied the request."

Also of note were the 24 Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown requests that were granted, out of a total of 58. As with user data, the vast majority of these were from the US; unsurprisingly, then, the largest target was the English Wikipedia, followed closely by Commons.

European Union's "right to be forgotten"

The WMF also announced that it has received notice that over 50 Wikimedia pages have been removed from Google searches in Europe. On the English Wikipedia, these include Gerry Hutch, an Irish cab driver and the prime suspect in several crimes, and File:Tom_Carstairs_In_Concert.jpg, which will likely be deleted shortly. The Italian Wikipedia was also subjected to two removals, while over 50 pages on the Dutch Wikipedia were removed; all relate to the amateur chess player Guido den Broeder, who has been the subject of numerous discussions.

Press attention on the matter coalesced after a press conference at Wikimania with the WMF's executive director Lila Tretikov, general counsel Geoff Brigham, and co-founder Jimmy Wales resulted in a flood of quotable remarks. Chief among them was Wales, who stated "History is a human right, and one of the worst things that a person can do is attempt to use force to silence another.

"I've been in the public eye for quite some time; some people say good things and some people say bad things. That's history and I would never ever use any kind of legal process like this to try to suppress the truth. I think that's deeply immoral." (Telegraph)

Lila Tretikov

Right behind was Tretikov, who wrote in a blog post that "The European court abandoned its responsibility to protect one of the most important and universal rights: the right to seek, receive, and impart information. As a consequence, accurate search results are vanishing in Europe with no public explanation, no real proof, no judicial review and no appeal process. The result is an internet riddled with Orwell's 'memory holes'—cases where inconvenient information simply disappears."

The New York Times wrote that Brigham spoke against the "right to be forgotten" and likened it "to a law that required libraries to remove records from the card catalog while leaving the offending books on the shelves. 'We don't think that makes any sense,' he said. 'It has delegated the protection of the right of freedom of expression to private search engine companies.'"

Aside from these concerns, it is impossible to know how many Wikimedia pages are actually affected. Search engines are not legally obligated to inform the WMF, and Google is currently the only company who has sent these notices to them.

In brief

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  • The heading of this page says 'news and notes', but the story is really an editorial. News items should reflect both sides. To give the article more balance I'd like to add that the European Union's Data Protection Directive, which is the basis for the European court's decision, is considered a important law that protects the individual's right to privacy. It's up to the individual to decide which information about them they want publicly accessible. Censorship is one side of the problem, but privacy is also important. The Wikipedia policy Biographies of living people (if in doubt act in favor of privacy) reflects some of that. --Melody Lavender (talk) 14:34, 9 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]
  • Where would Wikimedia officials draw the line between the fidelity of history and removing home addresses of stalking victims or social security numbers of identity theft victims? EllenCT (talk) 20:12, 9 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]
    • Your argument is asinine. When did Wikipedia start publishing "home addresses of stalking victims" and "social security numbers of identity theft victims?" Please read WP:NOT to learn something about what constitutes encyclopedic content. Edison (talk) 20:41, 9 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]
Are you assuming that the right to be forgotten only applies to Wikipedia articles? Is there some reason you think that the officials speaking out on the law have asked for exceptions to be exclusive to encyclopedia content? EllenCT (talk) 00:05, 10 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]
  • I have followed the link to the “report”. There is one mini-page. Oh, there are figures, and diagrams with colours representing these figures. But all of this is meaningless. What about the nature of the requests ? What info was requested ? In what cases did Wikimedia obey the request ? Why ? In what cases did Wikimedia deny the request ? Why ? We have no info at all. And you talk of transparency ? It is a joke. --Nnemo (talk) 18:34, 10 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]
  • I am afraid that the luminaries above misrepresent the European directive in question. There are circumstances where it is unethical to link to information about people, and the directive is specifically limited to these three:
    1. Outdated
    2. Inaccurate
    3. Irrelevant
  • I see no appetite in the MediaWiki projects to link to or host any of these three types of content. Nor should we be announcing in a forum such as Signpost any specific examples of such linking. Instead we, the community, should be working with Google and the legal team so that the community can ensure that BLP is being met in our pages, then the legal team can issue the appropriate takedown notices to our contacts at the search engine providers.
All the best: Rich Farmbrough20:02, 11 August 2014 (UTC).


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