The Wikimedia Foundation partners with users and contributors around the world to provide free access to knowledge. We value transparency: that’s why we issue our biannual transparency report, publicly disclosing the various requests we receive to alter or remove the user-created content on the Wikimedia projects, or to request nonpublic information about the users themselves. The report also includes stories about some of the interesting and unusual requests we receive, and a useful FAQ with more information about our work.
The report covers five major types of requests:
Content alteration and takedown requests. In the first six months of 2017, we received 341 requests to alter or remove project content, four of which came from government entities. We granted none of these requests. Wikimedia project content is created and vetted by user communities across the globe, and we believe that decisions about content belong in their hands. When we receive requests to remove or alter that content, we refer requesters to experienced volunteers who can provide advice and guidance.
Copyright takedown requests. The Wikimedia projects host a variety of public domain and freely licensed works, but occasionally we will receive a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notice asking us to remove content on copyright grounds. We analyze whether DMCA requests are properly submitted and have merit, and if so, whether an exception to the law, such as fair use, should allow the content to remain on the projects. From January 1 to June 30, 2017, we received 11 DMCA requests, three of which we granted. These remarkably low numbers are due to the diligence of the Wikimedia communities, who work to ensure that all content on the projects is appropriately licensed.
Right to erasure. The right to erasure (also known as the right to be forgotten) allows people to request that search engines remove links to results containing certain information about them. The process is best known in the European Union, where it was was established by a decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union in 2014. The Wikimedia Foundation has long expressed our concerns about such rules, which have the potential to limit the access to and sharing of information that is in the public interest. Even though the Wikimedia projects are not a search engine, we do sometimes receive requests to delete information based on the right to erasure. However, we did not receive any such requests in the first half of 2017.
Requests for user data. The Wikimedia Foundation occasionally receives requests for nonpublic user data from governments, organizations, and individuals. These requests may be informal, such as simple emails or phone calls, or can involve formal legal processes, such as a subpoena. Protecting users is our leading concern, and we evaluate each request carefully. Unlike many online platforms, we intentionally collect very little nonpublic information about users, and often have no data that is responsive to these requests. We will only produce information if a request is legally valid and follows our Requests for user information procedures and guidelines. Even then, we will push back where we can, to narrow the request and provide as little data as possible. During this reporting period, we received 18 requests for nonpublic user data. We partially complied with three of these requests.
Emergency disclosures. On rare occasions, the Wikimedia Foundation will disclose otherwise nonpublic information to law enforcement authorities to protect a user or other individuals from serious harm. For example, if a user threatens harm to themselves or others, other users may notify us. In some cases, we may then voluntarily provide information to authorities where we believe there is a serious danger to one or more individuals and disclosure is necessary to keep people safe. Additionally, we have implemented an emergency request procedure so that law enforcement may contact us if they are working to prevent imminent harm. We assess such requests on a case-by-case basis. From January to June, 2017, we voluntarily disclosed information in 14 cases, and provided data in response to two emergency requests.
We invite you to read the full transparency report online, for more data and interesting stories. For the first time, you can also learn about our commitment to protect user privacy and project content in print: the print transparency report will be available from Foundation legal and public policy staff at conferences and meetups while supplies last. Additionally, printed copies of the report can be requested by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org on a limited basis.
James Buatti, Legal Counsel
Leighanna Mixter, Legal Fellow
Aeryn Palmer, Legal Counsel
The transparency report would not be possible without the contributions of Jacob Rogers, Jan Gerlach, Stephen LaPorte, Katie Francis, Rachel Stallman, Eileen Hershenov, James Alexander, Siddharth Parmar, Wendy Chu, Diana Lee, Dina Ljekperic, and the entire Wikimedia communications team. Special thanks to Alex Shahrestani for help in preparing this blog post, and to the entire staff at Mule Design and Oscar Printing Company.