Protecting privacy, combatting censorship: The Wikimedia Foundation’s Newest Transparency Report

The Wikimedia Foundation’s Transparency Report is a critical part of our commitment to maintaining Wikipedia as a trustworthy and reliable resource for free knowledge. This report discloses the requests we receive to remove or alter content on the Wikimedia projects, or to release nonpublic information about our editors and readers. These requests come from governments and private individuals alike. We release this report twice a year, and the current one covers requests we received from January to June 2020.

Thousands of volunteer editors around the world create and sustain the Wikimedia projects; they write and update content, and they set the policies that determine what belongs on Wikipedia. They are also best able to quickly respond to requests to update or change content, or remove information from Wikipedia. As a result, in most cases, the Wikimedia Foundation does not step in to edit articles, but instead connects the people who make legitimate requests with the volunteer editors who can help them.

Some of these requests from the January to June 2020 cycle are particularly unique, such as these two stories:

  • A business owner contacted us to request that we make changes to an English Wikipedia editor’s userpage. The problem? The editor had disclosed that they’d done some paid editing on behalf of this particular business. This is entirely in line with Wikipedia policy: notice about paid edits is required in the Foundation’s Terms of Use. We explained this to the business owner, and the page was not changed. 
  • An artist sent us a Digital Millennium Copyright Act notice, requesting that we remove their work from Wikimedia Commons. Initially, we were puzzled—we recalled already removing the work in question following a previous DMCA. But it turned out that the image had been included in a separate short video; after receiving this additional notice, we removed the video as well. 

Here’s what’s also new in this report:

Content alteration and takedown requests. From January to June of 2020, we received 361 requests to alter or remove content from the Wikimedia projects. The Foundation did not make any changes to project content in response; as always, we helped many good-faith requesters understand how the projects work and directed them to the communities of volunteer editors who could assist with their inquiries. Fourteen of these requests were from governmental entities, including from Canada, Colombia and Italy.

Copyright takedown requests. We received 22 DMCA takedown requests during this cycle, and granted four of them. Three of these granted requests concerned material on Wikimedia Commons, while the fourth impacted material on multiple Wikimedia projects. The vast majority of the content on the Wikimedia projects is freely licensed or within the public domain. Additionally, a smaller number of works fall under an appropriate copyright exception, such as fair use. When we receive a copyright-based request to remove project content, we carefully evaluate it to ensure its  validity before taking any action.

Right to erasure. We received 18 right to erasure requests between January and June 2020. When the Foundation receives a right to erasure request regarding project content, we first direct the requester to experienced project volunteers, who review requests to change content in line with project guidelines for content about living persons.

Requests for Nonpublic User Data. We occasionally receive requests for non-public information about our users. These range from simple email demanding information to more formal requests, such as a subpoena. As we collect very little information about users, we rarely hold responsive data. To protect user privacy, we do not disclose information unless a request is legally valid and follows our Requests for user information procedures and guidelines.

During the first half of 2020, we received 30 requests to disclose nonpublic information about users. We produced the information requested in response to one of these. 15 of the 30 total requests were informal demands sent to us from government entities, including from police in the United Kingdom and Japan, and from a ministry in India.

Emergency Disclosures. In rare emergency situations, in order to protect the safety of Wikimedia users or other individuals, we may disclose information to governments. This category of Emergency Disclosures includes both Voluntary Disclosures (when we become aware of concerning information on the Wikimedia projects and contact law enforcement) and Emergency Requests (when law enforcement contacts us with an urgent request for information related to an emergency).

Between January and June 2020, we voluntarily disclosed information 23 times. We did not produce information in response to any emergency requests. 

Stories and FAQ. In each transparency report, we include a few stories to illustrate interesting or unusual requests that we received. In addition to the examples above, this report also includes a story about a request from a European mystic, and one about a copyright claim concerning a photograph of a very good dog. We also include an extensive FAQ, to provide more information about the sorts of requests we receive, how we handle them, and other work we do at the Wikimedia Foundation to keep knowledge free, open, and transparent.

As always, we are excited to share this information with the world and provide more insights about how the Wikimedia projects work. We look forward to sharing more in our next report.