How the Wikimedia Foundation responded to takedown and user data requests on the Wikimedia projects in the second half of 2020

The Wikimedia Foundation is committed to protecting the integrity of the Wikimedia projects  and ensuring all individuals have access to free knowledge regardless of where they are in the world. The Foundation’s Transparency Report, which is released twice per year, is a critical part of this commitment and helps maintain the projects as trustworthy and reliable resources for information. 

This report documents the requests we receive to remove or alter content on the Wikimedia projects, such as Wikipedia, or to release nonpublic information about editors and readers. These requests come from governments, organizations, and private individuals alike. The latest Transparency Report covers requests we received from July to December 2020.  

Freedom of expression and the right to privacy are foundational to our value system. To that end, we carefully and consistently evaluate each request and share data about our responses. While the Foundation occasionally fulfills these requests directly, we most often connect individuals who make requests in good faith with volunteer editors. 

Thousands of volunteer editors have committed themselves to sustaining the Wikimedia projects by monitoring for harmful content, stopping the spread of misinformation, and creating policies that determine what content belongs on the projects. Since the projects are community-driven and open, volunteer editors are best able to respond to requests to update or change content, or remove information from Wikipedia.

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

  • We received a complaint about a Wikipedia article whose subject turned out to be a hoax. By the time we contacted the community, the article was already deleted since Wikipedia’s diligent volunteer contributors had identified the hoax and quickly deleted the article.
  • We comply with legitimate Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) requests and take steps to ensure individuals’ legitimate copyright requests are protected. Sometimes, however, requesters make mistakes. In one case a requester claimed to have taken a photo, but after we followed up with a few questions, realized the photo was not theirs. They subsequently apologized and revoked their DMCA request.

Here is what else is new in this report:

Content alteration and takedown requests. From July to December 2020, we received 380 requests to alter or remove content from the Wikimedia projects. Due to exceptional circumstances, we granted two of the 380 requests. Both requests arose from European court cases for which the community could not receive full information due to judicial confidentiality, in which the alleged impact on the article subjects in question was high, and the legal posture of the cases required prompt action. For the 378 requests we did not grant, we responded, as usual, by clarifying to good faith requesters how Wikimedia projects work and directing them to the appropriate volunteer communities. 

Copyright takedown requests. Since most content on Wikimedia is freely licensed, within the public domain, or reused under an appropriate copyright exception such as fair use, we are very careful to ensure the validity of DMCA requests before taking any action. This cycle, the Foundation received 21 requests and granted two of them. 

Right to erasure. This cycle, we received 12 right to erasure requests and granted none of them. When the Foundation receives right to erasure-based requests related to user accounts, we provide the user information on the community-driven vanishing process. However, when we receive requests regarding project content that includes information about a living person, we first direct the user to experienced project volunteers who review and address the requests in accordance with project guidelines for living persons.

Requests for Nonpublic User Data. Requests for nonpublic user data are taken seriously in order to protect our community members’ privacy. During the second half of 2020, we received 32 requests to disclose nonpublic information about users; we complied with two, both of which were subpoenas. While these 32 requests concerned as many as 3,119 user accounts, only four user accounts were actually affected by Foundation disclosures. As always, the Foundation only granted requests after ensuring the requests were legally valid and followed the Requests for user information procedures and guidelines.

Emergency Disclosures. Emergency Disclosures include both Voluntary Disclosures we make by contacting law enforcement after becoming aware of concerning information on Wikimedia projects and urgent Emergency Requests for information we receive from law enforcement. Since we issued our last Transparency Report, we voluntarily disclosed information 17 times and received no Emergency Requests. 

Stories and FAQ. As is the case in each Transparency Report, we share a few examples of the more interesting requests we received this past cycle, such as the two stories included above. In addition to these examples, this report also includes stories about hit Korean Pop band BTS and Slovenian poetry. We also include an FAQ that includes explanations of relevant terms, how we count and respond to different types of requests, and information about data included in the transparency report.

The Wikimedia Foundation will continue to do whatever is necessary to keep knowledge free, open, and transparent. We are grateful for the support of readers and users around the world, and look forward to continuing to connect with our global community by sharing insights each transparency report cycle.

See the complete July – December 2020 Transparency Report.