IP Editing: Privacy Enhancement and Abuse Mitigation/FAQ

The basics edit

What is a temporary account? edit

Any time you publish an edit on Wikipedia or other sites hosted by the Wikimedia Foundation without logging into a registered account, a temporary account will be created for you. This account will automatically be given a username. A cookie will be set in your browser when the account is created. This username will be used to attribute all subsequent edits by you, even if your IP address changes. With a temporary account, your IP address can only be accessed by authorized staff and community members, as outlined in the updated Privacy policy.

See also:

Why do we need to have usernames? edit

Our license requires each edit to be attributed to a user identifier.

People who create a free registered account can choose their own usernames. People who do not use a registered account are automatically assigned a temporary account. Previously, your edits would be publicly attributed to your IP address, such as User:192.0.2.1.

What does a temporary username look like? edit

~2024-12345-67.

The automatically generated usernames for temporary accounts will begin with a tilde (~) and the year when the first edit was made by that account. The year will be followed by numbers, which will be broken into groups of five digits. Users cannot register normal accounts with usernames that match this pattern.

Why are you working on temporary accounts at all? edit

We're working on this project for legal reasons. There are risks we can't afford to ignore.

Wikimedians began discussing the exposure of IP addresses as a privacy issue shortly after MediaWiki was developed. For example, there is a thread dating back to 2004. For many years, there was no strong incentive to change this, so the Wikimedia Foundation wasn't working on it. But in the meantime, in many countries, new laws and new standards were introduced. Finally, in 2018, the Foundation's Legal department determined that the indefinite public storage of IP addresses presents serious risks. This includes legal risks to the projects and risks to the users. Today, this project is one of the priorities of the Foundation's leadership.

See also:

Why a temporary account is the right solution to the problem? edit

There are some hard requirements that led to the design of the temporary accounts. Some of them are of legal, and some are of technical nature:

What we are facing What we have decided to do
One of the founding principles is that people should be able to make most simple edits without registering a permanent account. Temporary accounts will be created automatically (people won't need to create an account themselves).
Due to legal requirements, edits on the wikis should be attributed to a user identifier other than IP address. If temporary accounts are enabled on a wiki, an account is created for a user as soon as they commit their first edit. The user is automatically logged in to this account, which is tied to a randomly generated username. This username is displayed in every situation (except for various functionary tools) where IP addresses would have otherwise been displayed.
The identifier that a given not logged-in user's edits are attributed to needs to be stable. Creating a new user for each edit is not an option. Otherwise, there would be a too large rate of new users. As soon as the temporary account is created, the user is logged in. The cookie has a limited lifetime. Within this duration, if the user decides to make more edits, they are all attributed to the same temporary account. A new one is created if the user decides to log out of the temporary account or otherwise use a different browser. The user retains the same temporary account if they change IP address while using the same device/browser.
The MediaWiki software can't be changed too much. We need to limit novelties to let existing features work unmodified. A temporary account does not break anything in the way user accounts are handled. Aside from some special case behaviors that are required (such as some features that need to be disabled for temporary accounts), most code is likely to work without unexpected failures.

See also:

Is the Wikimedia Foundation monitoring the effect of using temporary accounts on our communities? edit

As of February 2024, not yet, because temporary accounts haven't been introduced on any wiki yet.

The teams involved in this work are monitoring some "guardrail" metrics. These include how many users get blocked, how many pages get deleted, how many edits get reverted, and the number of requests for assistance from checkusers.

What if a temporary account holder does something bad and needs to be blocked? edit

Temporary accounts' IPs will be stored, IP blocks will continue to work, and temporary accounts will be subject to IP blocks.

Single wiki community questions edit

What if a community wants to keep using IP addresses? edit

After temporary accounts become available, displaying IP addresses for subsequent contributions will no longer be permitted. All communities need to prepare for the change to temporary accounts.

Would disallowing or limiting anonymous editing be a good alternative? edit

No.

In the past, the Wikimedia Foundation has supported research into requiring registration for all editors editing Wikipedia articles. The results have been mixed. We can't say that disabling not logged-in editing of articles is clearly an equally good solution.

Even if it was, we would need to disable not logged-in editing of any page. That would be against a founding principle. (To read more about it, look at the table above.)

Some communities currently have public pages for documenting the activities of some bad actors, including their IP addresses (e.g., Long-term abuse). Will this documentation still be permitted? edit

Yes.

This is possible when it is necessary, with some limits. See the related policy for more information.

Can we publicly document the IP addresses used by suspected (but not confirmed) bad actors who are using temporary accounts? edit

In general, no, but sometimes yes, temporarily.

When possible, patrollers with access to IP addresses should document the temporary account name(s) instead of the IP addresses. The exception is when the IP addresses are necessary for the purpose of protecting the wiki from abusive actions. Necessity should be determined on a case-by-case basis. If a disclosure later becomes unnecessary, then the IP address should be promptly removed.

For example, if a suspected vandal is exonerated during an investigation, then the report showing the user's IP address can be removed through oversight. That way, the IP address is only revealed while it is needed, and then is suppressed later, after it has been shown to not be needed any longer. See the related policy for more information.

Technical details about temporary accounts edit

How long does my temporary account last? edit

Your temporary account will work for as long as the cookie exists. The cookie is currently set to expire after one year from the first edit.

The following are the most common scenarios in which a temporary account will be irretrievably lost:

  • You clear the cookies on your browser.
  • You delete the profile on your browser that you used when the temp account was created.
  • You used an incognito (private browsing) window, and closed the window.
  • The cookie expired.

If your temporary account is lost, then a new temporary account, with a new username, will be automatically generated for you the next time you publish an edit. If you would like a permanent account, you can create a free registered account at any time.

How do I login to my temporary account? What is the password for my temporary account? edit

It is impossible to log in to a temporary account. There are no passwords for temporary accounts. The only way to be "logged in" as a temporary user is to have the original, unexpired cookie that was set when you made the first edit in that account. You can only access your temp account from the device or browser where it was created. If you want to be able to set a password and log in on other devices, please create a free registered account.

What can I do with my temporary account? edit

Your temporary account will work at all of the Wikipedias and other SUL-connected wikis hosted by the Wikimedia Foundation. You should have very similar capabilities as you did while edits were being attributed to IP addresses. This includes editing most articles on the Wikipedias. With the switch to temporary accounts, you will get one new feature. You will be able to receive notifications about messages from other users.

Some actions, such as uploading photos to Commons, are restricted to users with a free registered account. Registered accounts are permanent, provide better privacy protection for you, and offer many preference settings for customization. Registering a permanent account is quick and easy. You do not need an e-mail address to create a free registered account.

Note: When you create a free registered account, the edit history, notifications, and messages in your old temporary account will not be transferred to your new registered account.

Will the temporary username be unique across different wikis? edit

Yes.

If you see User:~2024-12345-67 at multiple SUL-connected wikis, you can be confident that this is the same account.

Experienced contributor questions edit

Can't an abuser just clear cookies? edit

Yes, they can. Temporary accounts are not intended to solve any anti-abuse problems.

We know the problem of abusers making edits through a pool of changing IPs while masking browser agent data. This cannot be solved through temporary accounts. This is not a design goal for this project either. Otherwise, we would need to use trusted tokens, disabling anonymous edits, or fingerprinting, all of which are very involved, complicated measures that have significant community and technical considerations.

However, abuse from a user that clears cookies will be no harder or easier to detect and mitigate than before the rollout of temporary accounts. Tools will be adapted to ensure that bidirectional mappings between temporary accounts and IPs can be safely and efficiently navigated by trusted functionaries.

I'm an admin, and I need to calculate a range block. Can I see the IP address of temporary accounts? edit

If you have advanced user rights, such as the ability to use block other users, you are able to see the IP addresses of temporary accounts. Please see the Access to temporary account IP addresses legal policy and the related Access to temporary account IP addresses FAQ. You will need to opt-in to access through Special:Preferences at your local wiki.

There are privacy risks associated with IP addresses, and they will be visible only to people who need to have that information for effective patrolling. This includes stewards, checkusers, global sysops, admins, and patrollers who meet qualifying thresholds, as well as certain staff at the Wikimedia Foundation.

I have a qualified account. How can I see the IP addresses? edit

Go to Special:Preferences and opt in.

Will I need to sign the ANPDP? edit

The access to nonpublic personal data policy (ANPDP) is a legal policy from the Wikimedia Foundation about how checkusers and people with certain other roles must protect non-public personal data that they obtain in the course of their duties. Volunteer admins and patrollers do not need to sign the ANPDP agreement. However, you will need to opt-in to access to IP addresses through Special:Preferences at your local wiki.

How will autoblocks work with temporary accounts? edit

Autoblocks stop vandals and other high-risk users from continuing to disrupt the projects by immediately creating a new account. Autoblocks for temporary accounts are the same as autoblocks for registered users.

Scope and timeline of the project edit

IP addresses appear in the history of many pages. Will those past uses be modified? edit

No.

Historical IP addresses that were published on wiki before the switch to temporary accounts will not be modified. The Wikimedia Foundation Legal department has approved this decision.

When will these changes reach my wiki? edit

As of November 2023, temporary accounts may become available on a test wiki in March 2024. Bot operators and tool developers are encouraged to test their tools as early as possible.

As of November 2023, the first deployment to a public pilot wiki (e.g., a low-traffic Wikipedia) is expected no earlier than April/May 2024.

See also edit