IP Editing: Privacy Enhancement and Abuse Mitigation/id
In recent years, internet users have become more aware of the importance of understanding the collection and use of their personal data. Governments in various countries have created new laws in an effort to better protect user privacy. The Wikimedia Foundation’s legal and public policy teams are continually monitoring developments in various laws around the world, how we can best protect user privacy, respect user expectations, and uphold the values of the Wikimedia movements. With that backdrop, they asked us to investigate and embark upon a technical improvement to the projects. We need to do this together with you.
MediaWiki stores and publishes the IP addresses of unregistered contributors (as part of their signature, in the page history and in logs), and makes them visible to anyone visiting our sites. Publication of these IP addresses compromises the safety and anonymity of these users. In some cases, it may even invite the danger of putting people at risk of government persecution. While we do tell users their IP address will be visible, few understand the ramifications of this information. We are working on increased privacy protection for unregistered contributors by obscuring their IP addresses when they contribute to the projects, akin to how the average reader can’t see the IP of a registered user. This will involve creating a "masked IP" username, which will be automatically generated, but human-readable. We have different ideas about how to best implement this. You can comment to let us know what you need.
Wikimedia projects have a very good reason for storing and publishing IP addresses: they play a critical role in keeping vandalism and harassment off our wikis. It's very important that patrollers, admins and functionaries have tools that can identify and block vandals, sockpuppets, editors with conflicts of interest and other bad actors. Working with you, we want to figure out ways to protect our users’ privacy while keeping our anti-vandalism tools working at-par with how they work now. The most important part of this is the development of new tools to help anti-vandalism work. Once this is done, we hope to work on shielding IP addresses from our wikis – including restricting the number of people who can see other users' IP addresses, and reducing the amount of time IP addresses are stored in our databases and logs. It is important to note that a critical part of this work will be to ensure that our wikis still have access to the same – or better – level of anti-vandalism tooling and are not at risk of facing abuse.
The Wikimedia Foundation goal is to create a set of moderation tools that will take away the need of everyone having direct access to IP addresses. With this evolution of our moderation tools, we will be able to mask the IPs of unregistered accounts. We’re very aware that this change will impact current moderation workflows, and we want to ensure that the new tools will enable effective moderation, protect the projects from vandalism, and support community oversight.
We can only get to that decision point by working in partnership with CheckUsers, stewards, admins and other vandal fighters.
This is a very challenging problem, with risks for our ability to protect our wikis should we fail, which is why it's been put off over the years. But in light of evolving data-privacy standards on the internet, new laws, and changing user expectations, the Wikimedia Foundation thinks that now is the time to tackle this problem.
30 August 2021
Hello. This is a brief update about Portuguese Wikipedia’s metrics since they started requiring registration to edit. We have a comprehensive report on the Impact report page. This report includes metrics captured through data as well as a survey that was conducted among active Portuguese Wikipedia contributors. All in all, the report presents the change in a positive light. We have not seen any significant disruption over the time period these metrics have been captured. In light of this, we are now encouraged to run an experiment on two more projects to see if we observe similar impact. All projects are unique in their own ways and what holds true for Portuguese Wikipedia might not hold true for another project. We want to run a limited-time experiment on two projects where registration will be required in order to edit. We estimate that it will take approximately 8 months for us to collect enough data to see significant changes. After that time period, we will return to not requiring registration to edit while we analyse the data. Once the data is published, the community will be able to decide for themselves whether or not they want to continue to disallow unregistered editing on the project.
We are calling this the Login Required Experiment. You will find more detail as well as a timeline on that page. Please use that page and its talk page to discuss this further.
10 June 2021
Hi everyone. It has been a few months since our last update on this project. We have taken this time to talk to a lot of people — across the editing community and within the Foundation. We have put careful consideration towards weighing all the concerns raised in our discussions with experienced community members about the impact this will have on anti-vandalism efforts across our projects. We have also heard from a significant number of people who support this proposal as a step towards improving privacy of unregistered editors and reducing the legal threat that exposing IPs to the world poses to our projects.
When we talked about this project in the past, we did not have a clear idea of the shape this project will take. Our intention was to understand how IP addresses are helpful to our communities. We have since received a lot of feedback on this front from a number of conversations in different languages and in different communities. We are very grateful to all the community members who took the time to educate us about how moderation works on their wikis or in their specific cross-wiki environment.
Proposal for sharing IP addresses with those who need access
We now have a more concrete proposal for this project that we hope will allow for most of the anti-vandalism work to happen undeterred while also restricting access to IP addresses from people who don’t need to see them. I want to emphasize the word “proposal” because it is in no way, shape or form a final verdict on what will happen. Our intention is to seek your feedback about this idea – What do you think will work? What do you think won’t work? What other ideas can make this better? We developed these ideas during several discussions with experienced community members, and we’ve refined them in collaboration with our Legal department. Here’s the outline:
- Checkusers, stewards and admins should be able to see complete IP addresses by opting-in to a preference where they agree not to share it with others who don't have access to this information.
- Editors who partake in anti-vandalism activities, as vetted by the community, can be granted a right to see IP addresses to continue their work. This could be handled in a similar manner as adminship on our projects. The community approval is important to ensure that only editors who truly need this access can get it. The editors will need to have an account that is at least a year old and have at least 500 edits.
- All users with accounts over a year old and at least 500 edits will be able to access partially unmasked IPs without permission. This means an IP address will appear with its tail octet(s) – the last part(s) – hidden. This will be accessible via a preference where they agree not to share it with others who don't have access to this information.
- All other users will not be able to access IP addresses for unregistered users.
IP address access will be logged so that due scrutiny can be performed if and when needed. This is similar to the log we maintain for checkuser access to private data. This is how we hope to balance the need for privacy with the communities’ need to access information to fight spam, vandalism and harassment. We want to give the information to those who need it, but we need a process, we need it to be opt-in so that only those with an actual need will see it and we need the accesses to be logged.
We would like to hear your thoughts about this proposed approach. Please give us your feedback on the talk page.
- What do you think will work?
- What do you think won’t work?
- What other ideas can make this better?
Update on tool development
As you might already know, we are working on building some new tools, partly to soften the impact of IP Masking, but also just to build better anti-vandalism tools for everyone. It is not a secret that the state of moderation tools on our projects doesn’t give the communities the tools they deserve. There is a lot of scope for improvement. We want to build tools that make it easier for anti-vandalism fighters to work effectively. We also want to reduce the barrier to entry into these roles for non-technical contributors.
We have talked about ideas for these tools before and I will provide a brief update on these below. Note that progress on these tools has been slow in the last few months as our team is working on overhauling SecurePoll to meet the needs of the upcoming WMF Board elections.
IP Info feature
We are building a tool that will display important information about an IP address which is commonly sought in investigations. Typically patrollers, admins and checkusers rely on external websites to provide this information. We hope to make this process easier for them by integrating information from reliable IP-vendors within our websites. We recently built a prototype and conducted a round of user testing to validate our approach. We found that a majority of the editors in the interview set found the tool helpful and indicated they would like to use it in the future. There is an update on the project page that I would like to draw your attention to. Key questions that we would like to have your feedback on the project talk page:
- When investigating an IP what kinds of information do you look for? Which page are you likely on when looking for this information?
- What kinds of IP information do you find most useful?
- What kinds of IP information, when shared, do you think could put our anonymous editors at risk?
Editor matching feature
This project has also been referred to as "Nearby editors" and "Sockpuppet detection" in earlier conversations. We are trying to find a suitable name for it that is understandable even to people who don't understand the word sockpuppetry. We are in the early stages of this project. Wikimedia Foundation Research has a project that could assist in detecting when two editors exhibit similar editing behaviors. This will help connect different unregistered editors when they edit under different auto-generated account usernames. We heard a lot of support for this project when we started talking about it a year ago. We also heard about the risks of developing such a feature. We are planning to build a prototype in the near term and share it with the community. There is a malnourished project page for this project. We hope to have an update for it soon. Your thoughts on this project are very welcome on the project talk page.
Data on Portuguese Wikipedia disabling IP edits
Portuguese Wikipedia banned unregistered editors from making edits to the project last year. Over the last few months, our team has been collecting data about the repercussions of this move on the general health of the project. We have also talked to several community members about their experience. We are working on the final bits to compile all the data that presents an accurate picture of the state of the project. We hope to have an update on this in the near future.
30 October 2020
We have updated the FAQ with more questions that have been asked on the talk page. The Wikimedia Foundation Legal department added a statement on request to the talk page discussion, and we have added it here on the main page too. On the talk page, we have tried to explain roughly how we think about giving the vandal fighters access to the data they need without them having to be CheckUsers or admins.
15 October 2020
This page had become largely out of date and we decided to rewrite parts of it to reflect where we are in the process. This is what it used to look like. We’ve updated it with the latest info on the tools we’re working on, research, fleshed out motivations and added a couple of things to the FAQ. Especially relevant are probably our work on the IP info feature, the new CheckUser tool which is now live on four wikis and our research into the best way to handle IP identification: let us know what you need, the potential problems you see and if a combination of IP and a cookie could be useful for your workflows.
Like mentioned previously, our foremost goal is to provide better anti-vandalism tools for our communities which will provide a better moderation experience for our vandal fighters while also working towards making the IP address string less valuable for them. Another important reason to do this is that IP addresses are hard to understand and are really very useful only to tech-savvy users. This creates a barrier for new users without any technical background to enter into functionary roles as there is a higher learning curve for them to work with IP addresses. We hope to get to a place where we can have moderation tools that anyone can use without much prior knowledge.
The first thing we decided to focus on was to make the CheckUser tool more flexible, powerful and easy to use. It is an important tool that services the need to detect and block bad actors (especially long-term abusers) on a lot of our projects. The CheckUser tool was not very well maintained for many years and as a result it appeared quite dated and lacked necessary features.
We also anticipated an uptick in the number of users who opt-in to the role of becoming a CheckUser on our projects once IP Masking goes into effect. This reinforced the need for a better, easier CheckUser experience for our users. With that in mind, the Anti-Harassment Tools team spent the past year working on improving the CheckUser tool – making it much more efficient and user-friendly. This work has also taken into account a lot of outstanding feature requests by the community. We have continually consulted with CheckUsers and stewards over the course of this project and have tried our best to deliver on their expectations. The new feature is set to go live on all projects in October 2020.
The next feature that we are working on is IP info. We decided on this project after a round of consultation on six wikis which helped us narrow down the use cases for IP addresses on our projects. It became apparent early on that there are some critical pieces of information that IP addresses provide which need to be made available for patrollers to be able to do their roles effectively. The goal for IP Info, thus, is to quickly and easily surface significant information about an IP address. IP addresses provide important information such as location, organization, possibility of being a Tor/VPN node, rDNS, listed range, to mention a few examples. By being able to show this, quickly and easily without the need for external tools everyone can’t use, we hope to be able to make it easier for patrollers to do their job. The information provided is high-level enough that we can show it without endangering the anonymous user. At the same time, it is enough information for patrollers to be able to make quality judgements about an IP address.
After IP Info we will be focusing on a finding similar editors feature. We’ll be using a machine learning model, built in collaboration with CheckUsers and trained on historical CheckUser data to compare user behavior and flag when two or more users appear to be behaving very similarly. The model will take into account which pages users are active on, their writing styles, editing times etc to make predictions about how similar two users are. We are doing our due diligence in making sure the model is as accurate as possible.
Once it’s ready, there is a lot of scope for what such a model can do. As a first step we will be launching it to help CheckUsers detect socks easily without having to perform a lot of manual labor. In the future, we can think about how we can expose this tool to more people and apply it to detect malicious sockpuppeting rings and disinformation campaigns.
You can read more and leave comments on our project page for tools.
We who are working on this are doing this because the legal and public policy teams advised us that we should evolve the projects’ handling of IP addresses in order to keep up with current privacy standards, laws, and user expectations. That’s really the main reason.
We also think there are other compelling reasons to work on this. If someone wants to help out and don’t understand the ramifications of their IP address being publicly stored, their desire to make the world and the wiki a better place results in inadvertently sharing their personal data with the public. This is not a new discussion: we’ve had it for about as long as the Wikimedia wikis have been around. An IP address can be used to find out a user’s geographical location and institution and other personally identifiable information, depending on how the IP address was assigned and by whom. This can sometimes mean that an IP address can be used to pinpoint exactly who made an edit and from where, especially when the editor pool is small in a geographic area. Concerns around exposing IP addresses on our projects have been brought repeatedly by our communities and the Wikimedia movement as a whole has been talking about how to solve this problem for at least fifteen years. Here’s a (non-exhaustive) list of some of the previous discussions that have happened around this topic.
We acknowledge that this is a thorny issue, with the potential for causing disruptions in workflows we greatly respect and really don’t want to disrupt. We would only undertake this work, and spend so much time and energy on it, for very good reason. These are important issues independently, and together they have inspired this project: there’s both our own need and desire to protect those who want to contribute to the wikis, and developments in the world we live in, and the online environment in which the projects exist.
IP masking impact
IP addresses are valuable as a semi-reliable partial identifier, which is not easily manipulated by their associated user. Depending on provider and device configuration, IP address information is not always accurate or precise, and deep technical knowledge and fluency is needed to make best use of IP address information, though administrators are not currently required to demonstrate such fluency to have access. This technical information is used to support additional information (referred to as “behavioural knowledge”) where possible, and the information taken from IP addresses significantly impact the course of administrative action taken.
On the social side, the issue of whether to allow unregistered users to edit has been a subject of extensive debate. So far, it has erred on the side of allowing unregistered users to edit. The debate is generally framed around a desire to halt vandalism, versus preserving the ability for pseudo-anonymous editing and lowering the barrier to edit. There is a perception of bias against unregistered users because of their association with vandalism, which also appears as algorithmic bias in tools such as ORES. Additionally, there are major communications issues when trying to talk to unregistered users, largely due to lack of notifications, and because there is no guarantee that the same person will be reading the messages sent to that IP talk page.
In terms of the potential impact of IP masking, it will significantly impact administrator workflows and may increase the burden on CheckUsers in the short term. If or when IP addresses are masked, we should expect our administrators' ability to manage vandalism to be greatly hindered. This can be mitigated by providing tools with equivalent or greater functionality, but we should expect a transitional period marked by reduced administrator efficacy. In order to provide proper tool support for our administrators’ work, we must be careful to preserve or provide alternatives to the following functions currently fulfilled by IP information:
- Block efficacy and collateral estimation
- Some way of surfacing similarities or patterns among unregistered users, such as geographic similarity, certain institutions (e.g. if edits are coming from a high school or university)
- The ability to target specific groups of unregistered users, such as vandals jumping IPs within a specific range
- Location or institution-specific actions (not necessarily blocks); for example, the ability to determine if edits are made from an open proxy, or public location like a school or public library.
Depending on how we handle temporary accounts or identifiers for unregistered users, we may be able to improve communication to unregistered users. Underlying discussions and concerns around unregistered editing, anonymous vandalism, and bias against unregistered users are unlikely to significantly change if we mask IPs, provided we maintain the ability to edit projects while logged out.
We interviewed CheckUsers on multiple projects throughout our process for designing the new Special:Investigate tool. Based on interviews and walkthroughs of real-life cases, we broke down the general CheckUser workflow into five sections:
- Triaging: assessing cases for feasibility and complexity.
- Profiling: creating a pattern of behaviour which will identify the user behind multiple accounts.
- Checking: examining IPs and useragents using the CheckUser tool.
- Judgement: matching this technical information against the behavioural information established in the Profiling step, in order to make a final decision about what kind of administrative action to take.
- Closing: reporting the outcome of the investigation on public and private platforms where necessary, and appropriately archiving information for future use.
We also worked with staff from Trust and Safety to get a sense for how the CheckUser tool factors into Wikimedia Foundation investigations and cases that are escalated to T&S.
The most common and obvious pain points all revolved around the CheckUser tool's unintuitive information presentation, and the need to open up every single link in a new tab. This cause massive confusion as tab proliferation quickly got out of hand. To make matters worse, the information that CheckUser surfaces is highly technical and not easy to understand at first glance, making the tabs difficult to track. All of our interviewees said that they resorted to separate software or physical pen and paper in order to keep track of information.
We also ran some basic analyses of English Wikipedia's Sockpuppet Investigations page to get some baseline metrics on how many cases they process, how many are rejected, and how many sockpuppets a given report contains.
Patroller use of IP addresses
Previous research on patrolling on our projects has generally focused on the workload or workflow of patrollers. Most recently, the Patrolling on Wikipedia study focuses on the workflows of patrollers and identifying potential threats to current anti-vandal practices. Older studies, such as the New Page Patrol survey and the Patroller work load study, focused on English Wikipedia. They also look solely at the workload of patrollers, and more specifically on how bot patrolling tools have affected patroller workloads.
Our study tried to recruit from five target wikis, which were
- Japanese Wikipedia
- Dutch Wikipedia
- German Wikipedia
- Chinese Wikipedia
- English Wikiquote
They were selected for known attitudes towards IP edits, percentage of monthly edits made by IPs, and any other unique or unusual circumstances faced by IP editors (namely, use of the Pending Changes feature and widespread use of proxies). Participants were recruited via open calls on Village Pumps or the local equivalent. Where possible, we also posted on Wiki Embassy pages. Unfortunately, while we had interpretation support for the interviews themselves, we did not extend translation support to the messages, which may have accounted for low response rates. All interviews were conducted via Zoom, with a note-taker in attendance.
Supporting the findings from previous studies, we did not find a systematic or unified use of IP information. Additionally, this information was only sought out after a certain threshold of suspicion. Most further investigation of suspicious user activity begins with publicly available on-wiki information, such as checking previous local edits, Global Contributions, or looking for previous bans.
Precision and accuracy were less important qualities for IP information: upon seeing that one chosen IP information site returned three different results for the geographical location of the same IP address, one of our interviewees mentioned that precision in location was not as important as consistency. That is to say, so long as an IP address was consistently exposed as being from one country, it mattered less if it was correct or precise. This fits with our understanding of how IP address information is used: as a semi-unique piece of information associated with a single device or person, that is relatively hard to spoof for the average person. The accuracy or precision of the information attached to the user is less important than the fact that it is attached and difficult to change.
Our findings highlight a few key design aspects for the IP info tool:
- Provide at-a-glance conclusions over raw data
- Cover key aspects of IP information:
- Geolocation (to a city or district level where possible)
- Registered organization
- Connection type (high-traffic, such as data center or mobile network versus low-traffic, such as residential broadband)
- Proxy status as binary yes or no
As an ethical point, it will be important to be able to explain how any conclusions are reached, and the inaccuracy or imprecisions inherent in pulling IP information. While this was not a major concern for the patrollers we talked to, if we are to create a tool that will be used to provide justifications for administrative action, we should be careful to make it clear what the limitations of our tools are.
Q: Will users with advanced permissions such as CheckUsers, Admins, Stewards still have access to IP addresses after this project is complete?
A: We don’t yet have a definitive answer to this question. Ideally, IP addresses should be exposed to as few people as possible (including WMF staff). We hope to restrict IP address exposure to only those users who need to see it.
Q: How would anti-vandalism tools work without IP addresses?
A: There are some potential ideas for achieving this goal. For one, we may be able to surface other pertinent information about the user instead of the IP to the functionaries that provide the same amount of information. In addition, it may be possible to automatically verify if two separate user accounts link to the same IP, without exposing the IP – in cases of sockpuppet investigations. It’s also possible that anti-vandalism tools will continue to use IP addresses, but will have restricted access. We will need to work closely with the community to find the optimal solutions.
Q: If we don’t see IP addresses, what would we see instead when edits are made by unregistered users?
A: Instead of IP addresses, users will be able to see a unique, automatically-generated, human-readable username. This can look something like “Anonymous 12345”, for example.
Q: Will a new username be generated for every unregistered edit?
A: No. We intend to implement some method to make the generated usernames at least partially persistent, for example, by associating them with a cookie, the user’s IP address, or both.
Q: Will you also be removing existing IP addresses from the wikis as part of this project?
A: We will not be hiding any existing IP addresses in history, logs or signatures for this project. It will only affect future edits made after this project has been launched.
Q: Is this project the result of a particular law being passed?
A: No. Data privacy standards are evolving in many countries and regions around the world, along with user expectations. We have always worked hard to protect user privacy, and we continue to learn from and apply best practices based on new standards and expectations. This project is the next step in our own evolution.
Q: What is the timeline on this project?
A: As mentioned above, we will not be making any firm decisions about this project until we have gathered input from the communities. We'd like to figure out sensible early steps that a development team could work on soon, so we can get started on what we think will be a long project, but we're not hurrying to meet a particular deadline.
Q: How do I get involved?
A: We would love to hear if you have ideas or feedback about the project! We would especially like to hear if you have any workflows or processes that might be impacted by this project. You can drop your thoughts on the talk page or fill out this form and we’ll reach out to you. Some of us will be at Wikimania and would love to meet you there as well.
Q: Why is this proposal so unclear?
A: It’s not really a proposal and shouldn’t have been described it as such. We don’t have a solution, but are trying to work out the best solutions with the communities. It might be helpful to understand this as a technical investigation trying to figure out how IP masking could work.
Q: Why don’t you just turn off the ability to edit without registering an account?
A: Unregistered editing works differently across different Wikimedia wikis. For example, Swedish Wikipedia has discussed unregistered editing in the light of this investigation and decided they still want unregistered editing. Japanese Wikipedia has a far higher percentage of IP editing than English Wikipedia, but the revert rate of those edits are only a third – 9.5% compared to 27.4% – indicating that they are also far more useful. We think that deciding for all wikis that they can’t have IP editing is a destructive solution. The research done on IP editing also indicates IP editing is important for editor recruitment.
Q: Who will have access to IPs of unregistered users now?
A: We are not going to leave this burden to e.g. the CheckUsers and the stewards alone. We will have a new user right or the ability to opt in to see the IP if you fulfill certain requirements. Others could potentially see partial IP addresses. We are still talking to the communities about how this could best work.
Q: Has this been decided?
A: Yes. The Wikimedia Foundation’s Legal department has stated that this is necessary. As the entity legally responsible for protecting the privacy of Wikimedia users, the Wikimedia Foundation has accepted this advice and is now working to find the best way to implement this while supporting and listening to the user communities. Some Wikimedians will be unhappy with, this, but legal decisions like these have not been a matter of community consensus. What the communities can be part of deciding is how we do this. That very much needs to be defined with the Wikimedia communities.
Q. Will masks be global, for all Wikimedia wikis, or local, for one wiki?
A: Global. A masked IP will look the same across all Wikimedia wikis.
Q: Will all unregistered users be unblocked when this happens? If not you could track the information in the logs.
A: No. This would wreak havoc on the wikis. This solution will have to be a compromise. We have to balance the privacy of our unregistered editors with our ability to protect the wikis.
Q: Will those who have access to the IPs of unregistered users be able to unmask more than one IP in one action?
A: Yes. We don't want this to be a tedious and time-consuming task, when necessary. We will include this in our proposal.
Statement from the Wikimedia Foundation Legal department
First of all, we’d like to thank everyone for participating in these discussions. We appreciate the attention to detail, the careful consideration, and the time that has gone into engaging in this conversation, raising questions and concerns, and suggesting ways that the introduction of masked IPs can be successful. Today, we’d like to explain in a bit more detail how this project came about and the risks that inspired this work, answer some of the questions that have been raised so far, and briefly talk about next steps.
To explain how we arrived here, we’d like to briefly look backwards. Wikipedia and its sibling projects were built to last. Sharing the sum of all knowledge isn’t something that can be done in a year, or ten years, or any of our lifetimes. But while the mission of the communities and Foundation was created for the long term, the technical and governance structures that enable that mission were very much of the time they were designed. Many of these features have endured, and thrived, as the context in which they operate has changed. Over the last 20 years, a lot has evolved: the way societies use and relate to the internet, the regulations and policies that impact how online platforms run as well as the expectations that users have for how a website will handle their data.
The Foundation’s Privacy team is consistently monitoring this conversation, assessing our practices, and planning for the future. It is our job to look at the projects of today, and evaluate how we can help prepare them to operate within the legal and societal frameworks of tomorrow. A few years ago, as part of this work, we assessed that the current system of publishing IP addresses of non-logged-in contributors should change. We believe it creates risk to users whose information is published in this way. Many do not expect it—even with the notices explaining how attribution works on the projects, the Privacy team often hears from users who have made an edit and are surprised to see their IP address on the history page. Some of them are in locations where the projects are controversial, and they worry that the exposure of their IP address may allow their government to target them. The legal frameworks that we foresaw are in operation, and the publication of these IP addresses pose real risks to the projects and users today.
We’ve heard from several of you that you want to understand more deeply what the legal risks are that inspired this project, whether the Foundation is currently facing legal action, what consequences we think might result if we do not mask IP addresses, etc. (many of these questions have been collected in the expanded list at the end of this section). We’re sorry that we can’t provide more information, since we need to keep some details of the risks privileged. “Privileged” means that a lawyer must keep something confidential, because revealing it could cause harm to their client. That’s why privilege is rarely waived; it’s a formal concept in the legal systems of multiple countries, and it exists for very practical reasons—to protect the client. Here, waiving the privilege and revealing this information could harm the projects and the Foundation. Generally, the Legal Affairs team works to be as transparent as possible; however, an important part of our legal strategy is to approach each problem on a case by case basis. If we publicly discuss privileged information about what specific arguments might be made, or what risks we think are most likely to result in litigation, that could create a road map by which someone could seek to harm the projects and the communities.
That said, we have examined this risk from several angles, taking into account the legal and policy situation in various countries around the world, as well as concerns and oversight requests from users whose IP addresses have been published, and we concluded that IP addresses of non-logged-in users should no longer be publicly visible, largely because they can be associated with a single user or device, and therefore could be used to identify and locate non-logged-in users and link them with their on-wiki activity.
Despite these concerns, we also understood that IP addresses play a major part in the protection of the projects, allowing users to fight vandalism and abuse. We knew that this was a question we’d need to tackle holistically. That’s why a working group from different parts of the Wikimedia Foundation was assembled to examine this question and make a recommendation to senior leadership. When the decision was taken to proceed with IP masking, we all understood that we needed to do this with the communities—that only by taking your observations and ideas into account would we be able to successfully move through this transition.
I want to emphasize that even when IP addresses are masked and new tools are in place to support your anti-vandalism work, this project will not simply end. It’s going to be an iterative process—we will want feedback from you as to what works and what doesn’t, so that the new tools can be improved and adapted to fit your needs.
Over the past months, you’ve had questions, and often, we’ve been unable to provide the level of detail you’re hoping for in our answers, particularly around legal issues.
- What specific legal risks are you worried about?
We cannot provide details about the individual legal risks that we are evaluating. We realize it’s frustrating to ask why and simply get, “that’s privileged” as an answer. And we’re sorry that we cannot provide more specifics, but as explained above, we do need to keep the details of our risk assessment, and the potential legal issues we see on the horizon, confidential, because providing those details could help someone figure out how to harm the projects, communities, and Foundation.
There are settled answers to some questions.
- Is this project proceeding?
Yes, we are moving forward with finding and executing on the best way to hide IP addresses of non-logged-in contributors, while preserving the communities’ ability to protect the projects.
- Can this change be rolled out differently by location?
No. We strive to protect the privacy of all users to the same standard; this will change across the Wikimedia projects.
- If other information about non-logged-in contributors is revealed (such as location, or ISP), then it doesn’t matter if the IP address is also published, right?
That’s not quite the case. In the new system, the information we make available will be general information that is not linked to an individual person or device—for example, providing a city-level location, or noting that an edit was made by someone at a particular university. While this is still information about the user, it’s less specific and individual than an IP address. So even though we are making some information available in order to assist with abuse prevention, we are doing a better job of protecting the privacy of that specific contributor.
- If we tell someone their IP address will be published, isn’t that enough?
No. As mentioned above, many people have been confused to see their IP address published. Additionally, even when someone does see the notice, the Foundation has legal responsibilities to properly handle their personal data. We have concluded that we should not publish the IP addresses of non-logged-in contributors because it falls short of current privacy best practices, and because of the risks it creates, including risks to those users.
- How will masking impact CC-BY-SA attribution?
And sometimes, we don’t know the answer to a question yet, because we’d like to work with you to find the solution.
- What should the specific qualifications be for someone to apply for this new user right?
There will be an age limit; we have not made a definitive decision about the limit yet, but it’s likely they will need to be at least 16 years old. Additionally, they should be active, established community members in good standing. We’d like to work through what that means with you.
- I see that the team preparing these changes is proposing to create a new userright for users to have access to the IP addresses behind a mask. Does Legal have an opinion on whether access to the full IP address associated with a particular username mask constitutes nonpublic personal information as defined by the Confidentiality agreement for nonpublic information, and will users seeking this new userright be required to sign the Access to nonpublic personal data policy or some version of it?
- 1 If yes, then will I as a checkuser be able to discuss relationships between registered accounts and their IP addresses with holders of this new userright, as I currently do with other signatories?
- 2 If no, then could someone try to explain why we are going to all this trouble for information that we don't consider nonpublic?
- 3 In either case, will a checkuser be permitted to disclose connections between registered accounts and unregistered username masks?
This is a great question. The answer is partially yes. First, yes, anyone who has access to the right will need to acknowledge in some way that they are accessing this information for the purposes of fighting vandalism and abuse on the projects. We are working on how this acknowledgement will be made;the process to gain access is likely to be something less complex than signing the access to non-public personal data agreement.
As to how this would impact CUs, right now, the access to non-public personal data policy allows users with access to non-public personal data to share that data with other users who are also able to view it. So a CU can share data with other CUs in order to carry out their work. Here, we are maintaining a distinction between logged-in and logged-out users, so a CU would not be able to share IP addresses of logged-in users with users who have this new right, because users with the new right would not have access to such information.
Presuming that the CU also opts in to see IP addresses of non-logged-in users, under the current scheme, that CU would be able to share IP address information demonstrating connections between logged-in users and non-logged-in users who had been masked with other CUs who had also opted in. They could also indicate to users with the new right that they detected connections between logged-in and non-logged-in users. However, the CU could not directly the share IP addresses of the logged-in users with non-CU users who only have the new right.
Please let us know if this sounds unworkable. As mentioned above, we are figuring out the details, and want to get your feedback to make sure it works.
Over the next few months, we will be rolling out more detailed plans and prototypes for the tools we are building or planning to build. We’ll want to get your feedback on these new tools that will help protect the projects. We’ll continue to try to answer your questions when we can, and seek your thoughts when we should arrive at the answer together. With your feedback, we can create a plan that will allow us to better protect non-logged-in editors’ personal data, while not sacrificing the protection of Wikimedia users or sites. We appreciate your ideas, your questions, and your engagement with this project.
This statement from the Wikimedia Foundation Legal department was written on request for the talk page and comes from that context. For visibility, we wanted you to be able to read it here too.
Hello All. This is a note from the Legal Affairs team. First, we’d like to thank everyone for their thoughtful comments. Please understand that sometimes, as lawyers, we can’t publicly share all of the details of our thinking; but we read your comments and perspectives, and they’re very helpful for us in advising the Foundation.
On some occasions, we need to keep specifics of our work or our advice to the organization confidential, due to the rules of legal ethics and legal privilege that control how lawyers must handle information about the work they do. We realize that our inability to spell out precisely what we’re thinking and why we might or might not do something can be frustrating in some instances, including this one. Although we can’t always disclose the details, we can confirm that our overall goals are to do the best we can to protect the projects and the communities at the same time as we ensure that the Foundation follows applicable law.
Within the Legal Affairs team, the privacy group focuses on ensuring that the Foundation-hosted sites and our data collection and handling practices are in line with relevant law, with our own privacy-related policies, and with our privacy values. We believe that individual privacy for contributors and readers is necessary to enable the creation, sharing, and consumption of free knowledge worldwide. As part of that work, we look first at applicable law, further informed by a mosaic of user questions, concerns, and requests, public policy concerns, organizational policies, and industry best practices to help steer privacy-related work at the Foundation. We take these inputs, and we design a legal strategy for the Foundation that guides our approach to privacy and related issues. In this particular case, careful consideration of these factors has led us to this effort to mask IPs of non-logged-in editors from exposure to all visitors to the Wikimedia projects. We can’t spell out the precise details of our deliberations, or the internal discussions and analyses that lay behind this decision, for the reasons discussed above regarding legal ethics and privilege.
We want to emphasize that the specifics of how we do this are flexible; we are looking for the best way to achieve this goal in line with supporting community needs. There are several potential options on the table, and we want to make sure that we find the implementation in partnership with you. We realize that you may have more questions, and we want to be clear upfront that in this dialogue we may not be able to answer the ones that have legal aspects. Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to consider this work and provide your opinions, concerns, and ideas.