A closer look at Wikimedia’s Transparency Report and the fight for freedom of information

Wikimedia has published its first Transparency Report detailing requests for information about individuals and takedown requests.

It’s not surprising that the Wiki world gets a fair number of takedown requests – some of them legitimate and some of them not, and the first ever Transparency Report outlines exactly how many requests it has received in the past two years, where the requests originated from and how many of the requests were honoured. It also reveals how many requests for private information Wiki has received and what it did about those.

For the most part Wikimedia is pretty stingy when it comes to removing items from the various Wikipedia flavours, Wikimedia Commons, Wikivoyage and Wikitionary. The one exception is Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown requests which usually involve copyrighted materials, where 41 per cent of the 58 requests were granted.

At the other end of the spectrum, of the 56 requests for user data only 14 per cent were granted. Although Wikimedia points out that it doesn't usually have any user data to share that isn’t already public. And when it comes to removing content, of the 304 requests to remove content Wikimedia acquiesced exactly zero per cent of the time.

On the Wikimedia transparency page they do list a few examples of requests that were denied. One is a frame from a film shot by Matt Kandle at the 1932 World Series that provides evidence of Babe Ruth's famous “called shot,” in which he gestured to centre field before hitting a home run to the same location. Wikimedia declined to remove the image “on the basis of fair use, citing its extraordinary value in illustrating the famous moment and the educational purpose it serves.”

Another example (quoted quite often on other tech news sites) was a ‘selfie’ taken by a female crested black macaque monkey using a stolen camera. They received a request from the owner of the camera, claiming that he owned the copyright to the photographs. “We didn't agree, so we denied the request.”

And then there was another request from a Tasmanian aboriginal language centre that demanded the removal of the English Wikipedia article on 'palawa kani', claiming copyright over the entirety of the language. “We refused to remove the article because copyright law simply cannot be used to stop people from using an entire language or to prevent general discussion about the language.”

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While these examples might cause a chuckle or two, reading through the report leaves one with the sense that Wikimedia is doing its damnedest to make it as difficult as possible for people to whitewash the online information repository. Wikimedia makes it sound like it treats every single request quite seriously and even assuming the requesting person has met all the legal requirements, Wikimedia still investigates whether the request is valid or not, and then makes a decision based on their own standards.

That might piss off some governments and fans of legal systems around the world but at least someone seems to be willing to fight for freedom of information (as our own governments seem not to care).