Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2007-06-11/Privacy report

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Privacy report lists Wikipedia among best sites, but needing improvement

By Michael Snow, 11 June, 2007

A report on the privacy practices of several major website and Internet companies included Wikipedia among the leaders in privacy awareness. The report received widespread media coverage and also drew objections from the companies it criticized, notably Google.

The report was put together by Privacy International, a London-based nonprofit organization that calls itself "a watchdog on surveillance and privacy invasions by governments and corporations." The findings for each site or company were summarized in a chart (PDF) covering various criteria and providing a justification for the ratings.

Wikipedia received the rating, "Generally privacy-aware but in need of improvement". In its explanation, Privacy International commended Wikipedia data retention practices but said some information was lacking. The best rating possible, "Privacy-friendly and privacy enhancing", was not given to any of the sites or companies reviewed. In receiving the next-highest rating, Wikipedia joined a group that included the BBC, eBay, Last.fm, and LiveJournal.

Google, which was singled out for the worst rating, "Comprehensive consumer surveillance & entrenched hostility to privacy", responded publicly with some of its objections. The company complained that Privacy International did not give it an opportunity to discuss the findings, which it said were filled with "numerous inaccuracies and misunderstandings about our services". Privacy International hit back by calling Google's response a "smear campaign" and said it had contacted the company but received no response.

It is not clear whether Privacy International attempted to contact the Wikimedia Foundation, as it mentioned its inability to verify the retention policy. The report called the privacy policy "clear" and noted its adoption by the Board of Trustees, but pointed to the lack of an explicit contact point in the organization. It seems that Privacy International may have been unaware of the existence of an Ombudsman commission. This group reviews complaints about potential violations of the privacy policy, although it is primarily focused on use of the CheckUser tool.

On the English Wikipedia mailing list, Mathias Schindler of the Communications committee said he had contacted Privacy International requesting more information, adding the comment that he was "unconvinced about their methodology." The discussion then veered to potential conflicts of interest and prompted a reference to Wikimedia's ownership of 187 shares of Google stock received as a donation, however Wikimedia board member Kat Walsh noted that Wikimedia has since sold those shares.


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