From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Screenshot of the website. Current as of August 22, 2007.
Commercial? No
Type of site Database tool
Registration No
Available language(s) Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Chinese
Owner Virgil Griffith
Created by Virgil Griffith
Launched 2007-08-14

WikiScanner (also known as Wikipedia Scanner) is a tool created by Virgil Griffith and released on August 14, 2007,[1][2] which consists of a publicly searchable database that links millions of anonymous Wikipedia edits to the organizations where those edits apparently originated, by cross-referencing the edits with data on the owners of the associated block of IP addresses. WikiScanner does not work on edits made under a username. The Associated Press reported that Griffith wanted "to create minor public relations disasters for companies and organizations [he] dislike[s]."[3] In his "WikiScanner FAQ" Griffith stated:[4]

"Overall—especially for non-controversial topics—Wikipedia already works. For controversial topics, Wikipedia can be made more reliable through techniques like [WikiScanner]."


"For any sort of 'open' project, I strongly prefer allowing people to remain anonymous while also doing various back-end analyses to counteract vandalism and disinformation."

Griffith also denied that he had ever been employed by the Wikimedia Foundation and said his work on WikiScanner was "100% noncommercial."[4]


[edit] Technical description

According to Griffith's WikiScanner FAQ, the tool's database contains "34,417,493 anonymous [Wikipedia] edits dating from February 7th, 2002 to August 4th, 2007." He stated that the database was constructed "by extracting all anonymous edits from the publicly available Wikipedia database dump (which is released about once a month)." Griffith said he used the ip2location database that has "2,668,095 different organizations … which I am using to connect IP#'s to organization names. Within the IP2Location database, there are 187,529 different organizations with at least one anonymous Wikipedia edit."[4]

WikiScanner does not work on edits made by an editor who is logged-in under a username. In that case, the data shows only the username and not the IP address. WikiScanner also cannot distinguish edits made by authorized users of an organization's computers from edits made by unauthorized intruders, or by users of public-access computers that may be part of an organization's network. In discussing edits apparently made from computers in the Vatican, computer expert Kevin Curran was quoted by the BBC as saying that it was "difficult to determine if the person was an employee or if they had maliciously hacked into the Vatican system and were "spoofing" the IP address."[5][not in citation given]

Griffith's WikiScanner FAQ makes this qualification about any edit detected by the tool: "Technically, we don't know whether [the edit] came from an agent of that company; however, we do know that edit came from someone with access to their network." Although the FAQ goes on to say that "we can reasonably assume" that any such edit was from an employee or authorized guest, there is no guarantee that the edit was made by an authorized user rather than an intruder.[4] The likelihood of such intrusions varies with the security in organizations' networks. Some organizations, such as the Vatican Library, have public access terminals or networks.[6]

[edit] Media coverage and reaction

According to Wired, which first broke the story, most edits are "fairly innocuous".[7] Wired asked users to submit "The most shameful Wikipedia spin jobs",[8] which has generated many news stories about organizations, such as the Al-Jazeera network, Fox News Channel, staffers of Democratic Senator Robert Byrd and the CIA, that have edited Wikipedia articles.

Satirist Stephen Colbert (who has long featured stories about Wikipedia and its "truthiness" on his program) mocked Griffith's ambivalent stance on anonymity on Wikipedia, declaring it the "right" of corporations and governments to participate in the democratic process of deciding what is and is not true on Wikipedia. "Just like everyone else", Colbert claimed, they should be able to assume whatever identity they want on the Internet.

According to the BBC, WikiScanner found that some editorial contributions to Wikipedia had originated from computers operated by the Diebold company, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Vatican.[9] The Times reported that an Internet address of the BBC itself had made edits to Wikipedia.[10] The BBC's Head of Interactive News, Pete Clifton subsequently published a blog acknowledging the omission. Clifton characterized the BBC's edits of Wikipedia in this manner:

"Some of the examples are pretty unedifying, but for every dodgy one there are many, many more uncontroversial edits where people at the BBC have added information or changed a detail in good faith. The scanner also shows the same kind of results for a wide variety of other media organisations."[11]

The Associated Press also reported that computers owned by the Church of Scientology have been used to remove criticism from articles about Scientology on Wikipedia, including edits to the article Cult Awareness Network. The Associated Press admitted that edits to Wikipedia had been made anonymously from its own computers, though the news organization did not describe the content of the edits.[3] In its story on WikiScanner, the New York Times admitted that edits had been made from its own computers, as well.[12] reported that the office of former Republican Senator Conrad Burns also edited critical passages.[2]

According to, WikiScanner has shown edits by other large organizations, including Amnesty International, Apple Inc., ChevronTexaco, Coca Cola, the British Conservative Party, Dell Computers, EA Games, Exxon Mobil, the FBI, The Guardian, Microsoft, MySpace, the National Rifle Association, Nestlé, News of the World, the New York Times, the Government of Portugal, the US Republican Party, Reuters, Sony, the United Nations, Walmart, and a dog breeding association.[citation needed] The Canadian television network CTV reported edits by other organizations including Disney and the Canadian government.[13]

On August 24, 2007, headline reports in the Australian print and electronic media were made of anonymous edits to Wikipedia by staff in the Australian Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet in order to remove potentially damaging details from articles related to the Government. Information found using WikiScanner showed 126 anonymous edits from the Department to articles on sometimes controversial issues and on government ministers.[14][15] The Department responded by saying that Prime Minister John Howard did not direct his staff to modify the articles,[16] and later that day the head of the Department said that the changes were not made by anyone in his department or the Prime Minister's office, but by another user with the same Internet Service Provider (ISP).[17] Wikiscanner also identified Australian Department of Defence (DoD) employees as having made over 5,000 edits, prompting an unprecedented announcement from the DoD to block Defence staff from editing Wikipedia in case edits were interpreted as official comment.[18][19]

On 26 August 2007, The Boston Globe in “a Globe Editorialpublished an article about Wikipedia, described as a “democratic fountain of facts” and related “WikiScanner” technology. It reported that the technology had exposed the fact that “Corporations, or at least people who use their computers, are brushing up their Wikipedia entries, deleting descriptions of controversies or buffing up facts. The companies giving themselves wiki-face lifts include Pepsi, Wal-Mart, and ExxonMobil”. The article went on to reveal that “In 2005, someone using a computer inside Royal Dutch Shell, the oil company, rewrote a benign description of the company, claiming it is 'run by a group of geriatrics who find it impossible to make timely decisions and have an aversion to highly-profitable ventures.'”

On 18 December 2007, Fortune magazine mentioned the use of WikiScanner in the 96th of its list of the "101 Dumbest Moments in Business" in 2007 saying, "A Washington Post employee is found to have changed a reference to the owner of a rival paper from Philip Anschutz to Charles Manson, while someone at The New York Times added the word "jerk" 12 times to the entry on George W. Bush."[20]

During the period of May 27 to June 4, 2008, edits originating from an IP address belonging to Industry Canada were made to the Jim Prentice (Federal Minister of Industry) article on Wikipedia. The edits included the removal of references to new copyright legislation and the addition of two passages about Prentice's recent accomplishments as Minister of Industry.[21][22]

Specifically, information about the copyright controversy was deleted from Prentice's biography by someone using an Industry Canada IP address. Someone at the same IP address then inserted a glowing review:

"Prentice has been praised for his strong management of the Industry portfolio. He has been dubbed the unofficial deputy prime minister, and is seen as the strongest Minister in the Harper government. He is widely praised in both political and private circles, as he personifies experience, confidence and competence, ability and capability."[23]

Jay Walsh, spokesman for the Wikimedia Foundation in San Francisco, said in an interview there are tens of thousands of living people with biographies on Wikipedia, "so challenges about information are not uncommon." Walsh said neutrality of language and guarding against conflicts of interest are two of the central pillars of Wikipedia. He said "The edits which should be trusted would come from people who don't possess a conflict of interest, in this case, it would be worthwhile saying that if someone is making edits from a computer within the government of Canada … if it was someone within that ministry, that would theoretically constitute a conflict of interest."[23]

The WikiScanner story was also covered by The Independent, which stated that many "censorial interventions" by editors with vested interests on a variety of articles in Wikipedia had been discovered:

"[Wikipedia] was hailed as a breakthrough in the democratisation of knowledge. But the online encyclopedia has since been hijacked by forces who decided that certain things were best left unknown... Now a website designed to monitor editorial changes made on Wikipedia has found thousands of self-serving edits and traced them to their original source. It has turned out to be hugely embarrassing for armies of political spin doctors and corporate revisionists who believed their censorial interventions had gone unnoticed."[24]

[edit] Wikipedia reaction

Wikipedia co-founder[25] Jimmy Wales spoke enthusiastically about WikiScanner:

"It's awesome—I love it … It brings an additional level of transparency to what's going on at Wikipedia … [WikiScanner] uses information we've been making publicly available forever, hoping someone would do something like this."[26]

Another story quoted Wales as saying WikiScanner was "fabulous and I strongly support it."[3] The BBC quoted an unnamed Wikipedia spokesperson's praise for the tool:

"We really value transparency and the scanner really takes this to another level … Wikipedia Scanner may prevent an organisation or individuals from editing articles that they're really not supposed to."[9]

Wales also commented that Wikipedia might make changes in response to the release of WikiScanner "to help visitors better understand what information is recorded about them." The New York Times quoted Wales on a possible warning to anonymous editors:

"When someone clicks on 'edit,' it would be interesting if we could say, 'Hi, thank you for editing. We see you’re logged in from The New York Times. Keep in mind that we know that, and it’s public information' … That might make them stop and think."[12]

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ "Wikiscanning". New York Times. December 9, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-12-09. "When Virgil Griffith, a 24-year-old hacker, heard reports that Congressional staff members had been caught altering Wikipedia for the benefit of their boss, he got to thinking of all the other kinds of spin occurring on the site." 
  2. ^ a b John Borland (2007-08-14). "See Who's Editing Wikipedia - Diebold, the CIA, a Campaign". Wired. Retrieved on 2007-08-17. 
  3. ^ a b c "New online tool unmasks Wikipedia edits". Associated Press. 2007-08-15. Retrieved on 2007-08-16. 
  4. ^ a b c d Virgil Griffith. "WikiScanner FAQ". Retrieved on 2007-08-18. 
  5. ^ "Wikipedia Scanner outs Vatican, CIA". News Feed Researcher. 2007-08-16. Retrieved on 2007-08-18. 
  6. ^ Vatican Library rules
  7. ^ "See Who's Editing Wikipedia - Diebold, the CIA, a Campaign". Wired blogs. 2007-08-14. Retrieved on 2007-08-19. 
  8. ^ "Vote On the Most Shameful Wikipedia Spin Jobs". Wired blogs. 2007-08-13. Retrieved on 2007-08-17. 
  9. ^ a b Jonathan Fildes (2007-08-15). "Wikipedia 'shows CIA page edits'". BBC. Retrieved on 2007-08-16. 
  10. ^ Rhys Blakely (2007-08-16). "Wal-Mart, CIA, ExxonMobil Changed Wikipedia Entries". The Times.,2933,293389,00.html. Retrieved on 2007-08-18. 
  11. ^ Pete Clifton (2007-08-16). "Wikipedia edits". BBC. Retrieved on 2007-08-16. 
  12. ^ a b Katie Hafner (2007-08-19). "Seeing Corporate Fingerprints in Wikipedia Edits". New York Times. Retrieved on 2007-08-19. 
  13. ^ "Government computers linked to Wikipedia edits". CTV. 2007-08-16. Retrieved on 2007-08-20. 
  14. ^ "PM's staff edited Wikipedia". The Sydney Morning Herald. 2007-08-24. Retrieved on 2007-08-25. 
  15. ^ "Government caught Wiki-watching". The Age. 2007-08-24. Retrieved on 2007-08-25. 
  16. ^ "PM 'not behind Wikipedia edits'". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 2007-08-24. Retrieved on 2007-08-25. 
  17. ^ "PM's Dept denies making Wikipedia changes". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 2007-08-24. Retrieved on 2007-08-25. 
  18. ^ "PM's staff edit Wikipedia entries". The Advertiser. 2007-08-24.,22606,22299568-911,00.html. Retrieved on 2007-08-24. 
  19. ^ "Defence blocks staff's Wikipedia access". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 2007-08-24. Retrieved on 2007-08-25. 
  20. ^ Editors of Fortune (2007-12-17). "101 Dumbest Moments in Business - 96. WikiScanner" (in English). Fortune. Retrieved on 2007-12-18. 
  21. ^ Nowak, Peter. "Government buffing Prentice's Wikipedia entry" (in English) (html). Canada: CBC News. Retrieved on 2008-06-04. 
  22. ^ Geist, Michael. "Prentice's Staff Scrubbing Copyright Controversy From Wikipedia Entry". Retrieved on 2008-06-04. 
  23. ^ a b Cheadle, Bruce. "Rewrite war rages on Wikipedia over Prentice biography and copyright law". Retrieved on 2008-06-05. 
  24. ^ Robert Verkaik (2007-08-18). "Wikipedia and the art of censorship". The Independent. Retrieved on 2007-10-27. 
  25. ^ Peter Meyers (September 20, 2001). "Fact-Driven? Collegial? This Site Wants You". New York Times. Retrieved on 2007-08-17. 
  26. ^ Katherine Noyes (2007-08-15). "New Tool Outs Would-Be Wikipedia Tricksters". TechNewsWorld. Retrieved on 2007-08-16. 

[edit] External links

Personal tools