Thursday, August 16, 2007

Who edits Wikipedia? The CIA, Diebold (on their e-voting machines), and more

On November 17th, 2005, an anonymous Wikipedia user deleted 15 paragraphs from an article on e-voting machine-vendor Diebold, excising an entire section critical of the company's machines. While anonymous, such changes typically leave behind digital fingerprints offering hints about the contributor, such as the location of the computer used to make the edits.
In this case, the changes came from an IP address reserved for the corporate offices of Diebold itself. And it is far from an isolated case. A new data-mining service launched Monday traces millions of Wikipedia entries to their corporate sources, and for the first time puts comprehensive data behind longstanding suspicions of manipulation, which until now have surfaced only piecemeal in investigations of specific allegations.
Wikipedia Scanner -- the brainchild of Cal Tech computation and neural-systems graduate student Virgil Griffith -- offers users a searchable database that ties millions of anonymous Wikipedia edits to organizations where those edits apparently originated, by cross-referencing the edits with data on who owns the associated block of internet IP addresses.
[It was] inspired by news last year that Congress members' offices had been editing their own entries....

Continue reading here. Hat tip: NPR.

Update: This story has been widely covered in the media. The New York Times picks it up, outing Sea World, PepsiCo, Walmart, and even the NYT itself, well into page 2 of the story. The prize for the strangest edits clearly goes to the NYT.

Another update: Dave Hoffman at Concurring Opinions outs law firms.