Wikipedia: edited by Diebold, CIA, …


Richard Moore

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See Who's Editing Wikipedia - Diebold, the CIA, a Campaign
By John Borland
 08.14.07 | 2:00 AM

CalTech graduate student Virgil Griffith built a search tool that traces IP 
addresses of those who make Wikipedia changes.

Photo: Photo: Jake Appelbaum

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.

Inspired by news last year that Congress members' offices had been editing their
own entries, Griffith says he got curious, and wanted to know whether big 
companies and other organizations were doing things in a similarly 
self-interested vein.

"Everything's better if you do it on a huge scale, and automate it," he says 
with a grin.

This database is possible thanks to a combination of Wikipedia policies and 
(mostly) publicly available information.

The online encyclopedia allows anyone to make edits, but keeps detailed logs of 
all these changes. Users who are logged in are tracked only by their user name, 
but anonymous changes leave a public record of their IP address.

Share Your Sleuthing!

Cornered any companies polishing up their Wikipedia entries? Spotted any 
government spooks rewriting history? Try Virgil Griffith's Wikipedia Scanner 
yourself, then submit your finds and vote on other readers' discoveries here.

The organization also allows downloads of the complete Wikipedia, including 
records of all these changes.

Griffith thus downloaded the entire encyclopedia, isolating the XML-based 
records of anonymous changes and IP addresses. He then correlated those IP 
addresses with public net-address lookup services such as ARIN, as well as 
private domain-name data provided by

The result: A database of 34.4 million edits, performed by 2.6 million 
organizations or individuals ranging from the CIA to Microsoft to Congressional 
offices, now linked to the edits they or someone at their organization's net 
address has made.

Some of this appears to be transparently self-interested, either adding 
positive, press release-like material to entries, or deleting whole swaths of 
critical material.

Voting-machine company Diebold provides a good example of the latter, with 
someone at the company's IP address apparently deleting long paragraphs 
detailing the security industry's concerns over the integrity of their voting 
machines, and information about the company's CEO's fund-raising for President 

The text, deleted in November 2005, was quickly restored by another Wikipedia 
contributor, who advised the anonymous editor, "Please stop removing content 
from Wikipedia. It is considered vandalism."

A Diebold Election Systems spokesman said he'd look into the matter but could 
not comment by press time.

Wal-Mart has a series of relatively small changes in 2005 that that burnish the 
company's image on its own entry while often leaving criticism in, changing a 
line that its wages are less than other retail stores to a note that it pays 
nearly double the minimum wage, for example. Another leaves activist criticism 
on community impact intact, while citing a "definitive" study showing Wal-Mart 
raised the total number of jobs in a community.

As has been previously reported, politician's offices are heavy users of the 
system. Former Montana Sen. Conrad Burns' office, for example, apparently 
changed one critical paragraph headed "A controversial voice" to "A voice for 
farmers," with predictably image-friendly content following it.

Perhaps interestingly, many of the most apparently self-interested changes come 
from before 2006, when news of the Congressional offices' edits reached the 
headlines. This may indicate a growing sophistication with the workings of 
Wikipedia over time, or even the rise of corporate Wikipedia policies.

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales told Wired News he was aware of the new service, 
but needed time to experiment with it before commenting.

The vast majority of changes are fairly innocuous, however. Employees at the 
CIA's net address, for example, have been busy -- but with little that would 
indicate their place of apparent employment, or a particular bias.

One entry on "Black September in Jordan" contains wholesale additions, with 
specific details that read like a popular history book or an eyewitness' memoir.

Many more are simple copy edits, or additions to local town entries or school 
histories. One CIA entry deals with the details of lyrics sung in a Buffy the 
Vampire Slayer episode.

Griffith says he launched the project hoping to find scandals, particularly at 
obvious targets such as companies like Halliburton. But there's a more practical
goal, too: By exposing the anonymous edits that companies such as drugs and big 
pharmaceutical companies make in entries that affect their businesses, it could 
help experts check up on the changes and make sure they're accurate, he says.

For now, he has just scratched the surface of the database of millions of 
entries. But he's putting it online so others can look too.

The nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation, which runs Wikipedia, did not respond to 
e-mail and telephone inquiries Monday.

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