WikiScanner (also known as Wikipedia Scanner) was a publicly searchable database operating between 2002 and 2007 that linked millions of anonymous edits on Wikipedia 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 though it did not investigate edits made under a username. It was created by Virgil Griffith and released on August 14, 2007.
Screenshot of the website on August 22, 2007.
Type of site
|Available in||Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Chinese|
|Created by||Virgil Griffith|
Virgil Griffith's current page
|Launched||August 14, 2007|
In his "WikiScanner FAQ" Griffith stated his belief that WikiScanner could help make Wikipedia more reliable for controversial topics. He also indicated that he had never been employed by the Wikimedia Foundation and claimed his work on WikiScanner was "100% noncommercial." On December 21, 2012, a research group from Fondazione Bruno Kessler released an open-source clone of WikiScanner called WikiWatchdog.
By April 2013, attempts to run "WikiScanner Classic" from wikiscanner.virgil.gr returned to the WikiScanner home page, which identified itself as "WIKIWATCHER.COM"; and invoking "WikiScanner2 PreviewNew!" led to a "failure to load the page due to timeout" error.
The tool's database contained 34,417,493 entries on anonymous edits (those by users who were not logged in to Wikipedia) between February 7, 2002 and August 4, 2007. Griffith stated that the database was constructed by compiling the anonymous edits included amongst the monthly public database dumps of Wikipedia. He claimed to have connected the organizations to their IP address with the assistance of the IP2Location, and through comparison had found "187,529 different organizations with at least one anonymous Wikipedia edit."
WikiScanner only worked on anonymous edits that had provided an IP address, not edits by anyone logged in under a username. It could not distinguish between edits made by authorized users of an organization, unauthorized intruders, or users of public-access computers that may have been using an organization's network. In discussing edits 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."
The WikiScanner FAQ noted that edits could not be positively attributed to representatives of a company, only to a computer logged into a company's network. The FAQ went on to say there is no guarantee that an edit was made by an authorized user rather than an intruder. The likelihood of such intrusions depended upon an organizations' network security; organizations such as the Vatican Library have public access terminals or networks.
Media coverage and reaction
According to Wired, which first broke the story on 13 August 2007, most edits were "fairly innocuous". Wired asked users to submit "The most shameful Wikipedia spin jobs", which 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 had edited Wikipedia articles.
On August 21, 2007, satirist Stephen Colbert who had long featured stories about Wikipedia and its "truthiness" on his program mocked WikiScanner creator Virgil 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.
According to the BBC from August 15, 2007, WikiScanner found that some editorial contributions to Wikipedia had originated from computers operated by the Diebold company, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee as well as the Vatican. The Times reported that an IP address at the BBC had made edits to Wikipedia. The BBC's Head of Interactive News, Pete Clifton published a blog on August 16 acknowledging the earlier omission, but 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 Associated Press reported on August 15, 2007 that computers owned by the Church of Scientology had 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. In its story on WikiScanner, the New York Times too admitted that edits had been made from its own computers. Wired.com reported the office of former Republican Senator Conrad Burns had also edited critical passages.
According to Maltastar.com from August 16, 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. The Canadian television network CTV reported edits by other organizations including Disney and the Canadian government.
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. The Department responded by saying that Prime Minister John Howard did not direct his staff to modify the articles, 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). 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.
On August 26, 2007, The Boston Globe in “a Globe Editorial” published an article about Wikipedia, described as a “democratic fountain of facts” and related “WikiScanner” technology, reporting as among those companies found to have edited Wikipedia were Pepsi, Wal-Mart, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell, in which specific case "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.'” 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.
On December 18, 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."
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.
Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales spoke enthusiastically about WikiScanner, noting that "It brings an additional level of transparency to what's going on at Wikipedia" and that it was "fabulous and I strongly support it." The BBC quoted an unnamed Wikipedia spokesperson's praise for the tool in taking transparency "to another level" and preventing "an organisation or individuals from editing articles that they're really not supposed to." In responding to the edits from the Canadian Ministry of Industry, spokesman for the Wikimedia Foundation Jay Walsh noted that neutrality of language and guarding against conflicts of interest are two of the central pillars of Wikipedia, adding that "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."
Wales speculated 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."
- Biuso, Emily (December 9, 2007). "Wikiscanning". New York Times. Retrieved December 9, 2007.
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.
- Borland, John (August 14, 2007). "See Who's Editing Wikipedia - Diebold, the CIA, a Campaign". Wired. Retrieved September 15, 2012.
- Griffith, Virgil. "WikiScanner FAQ". Archived from the original on August 30, 2007. Retrieved August 18, 2007.
- at http://wikiwatchdog.com
- "WikiScanner2 PreviewNew!". Archived from the original on September 22, 2010.
Accessibility of WikiScanner can be checked on the web page Archived April 8, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
- "Virgil Griffith's WikiScanner Page". Archived from the original on March 14, 2016.
- "Did Vatican alter Wikipedia info on Adams?". Belfast Telegraph. August 16, 2007. Retrieved May 18, 2009.
- "Rules for Readers in the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana" (PDF). Vatican Library. September 15, 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 27, 2007.
- Poulsen, Kevin (August 13, 2007). "Vote On the Most Shameful Wikipedia Spin Jobs". Wired blogs. Retrieved August 17, 2007.
- The Colbert Report. Comedy Central. August 21, 2007
- Fildes, Jonathan (August 15, 2007). "Wikipedia 'shows CIA page edits'". BBC. Retrieved August 16, 2007.
- Blakely, Rhys. "Exposed: guess who has been polishing their Wikipedia entries?". The Times of London. Archived from the original on June 12, 2011. page 2
- Clifton, Pete (August 16, 2007). "Wikipedia edits". BBC. Retrieved August 16, 2007.
- "New online tool unmasks Wikipedia edits". Associated Press. August 15, 2007. Archived from the original on September 29, 2007. Retrieved August 16, 2007.
- Hafner, Katie (August 19, 2007). "Seeing Corporate Fingerprints in Wikipedia Edits". New York Times. Retrieved August 19, 2007.
- "Student's program sends PR chaos in Wiki-scandal". Maltastar.com. August 16, 2007. Archived from the original on December 25, 2007. Retrieved August 19, 2007.
- "Government computers linked to Wikipedia edits". CTV. August 16, 2007. Retrieved August 20, 2007.
- "PM's staff edited Wikipedia". The Sydney Morning Herald. August 24, 2007. Retrieved August 25, 2007.
- Moses, Asher (August 24, 2007). "Government caught Wiki-watching". Melbourne: The Age. Retrieved August 25, 2007.
- "PM 'not behind Wikipedia edits'". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. August 24, 2007. Retrieved August 25, 2007.
- "PM's Dept denies making Wikipedia changes". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. August 24, 2007. Retrieved August 25, 2007.
- "PM's staff edit Wikipedia entries". The Advertiser. August 24, 2007. Retrieved August 24, 2007.
- "Defence blocks staff's Wikipedia access". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. August 24, 2007. Retrieved August 25, 2007.
- "Behind the e-curtain". The Boston Globe. August 26, 2007.
- Verkaik, Robert (August 18, 2007). "Wikipedia and the art of censorship". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on January 9, 2009. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
- Editors (December 17, 2007). "101 Dumbest Moments in Business - 96. WikiScanner". Fortune. Retrieved December 18, 2007.
- Nowak, Peter (June 4, 2008). "Government buffing Prentice's Wikipedia entry". Canada: CBC News. Retrieved June 4, 2008.
- Geist, Michael. "Prentice's Staff Scrubbing Copyright Controversy From Wikipedia Entry". www.michaelgeist.ca. Retrieved June 4, 2008.
- Noyes, Katherine (August 15, 2007). "New Tool Outs Would-Be Wikipedia Tricksters". TechNewsWorld. Retrieved August 16, 2007.
- Cheadle, Bruce (June 6, 2008). "Copyright rewrite war rages on Prentice Wikipedia page". theglobeandmail.com. Ottawa: The Globe and Mail. Canadian Press. Retrieved October 9, 2010.
- WikiScanner, Virgil Griffiths page about wikiscanner.
- Listen to an RTÉ news piece on WikiScanner (RealPlayer required).16 August 2007
- A new website unmasks Wikipedia's vandals - by Michael Agger, Slate.com,24 August 2007
- Verkaik, Robert (August 18, 2007). "Wikipedia and the art of censorship". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on August 20, 2007. Retrieved August 20, 2007.
- How the Wikipedia Scanner Works on howstuffworks.com
- wikiwatchdog tests if an organization edits Wikipedia using their IP address
- "Users'traffic data on all WIki projects". wikiscan.org. Archived from the original on June 12, 2011.