Wikiwatcher takes a closer look into anonymous Wikipedia edits

July 19, 2008

Wikiwatcher takes a closer look into anonymous Wikipedia edits Last August, Virgil Griffith pulled back the curtain on anonymous user edits on Wikipedia entries with Wikiscanner and revealed some serious corporate meddling. Now, he’s unveiling his newest upgrade to the program called “Wikiwatcher,” a Wikipedia-mining tool that flags edits made by users who belong to a corporation that may have a “conflict of interest” in what’s being edited. He’s also releasing some other tools that may bring some other controversies to light.

Griffith made the headlines when he released his program, “Wikiscanner,” to the public last year. It’s a simple program that combines the database of anonymous user’s IP addresses with the public database of addresses registered to corporations, in an attempt to identify those users that post these edits. He revealed some serious PR scandals, such as the user at Raytheon who edited the company’s wiki entry to cover up the $4 million fine for a inflating a government contract.

According to Forbes, Griffith revealed this new upgrade to the Wikiscanner program at the Hope hacker’s conference. “Wikiwatcher,” is capable of filtering Wikipedia entries in multiple ways.

It can flag edits made by corporations on Wikipedia articles about their own businesses or those that they hold a trademark in. It can also highlight edits that include links back to the company’s main Wikipedia page. Plus, it’s capable of displaying a user’s corporate affiliates, based on business and personal IP addresses that were marked originally.

Griffith even accounted for those users that think they’re smart and decide to edit wikipedia entries outside of their corporate network. He takes advantage of a small bug on Wikipedia (which, according to Wired, has already been fixed since he released the tool).

When users take too long to edit an entry, the site logs their IP address and boots them off. The next time they decide to continue to edit the entry and log in so they won’t be booted off again, Wikiwatcher can match a user account with the logged IP address. According to Wired, he’s been able to identify 10,000 IP addresses this way.

Griffith is also releasing some smaller tools. SockPuppetry is a program that can match a username with any range of IP addresses. This can be used to determine which corporations networks these people are coming from or reveal an IP address that’s being used for multiple user accounts.

Another tool being released is WikiGanda, a program that can reveal edits wars between groups. Griffith says that there have been cases where neo-Nazis tried to edit pages about the Holocast in an effort to minimize stories surrounding it. A tool like this can reveal controversies such as this.

According to Forbes, Griffith insisted that his reasoning behind creating these tools isn’t to invade anyone’s privacy or encourage better privacy protection. Although, he does believe that if something like this could be created by a hacker so easily, they Wikipedia should create better anonymity tools. In any case, he believes “if people are anonymous, the quality of their contribution is probably much lower… Wouldn’t you want Wikipedia users to be held accountable for what they change?”

Wikiwatcher will be available to the public in about two weeks.

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