Wikimedia Foundation says it doesn't hold Chinese readers in any less regard - we disagree

Matthew Roth, Spokesperson for the Wikimedia Foundation, responds to our recent Wikipedia drops the ball on China - not too late to make amends article:

The Wikimedia Foundation doesn’t hold any readers of our projects in any less regard than others. Our mission is to bring the knowledge contained in the Wikimedia projects to everyone on the planet. There is no strategic consideration around how we can make one or another language project more accessible or readable in one part of the world or another. We do not have control over how a national government operates its censorship system. We also do not work with any national censorship system to limit access to project knowledge in any way.

It is worth noting the Greatfire blog post makes some incorrect assumptions about Wikimedia culture - including incorrect titling of some Wikimedia Foundation staff (e.g. Sue Gardner is the Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit that operates Wikipedia -- Wikipedia is written by tens of thousands of volunteers and has no director and no explicit hierarchy). There is also an incorrect assertion that Jimmy Wales has a direct role in working with our staff in making changes to core infrastructure. Of course Jimmy plays a role in the conversation as a member of the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees, but he is participating in the conversation along with anyone else from the volunteer editor community.

On the larger topic, the implementation of HTTPS by default across all Wikimedia sites for all readers and users is non-trivial, and a conversation is ongoing within the Wikimedia Foundation and within the community about how we might make this possible. We do have plans to eventually enable HTTPS as the default, but it's difficult and we're taking steps toward this goal over time.

Our first step is to force HTTPS for logged-in users. The next step will be to expand our SSL cluster and to do some testing on a wiki-by-wiki basis with anonymous HTTPS. At some point later we'll attempt to enable HTTPS for anonymous users on all projects. Then we'll look at enabling HSTS, so that browsers know they should always use HTTPS to access our sites.

We've only had proper native HTTPS for about a year and a half. We attempted to force HTTPS by default for logged-in users last month and rolled it back. We'll be attempting this again soon. So, it's something we're actively working on. We've also hard-enabled HTTPS on all of our private wikis and have soft-enabled HTTPS on a single wiki (Uzbek Wikipedia), when it was requested by the volunteer editor community there.

Response from GreatFire.org

We’re delighted that Wikipedia have reached out to us on this issue and we welcome a chance to engage them on what we feel is a very important topic not just in regards to censorship in China but also in regards to censorship in other countries. We will address each of Matthew’s responses paragraph by paragraph below.

The Wikimedia Foundation doesn’t hold any readers of our projects in any less regard than others. Our mission is to bring the knowledge contained in the Wikimedia projects to everyone on the planet. There is no strategic consideration around how we can make one or another language project more accessible or readable in one part of the world or another. We do not have control over how a national government operates its censorship system. We also do not work with any national censorship system to limit access to project knowledge in any way.

Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, has been quoted threatening HTTPS-only in the UK which shows they he does think about countries separately - just not when it comes to China. In this story, from last year, Wales says:  

"If we find that UK ISPs are mandated to keep track of every single web page that you read at Wikipedia, I am almost certain we would immediately move to a default of encrypting all communication to the UK, so that the local ISP would only be able to see that you are speaking to Wikipedia, not what you are reading. That kind of response for us to do is not difficult. We don’t do it today because there doesn’t seem to be a dramatic need for it or any dramatic threat to our customers, but it’s something that I think we would do, absolutely."

Wales added:

"It’s more like something I would expect from the Iranians or the Chinese, frankly."

But both China and Iran have been doing this for a long time and Wales and the staff involved with Wikipedia are well aware of this. In Wales’ opinion, what’s the difference between publicly attacking the UK and attacking China? Or is it because Wales sees the UK as a ‘civilized democracy’ and he therefore feels that he needs to speak out? Wales also had no problem closing Wikipedia down for a day in the US to protest SOPA. Regardless of his rationale, Wales and Wikipedia have applied two standards to this discussion and do in fact hold Chinese readers in less regard.

We would also argue that by not providing a default HTTPS connection in China, Wikipedia is consciously limiting access to project knowledge because they know that many Chinese language articles are blocked by the censorship authorities.

Furthermore, not having any country-specific strategy, especially for China, is a rookie mistake. You need only speak to your peers in the US about how important it is to treat China separately - your letter does not even address Wikipedia’s history in China. If Wikipedia considered China separately, it could make a big difference in the Middle Kingdom. We reiterate: please consider making an exception to your policy and make HTTPS the default for users from China.

It is worth noting the Greatfire blog post makes some incorrect assumptions about Wikimedia culture - including incorrect titling of some Wikimedia Foundation staff (e.g. Sue Gardner is the Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit that operates Wikipedia -- Wikipedia is written by tens of thousands of volunteers and has no director and no explicit hierarchy). There is also an incorrect assertion that Jimmy Wales has a direct role in working with our staff in making changes to core infrastructure. Of course Jimmy plays a role in the conversation as a member of the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees, but he is participating in the conversation along with anyone else from the volunteer editor community.

We apologise for the incorrect title for Sue Gardner and we have made a note on the original article to acknowledge this error. While we recognise that Jimmy Wales may not play a part in the day-to-day operations of Wikipedia, he does maintain a very public profile as the founder and voice of Wikipedia. His profile is also larger than any single volunteer editor on Wikipedia. Presumably when Wales threatens to switch the site to HTTPS-only, he wields some form of influence over the people who operate the ‘core infrastructure’ and/or board directors who would give the go-ahead to make this change.

On the larger topic, the implementation of HTTPS by default across all Wikimedia sites for all readers and users is non-trivial, and a conversation is ongoing within the Wikimedia Foundation and within the community about how we might make this possible. We do have plans to eventually enable HTTPS as the default, but it's difficult and we're taking steps toward this goal over time.

Why wouldn’t Wikimedia make HTTPS default across all Wikimedia sites in countries like China and Iran, where there is known filtering of Wikimedia information? The current traffic from these countries is relatively small and would have a minimal impact on the organisation’s web infrastructure. One way is to enforce HTTPS on the zh.wikipedia.org domain which only accounts for 2.56% of all of Wikipedia’s traffic. An alternative is to enforce HTTPS on all domains for users from China, which accounts for only 1.9% of the total traffic.

Meanwhile, the recent PRISM scandal demonstrates why Wikipedia should enforce HTTPS for users everywhere. Any change to the infrastructure of one of the world's most used websites is bound to be non-trivial. But this needs to be a high priority. Wikipedia users the world over would benefit.

Our first step is to force HTTPS for logged-in users. The next step will be to expand our SSL cluster and to do some testing on a wiki-by-wiki basis with anonymous HTTPS. At some point later we'll attempt to enable HTTPS for anonymous users on all projects. Then we'll look at enabling HSTS, so that browsers know they should always use HTTPS to access our sites.

We've only had proper native HTTPS for about a year and a half. We attempted to force HTTPS by default for logged-in users last month and rolled it back. We'll be attempting this again soon. So, it's something we're actively working on. We've also hard-enabled HTTPS on all of our private wikis and have soft-enabled HTTPS on a single wiki (Uzbek Wikipedia), when it was requested by the volunteer editor community there.

This approach is just not good enough given the situation in China. China may have blocked access to the HTTPS version of Wikipedia because of the actions the organisation took to force HTTPS by default for logged in users. This is how the censorship authorities in China are able to manage information control effectively. Each time an organisation takes a baby step to make information more free, they allow the censors adequate time to step in and make a counter move. Wikimedia employees, Wikipedia editors, Jimmy Wales and the other powers-to-be in the combined organisations should know that you cannot treat China with kid gloves. If change is going to happen in China, it must be quick and forceful, not ‘soon and gradual’. If the organisation truly wants to fulfill its mission, it should not alienate half a billion netizens.

Enforcing HTTPS for logged-in users misses the point. Very few Wikipedia readers ever log in. Very few manually type in https:// in the address bar. The point that we are making is that Wikipedia should enforce HTTPS for all users in China. Doing so would disable the possibility for the censors to selectively block content. It would allow half a billion Internet users to access a completely uncensored encyclopedia for the first time.

It’s ironic that commercial companies like Google and Github are able to provide HTTPS-only services to Chinese users that cannot be controlled by the censors, while Wikipedia, which is a non-profit organization relying on donations from good-willed people, cannot. The technology is there. Other service providers are doing it already. The cost would be marginal. Not taking this opportunity to make a real difference in the world’s biggest country is simply irresponsible. We urge Wikipedia to take our call very seriously and to move quickly towards a free Internet for all - not just in the West.

Wikipedia may be hesitating to switch to HTTPS-only because they fear they could be blocked completely in China. The fact that the censors have not fully blocked Gmail and Github, which have already switched to this HTTPS-only approach, speaks against this. On the other hand, the fact that Wikipedia has been fully blocked in the past shows that it’s a possibility. We argue that even if Wikipedia is blocked, that is better than the current, censored version. The reason that Wikipedia is better than, for example, Baidu Baike is that it’s not censored. By allowing the authorities to selectively censor articles, that whole argument is lost. Wikipedia should take a bold step clearly showing that they do not accept any level of censorship.

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星期四, 11月 30, 2017

关于在中国苹果商店被审查的那674个软件

苹果对中国区的审查行为敞开了大门 - 但这似乎只是冰山一角。

星期二, 5月 23, 2017

Is China establishing cyber sovereignty in the United States?

Last week Twitter came under attack from a DDoS attack orchestrated by the Chinese authorities. While such attacks are not uncommon for websites like Twitter, this one proved unusual. While the Chinese authorities use the Great Firewall to block harmful content from reaching its citizens, it now uses DDoS attacks to take down content that appears on websites beyond its borders. For the Chinese authorities, it is not simply good enough to “protect” the interests of Chinese citizens at home - in their view of cyber sovereignty, any content that might harm China’s interests must be removed, regardless of where the website is located.

And so last week the Chinese authorities determined that Twitter was the target. In particular, the authorities targeted the Twitter account for Guo Wengui (https://twitter.com/KwokMiles), the rebel billionaire who is slowly leaking information about corrupt Chinese government officials via his Twitter account and through his YouTube videos. Guo appeared to ramp up his whistle-blowing efforts last week and the Chinese authorities, in turn, ramped up theirs.

via https://twitter.com/KwokMiles/status/863689935798374401

星期一, 12月 12, 2016

China is the obstacle to Google’s plan to end internet censorship

It’s been three years since Eric Schmidt proclaimed that Google would chart a course to ending online censorship within ten years. Now is a great time to check on Google’s progress, reassess the landscape, benchmark Google’s efforts against others who share the same goal, postulate on the China strategy and offer suggestions on how they might effectively move forward.

flowers on google china plaque

Flowers left outside Google China’s headquarters after its announcement it might leave the country in 2010. Photo: Wikicommons.

What has Google accomplished since November 2013?

The first thing they have accomplished is an entire rebranding of both Google (now Alphabet) and Google Ideas (now Jigsaw). Throughout this blog post, reference is made to both new and old company names.

Google has started to develop two main tools which they believe can help in the fight against censorship. Jigsaw’s DDoS protection service, Project Shield, is effectively preventing censorship-inspired DDoS attacks and recently helped to repel an attack on Brian Krebs’ blog. The service is similar to other anti-DDoS services developed by internet freedom champions and for-profit services like Cloudflare.

星期四, 11月 24, 2016

Facebook: Please, not like this

Facebook is considering launching a censorship tool that would enable the world’s biggest social network to “enter” the China market. Sadly, nobody will be surprised by anything that Mark Zuckerberg decides to do in order to enter the China market. With such low expectations, Facebook is poised to usurp Apple as China’s favorite foreign intelligence gathering partner. If the company launches in China using this strategy they will also successfully erase any bargaining power that other media organizations may hold with the Chinese authorities.

星期二, 7月 05, 2016

GreatFire.org 现在开始测试VPN在中国的速度和稳定性

在中国有一个普遍观念,如果你有一个可以使用的VPN,那么你应该保持沉默。就信息自由而言,这种观念的问题在于获取知识竟成了一种秘密。今天,我们推出一个项目,希望能够摧毁这种模型。

我们最新的网站,翻墙中心,目的在于实时提供那些能够在中国使用的翻墙方案的信息和数据。在2011年以来我们就已经开始收集在中国被屏蔽的网站,现在我们也将增加那些可用的VPN和其他翻墙工具。

我们发布翻墙中心主要有四个目的。

我们的首要目标是助长使用翻墙工具的国人的数量。通过分享我们这些工具的信息和数据,我们希望对更广泛的受众展示那些工具时可以使用的。

我们的第二个目标是通过带来工具性能的透明化来提升中国用户的翻墙体验。我们将会测试工具的速度(流行网站的加载速度)和稳定性(流行网站加载成功的程度)。

我们开发速度测试的目的是要真实反映用户的体验。当用户在网站测速时,浏览器在后台会从10个世界上最流行的网站上下载一些资源文件。根据Alexa排名,这些网站分别是Google, Facebook, YouTube, Baidu, Amazon, Yahoo, Wikipedia, QQ, Twitter and Microsoft Live。速度的结果是简单的计算下载文件文件的大小和下载所需的时间。我们同样也会验证下载的文件是否完整。如果文件的内容是错误的或者在40秒内无法完成下载,我们会标记为失败。这个数据被我们用来生成另一个重要指标-稳定性。

其他的速度测试工具仅仅是通过发送数据到它们自己的服务器来测量上传和下载的速度。这种数据无法反应用户的体验,因为正常的浏览器通常会频繁的发送一系列的请求(而不是上传或下载一个大文件)到许多的服务器,而不止是一个。

我们的第二个指标 - 稳定性 - 是其他的服务通常不会测试的。一个健康的互联网连接应该达到100%的稳定性,除非有人在测试中把网线拔了。但是在中国使用翻墙工具却不是这样。任何时候连接都有可能变得不稳定或十分缓慢。根据请求的大小,最终的地点和代理的方式,一些请求有可能会失败。比较服务的稳定性要比比较速度更加重要。

你可以测试任意的翻墙工具,列表之外的也可以。中国的VPN用户也可以测试他们的工具,测试结果也会添加到数据库中。这些数据都将会对所有人开放。实时的在中国测试是非常重要的,因为VPN随时都可能被封锁或解封。我们欢迎任何的关于测试过程的反馈。有技术能力的用户也可以通过审查我们的javascript代码来获悉我们的测试是如何工作的。

我们郑重的邀请翻墙工具的开发者们向我们提供测试过程的反馈。我们的第三个目标是帮助这些开发人员改进他们的产品,让更多的选择适用于中国的顾客。此外,越多的工具可以工作,就意味着中国当局对翻墙的打击就会越难。

中国的用户都知道,在过去的18个月中当局加紧了对翻墙工具的攻击。而翻墙中心将会吹响反击的号角。反其道而行之,让这不再成为秘密。我们要鼓励人们分享翻墙工具可以工作的信息。

我们的第四个目标就是要为GreatFire.org创造收益。目前GreatFire仍然依靠世界各地的热心人士和组织的捐款。我们希望减少对这些机构的依赖,并探寻GreatFire.org自给自足的道路。用户只需到翻墙中心就能购买任意一款我们目前在测试的付费工具。GreatFire将作为这些工具在中国的经销商,因此VPN供应商会给予我们每个零售的一部分。用户也不必在中国购买这些翻墙服务。

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