Among the more lovable pieces of web entertainment, one can not deny that watching the NSA and multimillion companies partake in political intrigue is one of those events in which you take up a seat and grab the popcorn.
While most sites are trying to combat the “threat” of government monitoring and takedowns, WordPress decided it clearly had nothing to hide in this game of political intrigue and released their WordPress Transparency Report on Automattic, the commercial company behind WordPress.com.
WordPress.org is a non-profit entity that does not provide web hosting, so self-hosted sites using WordPress are not part of this report. As a web host, Automattic provides web hosting, web development, and publishing services to VIP customers and all those on WordPress.com, and the report covers the hosting part of their business on WordPress.com.
The Automattic Transparency Report for WordPress.com is broken down into three sections, described in their words.
- Information Requests: Requests we receive from governments around the world to disclose information about our users
- Takedown Demands: Demands from governments around the world to remove our users’ material
- National Security: We wish we could tell you more
In the section on their National Security requests, they state:
While we appreciate the progress that’s been made, allowing us to make this limited disclosure of National Security Requests, we think the current law does not allow us to paint a truthful picture. Reporting National Security Requests in bands of 250 obfuscates rather than clarifies the volume of National Security Requests we and other small tech companies receive. We urge the Justice Department to permit more detailed disclosures about the number and nature of National Security Requests received.
The statistics for that section report the National Security Requests received and accounts affected is “0-249,” whatever that means.
By comparison, Government removal requests as reported by Google Transparency Report explains their transparent reporting data:
Governments ask companies to remove or review content for many different reasons. For example, some content removals are requested due to allegations of defamation, while others are due to allegations that the content violates local laws prohibiting hate speech or adult content. Laws surrounding these issues vary by country and the requests reflect the legal context of a given jurisdiction.
Their transparency report includes the specifics of the requests. Examples of such requests to Google and Google services include:
Afghanistan: Google product or service was disrupted during this time period: YouTube, 13 September 2012 – 4 January 2013
Argentina: We received a phone call to remove a Google Autocomplete entry linking a politician’s name with an illicit drug. We did not remove the entry. We received a court order to remove 1385 search results for linking to information that allegedly associated an actor with pornography. We did not remove the search results and we appealed and the order was reversed.
Armenia: We received a request from a politician to remove three YouTube videos that used profane language in reference to him. We did not remove the videos.
Bangladesh: We received a request from a regulatory agency to remove four YouTube videos that contain clips of the film, “Innocence of Muslims”. We did not remove the videos. A Google product or service was disrupted during this time period: YouTube, 17 September 2012 – 5 June 2013
Egypt: We received two requests and two court orders from regulatory agencies to remove 105 YouTube videos that contain clips of the film, “Innocence of Muslims”. We restricted videos from view in Egypt.
We received 27 requests from a federal government agency to suspend 89 apps from the Google Play store that allegedly infringed its trademark rights. After reviewing the apps in question with respect to those trademarks, we removed 76 apps.
We received a request from a local law enforcement official to remove a search result linking to a news article about his record as an officer. We did not remove the search result.
We received a court order directed at a third party to remove six search results linking to news articles and to claims on the Ripoff Report website that allegedly defamed a company by suggesting it was involved in illegal activities. We removed the search results linking to the Ripoff Report, but did not remove the news articles.
The number of content removal requests we received increased by 70% compared to the previous reporting period.
According to Google, defamation is their number one reason for such actions, with privacy, security, and adult content coming in far behind on the list.
While not specific to the NSA and government requests for privacy data, Google has a Transparency Report on WordPress.com for Copyright Removal Requests citing a medium request number of 76 per week and a total of 12,736 to date (starting date unknown). Microsoft is the copyright owner most cited with almost 7,000 citations.
Privacy and Transparency Support from the WordPress Community
The comments in response to the statement and announcement of the WordPress.com and Automattic Transparency Report seemed to fairly represent those who are proud of the position Automattic took to release the information, and frustration with the government for their actions. Examples included:
Bill Bennett: Good to see WordPress publishing a transparency report. It appears the blogging software company takes its media role seriously.
Ryan Boren (Automattic Employee): Being forced by your government to lie and obscure is corrosive, soul-rotting, and evil. I got into WordPress and web publishing to help people speak past the lumps their governments try to lodge in their throats. This report is important speech, saying what it can around the lumps, and I’m proud of it.
Simon: I am so very pleased and proud to work for a company that is on the forefront of both publishing and the rights of artists and authors on the Internet. Having had a chance to work with the legal team at WordPress.com has been a highly educational, and inspirational, experience.
Mr. Gadget.net: I respect the push for open and transparent activity. Publishing these types of reports will continue to place WordPress and others like it high in customer satisfaction and trust. Exactly what is needed in today’s society.
The popular and interactive WPTavern talked about the Automattic Transparency Report and called it an “affirmation for freedom of speech.”
Historically, Automattic has demonstrated its support for freedom of speech by raising awareness about the First Amendment, even taking to the courts to stand with users against DMCA abuse. The company also recently joined forces with other organizations around the globe to protest NSA surveillance.
Through its statement today, Automattic emphasized that it will push back against requests that constitute infringements on freedom of speech…
There are some clear concerns on how the governments requests for information will handled in the future, but such transparency helps, and appears to be appreciated, opening up dialog to discuss this growing concern.
For more information on this:
- The announcement of the WordPress.com Transparency Report
- The Transparency Report
- Why Privacy Matters- Zero Knowledge Privacy
- How the NSA does their job – Report from the Electronic Frontier Foundation