The transition to HTTPS helped Wikipedia against state censorship

Wikipedia is one of the world's largest repositories of UGC and the main reference book of humanity. It covers a huge variety of topics, adhering to the principle of neutrality and objectivity. But among the articles there are quite sensitive topics, including those on which state censors in different countries promote their own - official - point of view. There are facts that ideologists are trying to hide. Therefore, Wikipedia is continuously under attack by state censors. They are trying to ban their citizens from accessing information that the state considers dangerous.

In each country, various articles are targeted by the censors. For example, Turkey in 2015 blocked a number of articles on reproductive biology and at least one political article. A number of UK Internet providers in 2008 blocked access to an article about the music album “Killer of Virgins” by the German group Scorpions with a provocative image of a naked child on the cover. In Russia, it was decided to block access to the entire Wikipedia due to one article related to smoking marijuana. Similar cases of temporary state blocking occurred in other countries: Pakistan, Syria, China, Iran, Tunisia and Uzbekistan, and in many cases the authorities did not even indicate the reason for the blockage.

Since October 2011, the life of the censors has become a bit more complicated, because Wikipedia has added support for HTTPS - and now it is more difficult for the authorities to see which particular page is being accessed. Accordingly, they either have to block the site entirely, including millions of innocuous pages, or not to block anything at all. This created confusion in the ranks of state censors.

For example, after switching to HTTPS, Chinese users suddenly gained access to hundreds of previously blocked articles. Such “chaos” lasted for more than 18 months, until in May 2013 China did not block the HTTPS version entirely, forcing users to return to the censored version of HTTP.

Iran in 2013 blocked more than 1,000 articles in Persian (“vodka”, “champagne”, “sweat” and other articles), but still provides access to the HTTPS version, where all these articles are available.

Until recently, the authorities had the opportunity to follow the example of China - to block the HTTPS version and leave access to the HTTP version, where prohibited articles are blocked. But in June 2015, Wikipedia removed this loophole when it completely denied access via HTTP .

In countries with a blocked HTTPS version, many have complained about this solution. They said that now they have lost any information, and in fact “at least some access is better than none”. But the Wikimedia Foundation was adamant.

In general, this Wikipedia approach has proven its effectiveness in the fight against state censorship. This clearly manifested itself in Russia in August 2015, according to experts from the Harvard Internet Center and society, who published a lengthy analysis of the availability of Wikipedia in different countries of the world .

Many people remember the Russian case well. Roskomnadzor tried to block access to a minor article on drugs - and was forced to impose a block on the entire site. Raised hype. The censors quickly backed down - and within 24 hours restored access to Wikipedia. By the way, the attendance of that insignificant article on drugs increased many times due to the effect of Barbara Streisand.

The Russian censorship machine worked two months after Wikipedia closed access to the HTTP version. Perhaps the authorities did not have time to stop the blocking mechanism that was launched in time, and therefore brought the situation to the point of absurdity.

Specialists from Harvard came to the conclusion that after the introduction of total traffic encryption in June 2015, the total number of cases of blocking Wikipedia in the world has decreased. For analysis, they used two approaches. First, users from all over the world sent access data. Secondly, an algorithm was developed that analyzed unusual changes in Wikipedia’s global server statistics from May 2015 to May 2016. The collected statistics were compared with historical data on views of 1.7 million articles in all 292 languages ​​for 2011-2016. Manual processing and analysis of data lasted for almost a year, and only now the authors published a final report.

Both approaches used recorded cases of blocking. So, the beginning of blocking in China on May 19, 2017 can be seen in the logs of visits from China.

Total page traffic on Chinese Wikipedia

Number of visitors from China to Chinese Wikipedia

A very probable fact of blocking Uzbek Wikipedia from Uzbekistan, as well as the fact of blocking Wikipedia in Cuba, was also recorded.

Nevertheless, according to the results of the study of statistics, the authors make an optimistic conclusion: the number of cases of blocking after June 2015 has really decreased. Many countries that blocked dozens of pages until June 2015 (like Kazakhstan) did not decide to block the site entirely.


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