Trouble in Turkey

Earlier this week, nearly all of the more than 77 million websites hosted by WordPress.com were inaccessible to the people of Turkey, due to broad and arbitrary censorship by the Turkish government. We began to hear reports of service outages during the evening of Monday, July 27, Istanbul time. The blocks were apparently removed by midday Wednesday, July 29.

Photo by Erdem Civelek of a 2011 protest for Internet freedom in Turkey. (CC BY 2.0)Citing Turkey’s 2007 Internet Law 5651, authorities sought to take down dozens of sites across the Internet they deemed objectionable. The list included five sites hosted on WordPress.com about Kurdish politics. Those sites were:

Turkey’s Information and Communication Technologies Authority provided WordPress.com with very minimal notice of their action against these sites. Within hours, before we had the chance to review their complaints much less respond, the government moved to block access. But because their order specified not just individual URLs but IP addresses as well, not only were the five targeted WordPress.com sites blocked, but so were the sites of countless nonpolitical bloggers, businesses, reporters, artists, and scientists who use WordPress.com.

A significant portion of the Internet went dark for the 75 million people of Turkey.

Once we learned of the outage, we worked to contact the authorities in Turkey, and had to adjust some of our IP addresses to make WordPress.com sites accessible. Eventually the Turkish government/ISPs chose to block only the specific sites, rather than everything on WordPress.com. Sites hosted on our platform are once again available in Turkey, except for the five listed above (though they remain accessible to visitors from outside of Turkey). We encourage Turkish readers interested in seeing what your government doesn’t want you to see to consider our suggestions for bypassing Internet restrictions. 

In a similar case last week, Turkey also blocked access to Twitter in order to censor images of a deadly bombing and calls for protest.

We share our users’ frustration with this service outage, and we’re continuing to fight against internet censorship in Turkey.

In the near term, this means challenging the government order that led to our blocking — both on the principle that blocking an entire IP range is overly broad and never the right answer, as well as objecting to the inclusion of one of the sites on the government’s blacklist. PKKONLİNE was in fact railing against the PKK and violence, not supporting terrorist activities, as the statue cited in the government’s decision requires. Apparently these kinds of mistakes can be made when you hastily pull together a lengthy blacklist, based on largely superficial information. You can read a rough English translation of our appeal to the Turkish court here (pdf).

This week’s events show once again that whenever a government decides to censor the Internet, everybody loses — not just a regime’s targets but a whole nation — and it only serves to strengthen our resolve to resist censorship wherever we may find it.

Photo by Erdem Civelek of a 2011 protest for Internet freedom in Turkey. (CC BY 2.0

Transparency Report Update

We’re pleased to release the latest update to our transparency report, covering the period of January 1 – June 30, 2015.

We try to make each new transparency report more…transparent, by adding new and more detailed information about the legal demands we receive, our responses to them, and the internal policies that guide our actions.

In this report, we’ve added a few new pieces:

  • We’ve identified our top DMCA complainants. From here on out, we’ll include a chart showing the organizations that submitted the greatest number of DMCA notices in a reporting period. Not surprisingly, the list is dominated by third party take down services, many of whom use automated bots to identify copyrighted content and generate takedown notices. We’ve written in the past about the many potential pitfalls of this practice. In the future, we may report statistics on the success rate of notices submitted by each of our top reporters, in hopes of identifying those who use automated tools thoughtfully, as they should be used: in conjunction with human review to ensure that they’re not targeting things like fair use (or even their own clients!).
  • We added more information on the processes we follow for reviewing and acting on (or rejecting) the DMCA notices we receive. The Copyright and DMCA page includes information on how our DMCA process works, for both users and copyright holders. The Our DMCA Process page explains the steps we follow to review and act on the DMCA notices that we receive. We’ve also published all of our DMCA forms, emails, and notifications on Github under a Creative Commons license. We hope this furthers our goal of transparency and serves as a useful resource for other website owners and companies who want to comply with the DMCA in a user-friendly fashion.
  • For DMCA notices, we are now reporting more granular data on the content we remove in response to a notice. In some cases, we receive a DMCA notice for content posted to a site that violates our Terms of Service (like a spam or warez site, for example). In prior reports, we counted both the suspension of these types of sites and the takedown of individual copyrighted files from legitimate sites, in the category of “notices where some or all content was removed.” Beginning with this report, we are separately reporting the percentage of notices where we remove copyrighted content from legitimate sites. In this reporting period, for example, if we counted suspended sites as rejected notices, the percentage of notices where some or all content was removed would be 33% (down from 57%).
We hope you find the transparency report useful and informative. If you have suggestions for how we can improve the report, or information you’d like to see included in future reports, please let us know!

ICANN Considers Relaxing Domain Registration Privacy; Automattic Objects

We’ve said it time and time again: user privacy is important to us. We’re vigilant about protecting it on WordPress.com, and we’re always on the lookout, ready to weigh in on policy proposals that might curtail the privacy that we and our users value so highly.

Today, our focus turns to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the organization responsible for coordinating the internet’s naming system, such as domain names. ICANN is currently considering a proposal that would prohibit many domain owners from using privacy and proxy registration services.

What exactly does this mean? If you’ve ever registered a domain (and millions of you on WordPress.com have), you may have noticed an option to make your personal information, such as your name, address, and phone number, private. This is great for those who want to publish anonymously or those who simply value more privacy. However, ICANN is considering precluding anyone who uses a domain for “commercial” purposes from private registration. “Commercial” use has not yet been defined in this context, but it could affect more domain owners than you think; it’s not uncommon for a website to run ads or include affiliate links to cover costs. Needless to say, we strongly oppose this proposal.

Who wants this change? Large copyright holders (like movie studios), for starters. Proponents of this proposal argue that website owners should be held accountable and that they need means to identify those that are abusive. However, there’s already a means to do this — it involves due legal process and justifying that the information they’re seeking is relevant or necessary to a lawsuit or investigation.

If the proposal were adopted, all of the privacy protections we provide our users on WordPress.com, as well as those that currently exist under the law, would largely be for naught, easily circumvented by a quick WHOIS search. We work hard to design and implement our rigorous privacy protections because we’ve seen firsthand how requests for user information can be used as a means to silence or retaliate against anonymous speakers. Every day we see our users depending on the privacy and anonymity afforded to them to engage in thoughtful, compelling speech and journalism.

We believe this proposal would significantly harm communication, commerce, and most especially, anonymous speech online, so we ask ICANN to reject the current proposal to limit privacy-protecting domain registration services.

You can read our full filing in opposition to the proposed rule here.