The latest update to our bi-annual transparency report is now available. In there you will find all of the usual details about the kinds and volume of both information requests and takedown demands that we receive across Automattic’s services. Below we have picked out a number of specific examples, to highlight some of the issues that our teams have been handling over this period.
The eagle-eyed amongst you may notice that on WordPress.com we’ve seen a steady increase in the number of trademark complaints over the last reporting periods, which has topped out at just over 1,000 this time around. While this may be attributed in part to the growing nature of the platform, in practice we have seen a tangible up-tick in the number of automated reports (something that we’ve written about previously in relation to the DMCA). These notices often target very old blogs, and don’t provide us with enough information to properly assess the claim at first instance. Unfortunately, when we ask the complainants for more information, they simply send us a duplicate automated notice. This practice is not uncommon, and it demonstrates one of the major issues with the use of automated takedown systems with no built-in feedback loops. In the past we have worked successfully with some complainants to avoid this practice and ensure that their notices are valid and can be processed efficiently. Unfortunately, that isn’t always possible, and the result is a significantly increased workload for our teams, who manually review every complaint received.
For many years we have received takedown demands from the Russian government. These include ultimatums for compliance, which in the past have resulted in the whole of WordPress.com and Tumblr being blocked in the Russian Federation. In order to avoid this happening, our standard procedure is to geoblock the content at issue, in as narrow a fashion as possible, presenting information to visitors regarding the nature of the problem. You can read more about our approach and rationale to geoblocking on this page.
Over the past six months, in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we have seen a marked increase in the number of takedown demands that target content which is critical of the Russian government and associates. Some specific examples of these demands include sites which were:
- Fundraising for Ukranian aid.
- Outlining Russian history with a perspective on what led to the war in Ukraine.
- Alleging criminal activity on the part of Russian oligarchs, and their personal connections to Putin.
- Publishing commentary from former Russian soldiers who were critical of the military involvement in Ukraine.
In all of these cases, given our concerns about access to critical information from within Russia, and the implications for freedom of expression, we made the determination that we would not geoblock the content at issue.
Colombian Block Resolution
Dealing with the threat of country-wide blocks if we fail to comply with government takedown demands is undeniably a significant challenge. However, there are also cases where we do not even receive notification before a block is put in place. This leaves us in the position of having to diagnose the issue from user reports, then identify and work with the relevant government agencies and ISPs to have the restrictions removed.
As an example of this: At the beginning of 2022, Tumblr was subject to IP blocks from two major ISPs in Colombia, which prevented users from accessing the platform. This was due to a decision by the Colombian Ministry of Technologies and Communications (MinTIC), after they discovered a spam blog on our network. Unfortunately, we were not provided with any details of the content at issue from the agency until after the block was in place, at which point we realised that our systems had already independently detected and swiftly removed it. Despite this, it took a number of weeks for the access ban to be rescinded, and several months of correspondence with the ISPs at issue to have the block completely removed.
Situations such as these are not uncommon, and as the above example demonstrates, the issue of government censorship online or regional platform blocks cannot be reflected solely by the numbers of takedown demands that are received. As a result, we are committed to continually reviewing and expanding the information that we are able to share in our transparency report. If you have any comments or suggestions for what to include in upcoming reports, please do get in touch.