Transparency Report Update: July – December 2017

Today we invite you to read our bi-annual update to the Automattic transparency report, covering the period from July 1, 2017 to December 31, 2017. Read through to find details on the number of information requests and takedown demands we received from governments, as well as from intellectual property rights holders under the DMCA.

Our commitment to transparency pushes us to find ways to improve what we share, and we’re pleased to announce three major additions for this reporting period. In this update, we include statistics on the number of notices we’ve received from Internet Referral Units (IRUs). We also share details on the country blocks that we’ve been forced to put in place in countries like Turkey and Russia. Finally, we include more insight into the government takedown demands we receive and how we respond. Want to learn more? Read on!

Internet Referral Unit Stats

As we acknowledged in our last blog post, addressing extremist content while simultaneously protecting freedom of speech is a major challenge for online platforms, including WordPress.com. Currently, state authorities report to us material that they believe to be in violation of our Terms of Service, which we then evaluate. In an effort to shed more light on this process, we’ve created a whole new section in our report, where we’ll share updated figures every six months. Click here for more information.

Country Block Transparency

Automattic routinely receives censorship demands from government agencies around the world concerning content published on WordPress.com. We go to great lengths to fight these, but are sometimes left with no choice but to geoblock content in certain regions. We otherwise risk having access to our services completely cut off.

We’ve experimented with different ways of making this data public in the past (including submitting details to the Lumen Database, and creating a “mirrored archive” for Russia), but until now there has been no central place to find details on all currently geoblocked WordPress.com sites. Our new page changes all that, and includes the lists in text format to hopefully make it easier for censorship-monitoring sites like OONI and Blocked to import and track.

More Insight Into Government Takedown Demands

Previously, we didn’t include situations where we removed content because it violated our policies in the “percentage of requests where content was removed.” This is because we would have removed the content regardless of how we came across it. In other words, the fact that the content was brought to our attention via a government demand or court order had no bearing on the action we took. For example, if a government entity reported a site for selling controlled substances, we’d suspend the site, but not count that as a request where content was removed. However, we recognized that we could provide more insight about the actions we take and the types of reports we’re seeing from each country by sharing a new data point: “percentage of requests where content was removed due to a violation of our policies.” To minimize potential confusion, we’ve renamed the original description to “percentage of requests where content was removed solely in response to the demand.”

We hope that you find all of this new information interesting, and we’d encourage other platforms to share their own experiences in these areas.

Transparency Report Update: January – June 2017

The time has come for the bi-annual update to our transparency report, covering January 1 to June 30, 2017. As usual, we’ve shared updated data about national security requests, government requests for user information, government demands for removal of content, as well as notices of copyright and trademark infringement. We’ve included some of the most interesting highlights below.

Intellectual Property

We received the highest number of DMCA takedown notifications in a single six-month reporting period. From the 5,006 we received between July-December 2016 to 9,273 this period, we saw an 85% increase.

The bulk of this increase comes down to just two complainants, both of which submitted over 2,000 reports each, accounting for 47% of the 9,273 total takedowns received. To truly appreciate the top two complainants’ volume, you should note that the third highest complainant submitted 371 reports.

We often received multiple copies of the same DMCA notice (sometimes days apart!), and often these duplicate notices target material that had already been removed or was hosted elsewhere. This highlights the problem with automated takedown systems that have no element of human review. We’ve written about the issues involved with DMCA takedown bots before, and the figures in this report suggest that the problem isn’t going away. The high volume of thoughtless takedown places a big burden on the small team we have, who are charged with carefully reviewing and processing our notices, to ensure the rights of copyright holders and our users are protected.

Due to the high volume of bot generated deficient takedown notices, we removed content in response to only 22% of the DMCA notices we received in this period, compared with our average of approximately 60% across the past six reporting periods.

Meanwhile, we can count on one hand the number of counter notices we received from our site owners, and it’s the fewest we’ve seen in a reporting period to date: 5. As we’ve mentioned, the counter notice process is intimidating and can lead to a user being sued in federal court, which means spending a tremendous amount in legal fees defending their case, even if the court determines the user’s material isn’t infringing.

Government Demands

We receive a steadily increasing number of takedown demands from governments around the world, with a 61% increase this reporting period compared to last’s.

Takedown demands from certain countries are particularly concerning. While Russia is sending us the greatest volume, we’re seeing especially problematic demands from the Turkish government, which actively censors content that criticizes the Turkish government, officials, and/or army. In hopes of defending the rights of our users to speak about their government, we have filed objections to 13 of the most egregious court orders. Unfortunately we have not seen much success. Eleven of our appeals have been rejected, and two are pending. Additionally, we do what we can to partner with our affected users in filing our objections — Turkish citizens who are blogging about their government. However this is very fraught territory, especially when filing an objection would be made in a user’s name. One of our users said it best: to appeal, and reveal their identity, would be “suicide.”

Further, after consulting with additional experts on Turkish law, we’ve learned that not only are the users who bring the case at risk, even the lawyers and judges in cases involving national security (for example, content that criticized military involvement and suggested military misconduct) can be charged for assisting terrorist organizations.

We will continue to fight for freedom of expression and our users in Turkey, which includes being as transparent as we can about the situation, the demands we receive, and our response to them.

National Security

We recently shared some information about the process we followed to lift the nondisclosure restrictions associated with five NSLs received in previous years and provide copies of our correspondence with the government. We hope this information will be useful to other companies who may wish to take advantage of the legal options that are currently available to challenge NSL nondisclosure orders.

We’ve also developed a form reciprocal notice request. If your company has received an NSL in the past and you would like the government to review the letter’s nondisclosure requirement, this form may be useful to you.

As always, please take a look through the data, and let us know if you have any questions or other types of data that you’d like to see in future reports!

Transparency Report Update: July–December 2016. Consistency is Key.

Today we launch our seventh bi-annual transparency report, covering the period between July 1 and December 31, 2016.

As usual, we detail the number of takedown demands and requests for information received from governments, as well as the intellectual property (IP) takedown notices we have received.

Having published these reports for a number of years now, something that is particularly striking is just how consistent the intellectual property figures are from one period to the next. To demonstrate this point, here are the percentages for the number of DMCA takedown requests we have rejected for each period, on the basis of being incomplete or abusive. The graphs include the total overall number of requests to provide some more context:

Looking just at the percentage of abusive notices received per reporting period, we see an even tighter range:

We believe that these numbers demonstrate a persistent and ongoing issue with the current copyright takedown system, which allows abuse to go unchecked due to a lack of real statutory consequences. Ten percent of notices on a single platform may not appear like much of a concern, but if our experience is representative of other similar hosts in the industry, the overall volume of abuse would amount to a huge number.

The same consistency seen in the IP numbers is not reflected in the percentage of government takedown demands that result in some or all content being removed as a result. Rather, these figures show a marked increase. This is partly due to a steadily climbing number of demands from countries such as Turkey and Russia, and also to a shift in our approach to handling these.

We encourage you to spend time looking through the data that we have collected, and dig in for yourselves. We’d also call on all hosts — big or small — to publish their own figures, and add their voice to the conversation.

The full transparency report is available here.