New tool exposes self-edits in Wikipedia

A word of caution about editing entries "anonymously" in Wikipedia: a tool has been developed that can show who made the changes.

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A word of caution about editing entries "anonymously" in Wikipedia: a tool has been developed that can show who made the changes.

Virgil Griffith, who will be a graduate student at the California Institute of Technology starting in September, has developed Wikipedia Scanner, a search tool that traces the IP (Internet Protocol) address of people who make edits to the online encyclopedia.

While Wikipedia allows anyone to make edits, it keeps detailed logs of the changes made. And although people can make changes without identifying themselves, the changes often create digital fingerprints that provide information about the user, such as the location of the computer used to make the edit.

Many of the edits detected by the scanner correct spelling mistakes or obvious factual errors, but others have been used to polish entries by rewriting or removing critical material. The scanner has traced entries to people at several large companies who appear to have altered potentially damaging content.

Someone on Wal-Mart's network, for instance, altered a line about the wages it pays employees. The original entry stated that "Wages at Wal-Mart are about 20% less than at other retail stores," citing the author Greg Palast as the source. The revised entry reads: "The average wage at Wal-Mart is almost double the federal minimum wage," and changes the attribution to Wal-Mart.

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