Encryption has Helped Lower Wikipedia Censorship
In some countries, Internet content is filtered and censored by government authorities. Wikipedia, one of the largest source of free knowledge – if not the largest – has been the target of such censorship several times in the past, with articles blocked on subject like woman’s rights, sex, religion and drugs, especially in Iran, Russia and China, and Turkey. But in 2015, people in Iran were suddenly able to access Wikipedia posts that were previously censored. The same happened in those other countries. That was because Wikipedia made a simple switch : the Wikimedia foundation, which hosts Wikipedia, removed the option to access URLs through the HTTP protocol and transitioned fully to HTTPS across all of its sites.
This protocol is used to protect communications between a user’s browser and the website. On the one hand, it ensures the user that he is actually consulting the original site, not a false malicious site. But this technology also limits the information that it is possible to collect on the Internet user’s browsing: it is possible for the Internet service provider to see that a user visits a site, but not what pages specifically.
While some users pointed out that this switch might result in nations blocking the entire site, claiming some information is better than none, the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard recently released a study on the effects of the Wikimedia Foundation’s switch to HTTPS-only. The results? By measuring the blockages of the online encyclopedia in some fifteen countries, researchers have found an overall decrease in cases of censorship : “There is less censorship happening now than before the transition to HTTPS-only content delivery in June 2015”, study says. “This initial data suggests the decision to shift to HTTPS has been a good one in terms of ensuring accessibility to knowledge.”
The study concludes that while Russia’s internet censorship at large continues to grow, the government has not been interfering with Wikipedia. Russian users are able to access to Wikipedia and its subdomains in every language. Although countries like China and Turkey were still censoring part or all of Wikipedia by the time the researchers bundled up their study, that’s a big win for freedom of speech and free knowledge accessibility.