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Wikipedia to join WhatsApp and Signal in refusing to comply with Online Safety Bill

Wikipedia Foundation’ Rebecca MacKinnon said Wikipedia will not comply with any age checks required under the Online Safety Bill.

Speaking on behalf of Wikimedia Foundation, a non-profit organisation that hosts Wikipedia and other free knowledge projects, Ms MacKinnon said it would “violate our commitment to collect minimal data about readers and contributors”.

The Online Safety Bill, currently before Parliament, places duties on tech firms to protect users from harmful or illegal content and is expected to come fully into force some time in 2024.

A senior figure in Wikimedia UK fears the site could be blocked as a result.

But the government says only services posing the highest risk to children will need age verification.

“The Wikimedia Foundation will not be verifying the age of UK readers”

Wikipedia has millions of articles in hundreds of languages, written and edited entirely by thousands of volunteers around the world.

It is the eighth most-visited site in the UK, according to data from analytics company SimilarWeb.

Neil Brown, a solicitor specialising in internet and telecoms law, says that under the bill, services likely to be accessed by children must have “proportionate systems and processes” designed to prevent them from encountering harmful content. That could include age verification.

Lucy Crompton-Reid, chief executive of Wikimedia UK, an independent charity affiliated with the foundation, warns some material on the site could trigger age verification.

“For example, educational text and images about sexuality could be misinterpreted as pornography,” she said.

But Ms MacKinnon wrote: “The Wikimedia Foundation will not be verifying the age of UK readers or contributors.”

The Bill forces the site to moderate articles, fundamentally changing its operation

Checking ages would also require a “drastic overhaul” to technical systems as well as requiring Wikipedia to gather data about its users.

There are currently 6.6 million articles on Wikipedia, and she said it was “impossible to imagine” how it would cope with checking content to comply with the bill.

Ms Crompton-Reid added: “Worldwide there are two edits per second across Wikipedia’s 300-plus languages.”

The foundation has previously said the bill would fundamentally change the way the site operated by forcing it to moderate articles rather than volunteers.

It wants the law to follow the EU Digital Services Act, which differentiates between centralised content moderation carried out by employees and the Wikipedia-style model by community volunteers.

“Unprecedented threat to the privacy, safety and security of every UK citizen”

Just recently, WhatsApp, Signal and other secure messaging apps wrote an open letter to warn the UK citizens and people who communicate with them about the Online Safety Bill, which forced them to break their end-to-end encryption systems and which “could give an unelected official the power to weaken the privacy of billions of people around the world.”

The letter was addressed to “anyone who cares about safety and privacy on the internet”, and was signed by the head of not only WhatsApp but also Signal, Viber, Element, OPTF/Session, Threema and Wire.

“Private messages are private,” wrote Will Cathcart, head of WhatsApp, in a separate tweet. “We oppose proposals to scan people’s private messages, and we’re proud to stand with other apps to defend encryption and your right to privacy.”

And even before the open letter, WhatsApp and Signal have been giving warnings about the Bill, with Meredith Whittaker, president of Signal Foundation, stating that the app “would leave Britain if the Online Safety Bill forced it to weaken its privacy protections.”

(Source: BBC)

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