Wikipedians Want to Put Wikipedia on the Dark Web

They're concerned about more than just surveillance.

|
Jun 7 2017, 12:00pm

Image: Thad Zajdowicz/Flickr + Wikimedia Foundation. Remix: Jason Koebler

Wikipedians want to give users the ability to access the world's most popular encyclopedia in the most secure way possible: On the dark web.

Cristian Consonni, Former Vice President of Wikimedia Italy, proposed Monday that Wikipedians should create a dark web version of the site accessible only via the Tor Browser.

It's possible now to access Wikipedia via the Tor Browser—which is popular with activists and among people living in countries with censored web traffic because it encrypts web traffic and routes it through a series of different IP addresses called "nodes"—but the connection is less secure than it would be if the site was accessible as a "hidden service" on the dark web.

As a hidden service (also called an onion site), Wikipedia would not need to direct its traffic through an exit node, a point where internet traffic "emerges" from the Tor network and connects to sites on the regular web. Exit nodes are known to be a seriously vulnerable portion of Tor's security.

Consonni shared the proposal on Wikimedia-L, a listserv where prominent Wikipedians discuss the future and internal politics of the site.

There, several editors, like David Cuenca Tudela, endorsed the idea, but many disagreed with Consonni on one major point. Consonni believes Tor users should have the ability to edit Wikipedia articles, which is currently not allowed, except under special circumstances.

A number of Wikipedians don't want Tor users to have the ability to edit, "due to high volume of known abuse from that vector," as one user put it.

Abusive editors have been known to use Tor to circumvent being banned. Wikipedia blocks problematic users based on their IP address, but the encrypted browser can be used to quickly obtain a new one.

Creating a dark web version of Wikipedia would make the encyclopedia available securely in the many places where it's censored. Countries like China, Iran, and Russia, have chosen to block their citizens ability to view a significant portion of the site's entries, or sometimes even the entire encyclopedia altogether.

Even seemingly liberal countries like the United Kingdom and France have attempted to censor portions of the site in the past.

It would be far more difficult for governments to censor or monitor Wikipedia's dark web version. But Consonni and like minded editors aren't just concerned with surveillance.

He hopes bringing Wikipedia to the dark web will also help improve Tor's reputation. The browser is often thought of as a tool for drug dealers and other criminals, instead of say, encyclopedia readers trying to avoid government surveillance.

"...providing Wikipedia over Tor would promote awareness of Tor itself as a technology for protecting user privacy," Consonni wrote in his proposal.

Wikipedia wouldn't be the first mainstream website to move towards the dark web. In 2014, Facebook launched a version that runs on Tor. ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative journalism outlet, followed suit last year.

"It can be argued that the privacy gain of having an onion service over visiting Wikipedia with HTTPS over Tor is minimal, but I think it is worth having this option," Consonni told me via Twitter DM.

"I think that all major websites should serve a version over Tor," he went on.

If Wikipedia were to build a Tor version, Consonni hopes the project would be organized through the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit that operates Wikipedia, instead of through a third party that could potentially "be evil and snoop on users."

Building a darknet version of any site isn't terribly difficult. Easy-to-use tools even exist to help streamline the process, if you want to get your own open source encyclopedia on Tor while Wikipedians continue to debate the idea.

The Tor Project had no comment.