Forum: Wassup with Wikipedia – sex, lies and privatisation?

It isn't Jimmy Wales' sex life that has Wikipedians worried

Before we get into the Wikipedia thing, I have to make a correction. Two weeks ago in this spot I opined on the Privacy Commissioner’s views that there is a case for data-breach disclosure laws for government. I argued that this should apply to the private sector as well.

It seems the Privacy Commissioner agrees with me, as the statement she released says exactly that. Somewhere along the line I got a bit confused between this statement and another one which does apply only to government, mandating encryption for government data transfers.

Anyway, that’s all well and good and as it should be.

Right, Wikipedia. I’m a fan, but hellishly disturbed by some of the recent stories coming out about co-founder Jimmy Wales. This isn’t about his love life any more. Or even his expense claims.

New accusations, dubbed “Donorgate” by some media, allege Wales has personally supervised and made changes to biographies after receiving donations from the people involved.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports: “Jeff Merkey, formerly of Novell, claims that Wales approached him in 2006 and said that for a fee, Wales would personally see to it that the article on Merkey, which had cast him in a negative light, would be rewritten in Merkey’s favour. Merkey claims that after he donated $5,000, Wales followed through on this quid pro quo.”

If these allegations are borne out, it is hard to escape the conclusion that some in the new media business will have to reacquaint themselves with old-fashioned ethics.

Another disturbing report, much less widely reported, comes from a podcast I listen to regularly called TWiT (This Week in Tech, at http://twit.tv/twit). One panellist on that show had some very ripe things indeed to say about Wales, but that’s not what caught my attention.

The panel started talking about a blog-post written by former Wikipedia Foundation insider Danny Wool (http://allswool.blogspot.com/). In a post titled “The Keys to the Kingdom” he writes:

“Many of my concerns about Wikipedia are not simply about what happened in the past, but what will happen in the future. What I want to outline is a possible scenario, to show how Wikipedia could be bought by venture capitalists for a song, and transformed literally overnight from a grassroots organisation into a large corporate entity.”

The venture capitalists, in the form of Bono’s investment vehicle, Elevation Partners, are already in the building. They hosted a party for Wikipedia in December at which changes to Wikipedia’s content licensing were announced. Wool followed this post with another outlining a simple timeline of events at the Foundation. Reading it does make you wonder.

Some people are asking what, on the face of it, seems a very obvious question: why would a venture capital company be interested in a not-for-profit foundation?

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Tags wikipediaJimmy Wales

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