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The Economy of Wikileaks 78

Posted by kdawson
from the greater-good dept.
StefanBerlin writes "Wikileaks is fast becoming one of the most politically important platforms on the Web. In this interview Julian Assange, the spokesperson, talks about its current situation and about the financial and economic background of Wikileaks. He also talks about why they cancelled the planned auction of the emails of Hugo Chavez's former speechwriter in Venezuela, and about Wikileaks' plans for a subscription model that could possibly solve the site's financial problems once and for all."
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The Economy of Wikileaks

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  • If every... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anachragnome (1008495) on Tuesday January 12, 2010 @10:50PM (#30746386)

    If every single registered /. member donated ONE dollar, they would be back in business.

    C'mon, folks. Give it up.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      If every single registered /. member donated ONE dollar to me, I wouldn't have to read slashdot on company time.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by sopssa (1498795) *

        It would be a good amount for a single person for a few pizzas, but how long would wikileaks survive with it? Slashdot UID is still only running somewhere around 1 700 000. It's not an once and for all solution.

        • by mcvos (645701)

          It would be a good amount for a single person for a few pizzas, but how long would wikileaks survive with it? Slashdot UID is still only running somewhere around 1 700 000.

          He needs $600,000 per year at most. So if every slashdotter pays a dollar every three years, they're basically there.

          Don't PCs get replaced roughly every 3 years? A dollar for each new PC as free-speech tax.

        • by RockDoctor (15477)

          Slashdot UID is still only running somewhere around 1 700 000. It's not an once and for all solution.

          Speaking as someone who has several times already donated to Wikileaks (and who is likely to donate again after I've RTFA), I'll point out a flaw in your logic. There is no reason for there to be a simple connection between a membership number and the number of registered users on a site, and even less a reason for there to be a simple relationship between the number of registered users and the number of act

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by maxume (22995)

      If you give $2, they won't notice me not giving $1.

    • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @02:06AM (#30747658)

      Of course if it got out that you gave ONE dollar to an organization, that would be pretty embarrassing, you'd be seen as cheap.

      And you know who might publicly reveal who gave exactly ONE dollar?

      Wikileaks.

    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I find it absurd that they extract money for information _I_ leaked. Freaking hell, If I'm leaking they shouldn't be mopping up.

    • by ath1901 (1570281)

      Do you mean "every single" as in "every slashdotter without a partner" or as in "every slashdotter there is"?
      Oh, never mind. Just realised it's the same thing.

  • by lazy_nihilist (1220868) on Tuesday January 12, 2010 @10:52PM (#30746396)
    What wikileaks also needs is a good discussion system for each story/leak. That way the audience also can directly participate.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 12, 2010 @11:00PM (#30746466)

      The title and content of your post seem to be in opposition.

      • I concur with your statement, but lack a good means of expressing my agreement.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Whilst I happen to prefer using a newsreader to a web discussion interface, the /. system is probably the best blog comment system I have come accross. The content of the comments (and sometimes the quality of the moderation) are less good, and the javascript should be made faster, but the design is good.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by uncqual (836337)
          Check out the progressive web site DailyKos.com [dailykos.com].

          Although I certainly don't agree with a lot of their "content", their comment system is pretty spiffy.

          The whole moderation thing is handled differently and the result of it is binary - "Hidden - REALLY, YOU CAN'T SEE IT" or, well, "Not Hidden", but that's really an editorial decision. Their decision is probably appropriate for their site, not so much for /.. (So, what is the correct way to end a sentence that doesn't ask a question but ends in /.? To put
      • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @12:41AM (#30747120) Journal
        When shown an early Alpha of the slashcode by Alan Turing, Churchill remarked that it was "the worst electrical message board system, except for all the others that have been tried"...

        An anonymous coward then called them both "cocksmoking teabaggers" and was promptly modded down. With extreme prejudice. [winstonchurchillshop.com]
    • by 0100010001010011 (652467) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @02:13AM (#30747682)

      Why not post on that of which we do not speak?

      It was set up as a 'discussion system' 20+ years ago. It's mirrored across the world rather quickly. There's even a Google front end.

      There's MORE than enough bandwidth. Pirates figured out how to post binaries (and large ones at that) a long time ago. Make it a moderated group, tada. WikiLeaks replacement. Put a few servers up in countries with decent laws and mirror between those.

  • Have they (Score:5, Funny)

    by JustOK (667959) on Tuesday January 12, 2010 @10:53PM (#30746418) Journal

    Have they considered charging to NOT publish stuff?

    • Extortion is always the solution.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Iguanadon (1173453)

        That's a harsh way to put it. I would call it more of a "Protective Services" product.

        You know, it would be terrible if this article came out detailing your illegal business practices...

        In all seriousness, I'm curious how they verify submissions. All I could find was "The simplest and most effective countermeasure is a worldwide community of informed users and editors who can scrutinize and discuss leaked documents." What's stopping someone from making up a false story about a political/corporate enemy and

        • Re:Have they (Score:5, Insightful)

          by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @12:24AM (#30747020) Journal
          Architecturally, probably not much. Unless you have a crack team of snoops and muckrakers who already know a great deal, perfect verification(especially of whistle-blowers who would prefer not to be identified) isn't going to happen. If you knew enough to confirm the document, you wouldn't really need the document.

          That said, though, lying is hard and complex lies are even harder. Junior-high gossip isn't such a big deal and if you are just preaching the the choir virtually anything will do; but producing a document, or series of documents, that embodies a complex lie without tripping over yourself is really tricky.

          There are the technical details(is the font anachronistic/unsuitable, letterhead, email headers, internal terminology, jargon, references) and the stylistic ones(can you write this in a single voice, or do you have to simulate multiple distinct writers, quite possibly using various degrees of formality within email exchanges? Do any of the people being imitated have publicly available writings?) and the plain nit-picky continuity/fact checking stuff(was Mr. X employed with title Y at time Z? What does the wayback machine say about foocorp.com in 1996?)

          This is not to say that it is impossible, of course. Lying is perfectly possible, and frauds have been perpetrated, sometimes for extended periods. However, it is rather tricky to lie well. I'm sure that wikileaks will be the target of a misinformation campaign at some point, it might already have been. I suspect, though, that it will be partially protected by a few factors:

          Since simply lying to people who are already convinced is easy and not very risky(since you don't need any actual inside information), there are already loads of places to do it and strong incentives to do it in the most sympathetic ones. Wikileaks is a sympathetic audience for whistleblowers and transparency enthusiasts(and probably a fair few conspiracy types); but if you have faked documents about zionist atrocities in occupied palestine or the secret one world government black helicopter conspiracy, there are fair more sympathetic venues.

          As a means of swaying the undecided(during an electoral campaign, for instance) wikileaks is of mediocre value. As a repository of otherwise unavailable documents, it is good for "slow burn" stories that come out over time in the face of official denial, the sort of thing that dedicated investigators and wonk types can work onl; but if you just want to insinuate that your opponent is a draft dodger with a taste for satanism and child sodomy a week before the polls open, you can just hire a push-polling telemarketing firm and cover a broad swath of the voting public.

          More generally, it is always easier to lie in the direction of what is already widely believed(whether or not this wide belief is well founded). If wikileaks dealt largely in personal scandal and gossip, this would be a very damaging fact(consider the so-called "cyber-bullying" which largely consists of slander and harassment of whoever is already unpopular in a given social circle). However, since that isn't their area of operation, it is less of an issue. Nobody thinks warm and fuzzy thoughts about secretive offshore banks, or shady quasi-privatized former soviet industries, or sinister clandestine intelligence agencies. Slander can hardly hurt them. Indeed, only proof compelling enough to move public outrage and/or legal power within a society against them will suffice to pierce the benefit of the doubt which they are typically accorded. Real documents have a hard enough time doing this, faked ones would have an even harder time.
        • What's stopping someone from making up a false story about a political/corporate enemy and submitting it to them?

          This already happens all the time, even without wikileaks.

          It's just that false stories are usually submitted to outlets that already have a bias against whomever is already being targeted.

    • Have they considered charging to NOT publish stuff?

      Now thats thinking. Potentially fatal thinking, but thinking all the same.

      • How about getting paid to delay the story for a defined period of time, make money, and still provide the service they are known for. It'd allow the company to get their pr in order for it ;)
        • by cicho (45472)

          New York Times already runs on that particular business model. They sat for a year on the story about NSA's illegal (at the time) surveillance, came out with it only after the 2004 elections. No-one needs Wikileaks to provide services they already have catered for.

    • by BigSlowTarget (325940) on Tuesday January 12, 2010 @11:28PM (#30746640) Journal

      Sure, they could sell advertising in the form of big black boxes pasted over the materials

      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Yeah, the same way black boxes worked for the TSA.
    • This is when the Piranha brothers stumbled upon the Other, Other Operation in which they promised not to beat them up if they paid them the money... (M.P.) It's been tried before. The worth of exposure of information to the public is complicated by judgements about values (in Indonesia it is standard practice to take bribes openly, something which was also common in the days of Sir Christopher Wren and Samuel Peypes) and notions of what is in the public interest (all Slash Dotters are wankers but who cares
  • Subscribers? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Darkness404 (1287218) on Tuesday January 12, 2010 @11:41PM (#30746742)
    Doesn't having a subscription model kinda defeat the other point of WikiLeaks, that is that anyone can download, analyze and verify the sources? Wikileaks is a good source so you can actually check out the real information itself rather than worry about all the crap surrounding it. For example, the leaked climate e-mails, you had some sources saying it without a doubt proves that global warming is nothing more than a myth with falsified data to support it, and others saying that the e-mails told really nothing. Most of the sources didn't publish the e-mails so how does an informed person decide which is right? They go to the source.

    While a subscription might be easy for journalists and other people who are making money off of Wikileaks to subscribe to, what about dissidents of an oppressive government who want to see for themselves abuses that the government did? What about the general citizen who wants the source? A subscription model fails and will simply lead to someone making a less-secure mirror of Wikileaks with all the files and such and Wikileaks loses.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by negRo_slim (636783)
      What if subscribers simply got to see content before non paying viewers got to see it.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Darkness404 (1287218)
        It depends what "sooner" means. If sooner is 1-2 days, perhaps it wouldn't be too bad, but a week or more would have bad effects because of outdated information. The "mainstream" news tends to not focus on one topic too long unless it helps their agenda meaning that an important article might fade from public eyes quicker than it needs to be leaving it lost in a multitude of links.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by vlm (69642)

          It depends what "sooner" means. If sooner is 1-2 days, perhaps it wouldn't be too bad, but a week or more would have bad effects because of outdated information

          No need for an outdated "time intervals" here. Set a bounty. We figure it costs us $X to run this article, and we freely release it to the public when donations total $X, of course if you want to see a neatly watermarked copy right now, simply send a monetary donation of more than $1, up to whatever you think it might be worth, and we'll send you a nice watermarked copy, note we create and deliver your individualized copy in strict order of dollars donated, of course. Oh and by the way here is a snapshot

          • by shaitand (626655)

            They have no copyright on the information so what good does the watermark do?

            • by vlm (69642)

              They have no copyright on the information so what good does the watermark do?

              Hey Shaitand buddy old pal, I bought a copy of todays top sekret govt conspiracy du jour, its really interesting, I think you'd like it, and you being my buddy, let me print you a copy for when we meet down at the pub this evening for beers, OK? ... later, at the pub ...

              Sorry Shaitand buddy old pal, I tried printing a copy for you this afternoon, and my darn credit card info shows up in light gray across each page, isn't that weird? I'd love to give ya a copy buddy old pal, but, thats my credit card, man .

          • Sure, but there are a lot of problems with this:

            A) E-paper or normal paper trail. Lets say you live in Iran and want to know about governmental abuses, even if you have the money that $1 to WikiLeaks would look quite suspicious.

            B) Copyright infringement. A lot of Wikileak's documents are under copyright, right now it doesn't mean much because the content is too emberrasing for people to claim it as their own, and they are non-profit. If they start "selling" the content, businesses may start the thre
    • A subscription like /.'s would work, so journalists and so on can pay to get the leaks in advance, but everyone gets to see the leaks after, say, 48 hours.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by PCM2 (4486)

        You're not thinking very far ahead. Who's to say that the people who can afford to buy the information will choose to disclose it? Perhaps they will only disclose it to other wealthy elite?

        Also, consider this: Many revolutionary factions assume that when their members get captured, they will be tortured. They furthermore assume that nobody is strong enough not to sing under torture. So they set up a policy: keep your mouth shut for 48 hours. Suck it up for that long. After 48 hours, tell them anything and e

        • by vlm (69642)

          You're not thinking very far ahead. Who's to say that the people who can afford to buy the information will choose to disclose it? Perhaps they will only disclose it to other wealthy elite?

          Perhaps if you watermark each individually processed document sold, with the valid credit card info used to make the donation, no one will share?

          The other option is, sell for an interesting mathematical function by delay. 48 hours to one week its $1, after a week its free for research purposes. For less than 48 hours, it costs (2^(48-(hours old))) dollars. Perhaps powers of two is a bit expensive, and a mere 1.2 would be sufficient. 1.2^48 is only about six grand, if your 24 hour TV network wants the sc

    • I could explain it, but why not watch their presentation that they gave a couple weeks ago at CCC and actually understand what they're talking about firsthand.
      Presentation page [events.ccc.de], big mp4 video [fem-net.de], torrent [fem-net.de].

    • That point is based on an illusion. The illusion that the content that ends up in your brain, must be the same that you think it is. In reality this requires every node in-between to be trustworthy. The server that is said to be the source, every non-encrypted server and wire in-between, the computer of the cracker, the cracker, every non-encrypted server and wire between him and Wikileaks, Wikileaks and everyone with the ability to change something, every non-encrypted server and wire between Wikileaks and

    • So it works like this:

      If you subscribe, you have access as soon as the story is available.

      If you don't subscribe you can access only stuff that is over a week old.

      If you are from an 'oppressive regime' you have automatic access to stories that are datelined with your country.

      Connections are throttled on the basis of how much is downloaded. E.g. If one IP tries to mirror WL they get speeds so slow they can't keep up with the new stuff -- unless they subscribe to mirroring with no republication of anything

  • by srothroc (733160) on Tuesday January 12, 2010 @11:58PM (#30746846) Homepage
    The thing that bothers me about the interview is that he says he's limiting access to information to artificially lower supply and induce demand; but that's not what they're doing. The information is still out there. Anyone who wants to give the information to someone other than wikileaks is able to do so. It's not "their" information to control or limit.

    What they can and do control is the service that they provide -- namely: checking, collating, and hosting the information. I think it's an important distinction that needs to be made, though it may be semantics.
    • This. For every single HUGE leak story in the past couple of years, there's been a torrent and links to it everywhere.
    • by TubeSteak (669689)

      What they can and do control is the service that they provide -- namely: checking, collating, and hosting the information. I think it's an important distinction that needs to be made, though it may be semantics.

      Wikileaks provides two services:
      1. Free bulletproof hosting
      2. Publicity.
      This subscription service helps Wikileaks with those two goals.

      The worst that could happen is that Wikileaks delays posting something for XY days.
      The best that could happen is that the [news organization] writes an explosive story about [secrets].
      I don't think I'm going out on a limb to suggest that the possible benefit far outweigh the known negative.

  • by bl968 (190792) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @12:04AM (#30746886) Journal

    Once they charge for subscriptions then they become a commercial organization and they would most likely be under the gun for more stringent copyright claims and enforcement. They currently benefit from the non-commercial use provisions of the fair use doctrine.

  • by jonwil (467024) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @12:26AM (#30747032)

    Why not make large (in terms of expected bandwidth use) files available through BitTorrent in order to take load off the Wikileaks servers?

    • BT for web pages. (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Is there a BT technique that can be applied to web pages?

      • Is there a BT technique that can be applied to web pages?

        Sure, can it be that hard?

        Give a URI of some resource. Have your web/torrent browser look for peers/seeds who have copies of that resource in some DHT. Ask those who have it to send it to them.

        There's absolutely nothing stopping anybody from using BT as the application-layer transport protocol for HTML and other web content.

        I'm no expert on P2P networks; maybe other kinds of protocols are better suited.

        I think the hard part is making Microsoft implement this in IE, so that everybody will be able to justif

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Arancaytar (966377)

          A big problem is latency and overhead. The Bittorrent protocol is designed for asynchronous downloading of large, immutable data files, not serving relatively small web resources while you wait for the page to load. Particularly dynamic pages like a wiki, where you'd have additional latency+overhead due to the static files getting stale and having to be reseeded.

          Naturally, the actual PDFs could be torrented, which would be a great idea. I don't think we'll see websites on magnet:// URIs viewable in the brow

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by shaka (13165)

            As you say, the technology doesn't really work well for web browsing as of today, and I think you're correct in that WikiLeaks will implement something like this right now.

            I do, however, think that this - or something like this - is the path we will eventually walk down, when the Wiki and the Blog have converged into a WYSIWYG/WYSIWYM capable editing platform for lots of different people and organizations.

            I also think that this is where Opera Unite is pointing. DHT, the web and the Internet will be viewed a

        • Right.

          So when the torrent goes up, Black Hats up identically named torrents that have ascii dumps of /dev/random.

          (Indeed: I don't understand why the big media companies don't put up tons of torents with corrupt copies of music and movies. The first 30% is perfect, and it gradually decays into white noise. If you had to download 10-20 copies of a movie to find one that is complete, you'd say to hell with it and buy it instead.)

          • So when the torrent goes up, Black Hats up identically named torrents that have ascii dumps of /dev/random.

            Make the URI a sha1 hash of the contents. That way it can't be faked unless people break sha1.

    • by muffen (321442)
      ... and use thepiratebay for posting the torrents, that way their argument (that they are hosting legal torrents too) may actually be true at least for a few torrents :)
    • by dissy (172727)

      Why not make large (in terms of expected bandwidth use) files available through BitTorrent in order to take load off the Wikileaks servers?

      Because the ultimate end result of that would be that eventually some powerful company, who can't reach over seas to take down wikileaks, can (and does) sue everyone seeding the torrent.

      Remember, it's $80,000 USD for each copy of the document you upload to someone if you are in the USA!

      So after said company sues a bunch of 'smart asses that deserve it', and the other seeders run scared, you are back to one seed on wikileaks seed box, thus one copy to DL from, and thus nearly all of the bandwidth will still

  • I personally think that it is awesome that they used the LaTeX Beamer class instead of PowerPoint.

    oh yeah, the rest of the presentation was interesting too.

  • If Wikileaks does this, it will take about 30 seconds for a new and free alternative to step up.

There is no distinction between any AI program and some existent game.

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