Many of these concerns have to do with the availability of personal information in a public space. If you only read Wikipedia without contributing, no more personal information is collected than is typically collected in server logs by web sites in general.
If you contribute to Wikipedia, however, you are publishing every word you post publicly. If you write something, assume that it will be retained forever. This includes articles, user pages and talk pages.
If you become stalked or harassed on Wikipedia via any information posted about you on-site, whether by you or anyone else, it is recommended that you report this discreetly via off-site means, such as email, to a trusted administrator or at Wikipedia:Requests for oversight, which maintains a confidential email service that can be used to request removal of such instances without drawing further attention to them on-site. Edits removed with oversight can only be seen by editors with oversight access, stewards, and certain WMF staff members.
When you edit any page in the wiki, you are publishing a document. This is a public act, and you are identified publicly with that edit as its author.
The wiki will set a temporary session cookie whenever you visit the site. If you do not intend to ever log in, you may deny this cookie, but you cannot log in without it. It will be deleted when you close your browser session.
More cookies may be set when you log in, to avoid typing in your user name (or optionally password) on your next visit. These last for up to one year. You may clear these cookies after use if you are using a public machine and don't wish to expose your username to future users of the machine. (If so, clear the browser cache as well.)
If you are logged in with your Wikipedia account, you will be identified by your account's username. Most editors choose a username that is a pseudonym, or a fictitious name or nickname. Although you are welcome to use your real name as your username of you wish to do so, this is highly not recommended as it puts you at significant risk for having your non-public personally identifiable information discovered and published in an effort to harass or intimidate you.
If you are not logged in with a Wikipedia account and instead choose to edit without one, you will be identified by your network IP address. This is a series of four to eight numbers which identifies the internet address from which you are contacting the wiki. Depending on your connection, this number may be traceable to your home, place of business, or school, or only to your Internet service provider.
It is possible that the origin of your IP address could be used in conjunction with the pattern of edits in your contribution history to identify you, even by private individuals unknown to Wikipedia. Every edit made with an IP address is logged and publicly accessible.
It may be either difficult or easy for a motivated individual to connect your network IP address with your real-life identity. Therefore, if you are concerned about privacy, it is highly recommended that you use an account with a username that is under a pseudonym. If you are using your real name as your user name and wish to change this, the best way to do so is to stop using that account, create a new account with a pseudonymous username, and use that account for all future edits moving forward. While you can request the username of your current account be changed, it will not stop other users from searching through your edit history and discovering your former username in old edits where you signed a comment, message, or response with that former username.
Because a user's interest areas, writing style, and argumentative positions may establish an identifiable pattern, true pseudonymity may not be realistically achievable.
It is possible to mask a user's actual IP address by using an open or anonymizing proxy, a server that disguises the user's IP address with the IP address of that server. However, doing this can be inconvenient as they are often blocked due to frequent misuse by vandals (see also Wikipedia:Open proxies).
Editing from work
If you use a company mail server from home or telecommute and use a DSL or cable Internet connection, it is likely to be very easy for your employer to identify your IP address and find all of your IP-based Wikimedia project contributions. Using a user name is a better way of preserving your privacy in this situation. However, remember to log out or disconnect yourself after each session using a pseudonym on a shared computer, to avoid allowing others to use your identity.
Wikipedia does not require you to provide personal information on userpages or elsewhere in the course of editing the encyclopedia. While there is no policy forbidding this, remember that information revealed amongst friends and fellow editors on Wikipedia is kept in a permanent record that is accessible by anyone in the world with a networked computer. However, oversighters are granted the ability to remove such content from the database.
It is recommended that you use utmost caution and discretion when revealing information that could be used to personally identify you.
Interacting with others
While editors are expected to observe Wikipedia's behavioral policies, particularly Assume good faith, with regards to editorial conflicts, no user is expected to put editorial policies above their own personal welfare and security. When confronted with wikistalking or other harassment, the best course of action would be to report any concrete instances of this confidentially and discreetly via email to a trusted Administrator. It is not advisable to report this activity elsewhere on Wikipedia, such as at WP:AN/I, as this may draw more public attention to whatever potentially compromising information may have been used in the personal attack.
Many aspects of the Wikimedia projects' community interactions depend on the reputation and respect that is built up through a history of valued contributions. User passwords are the only guarantee of the integrity of a user's edit history. All users are encouraged to select strong passwords and to never share them. No-one should knowingly expose the password of another user to public release either directly or indirectly.
Here are some tips that editors should consider to reduce the likelihood that their accounts may be compromised:
- Never give your Wikipedia password to anyone, not even Wikimedia staff.
- Only enter your password on a Wikimedia site. Be aware that other sites might use MediaWiki, the software that Wikipedia uses. Users should check that their browser is on a Wikimedia-owned domain.
- Your password should be hard to guess. "Password" is not a secure password, but "CorrectHorseBatteryStaple34." is (however, do not use this as a password, since it has been divulged as an example). See also Keys to a Strong Password.
- Avoid using public computers to edit while logged in, but if you do decide to log into one, always remember to log out when you are done, and when you return to your private computer, it may be worth changing your password. You may also decide to create a legitimate alternate account solely for the purpose of editing on public computers, so that if it is compromised, you will still have access to your primary account.
User committed identities
Template:User committed identity gives editors a way to later prove that they are the person who was in control of their account on the day the template was placed. This is done by putting a public commitment to a secret string on the user page so that, in the unlikely event that their account is compromised, they can convince someone else that they are the real person behind the username, even if the password has been changed by the hijacker.
Security of information
The Wikimedia Foundation makes no guarantee against unauthorized access to any information you provide. This information may be available to anyone with access to the servers. A partial list of those people can be found in the developers list.
Data on users, such as the times at which they edited and the number of edits they have made are publicly available via "user contributions" lists, and in aggregated forms published by other users.
Removal of user accounts
Once created, user accounts cannot be removed. However, it is possible for a username to be changed (see Wikipedia:Changing username and Wikipedia:Changing username/Usurpations). The Wikimedia Foundation does not guarantee that a name will be changed on request.
Deletion of content
Removing text from Wikimedia projects does not permanently delete it. In normal articles, anyone can look at a previous version and see what was there. If an article is "deleted", any user with "administrator" access on the wiki, meaning almost anyone trusted not to abuse the deletion capability, can see what was deleted. Information can be permanently deleted by those people with access to the servers, but there is no guarantee this will happen every time it is requested.
If personally identifiable or libelous information has been published about you anywhere on Wikipedia, you can request its removal through Wikipedia:Requests for oversight. This information will only be viewable by people with direct access to the Wikipedia databases, arbitrators, ombudsmen and oversighters.
Essays and how-to guides
- Wikipedia:Wikipedia is in the real world
- Wikipedia:On privacy, confidentiality and discretion
- Wikipedia:How to not get outed on Wikipedia
- Wikipedia:User account security
- Post, David G. (1996). Pooling Intellectual Capital: Thoughts on Anonymity, Pseudoanonymity, and Limited Liability in Cyberspace. University of Chicago Legal Forum.
- Rao, J.R., and P. Rohatgi (2000). "Can Pseudonyms Really Guarantee Privacy?" Proceedings of the 9th USENIX Security Symposium (Denver, Colorado, Aug. 14–17, 2000).