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Angolas Wikipedia Pirates Are Exposing the


Problems With Digital Colonialism
WRITTEN BY JASON KOEBLER (/AUTHOR/JASONKOEBLER)
March 23, 2016 // 08:00 AM EST

Wikimedia and Facebook have given Angolans free access to their websites, but not to
the rest of the internet. So, naturally, Angolans have started hiding pirated movies
and music in Wikipedia articles and linking to them on closed Facebook groups,
creating a totally free and clandestine le sharing network in a country where mobile
internet data is extremely expensive.

Its an undeniably creative use of two services that were designed to give people in
the developing world some access to the internet. But now that Angolans are causing
headaches for Wikipedia editors and the Wikimedia Foundation, no one is sure what
to do about it.

Update: Wikipedia Doesn't Realize it's the Developing World's Internet Gatekeeper
(http://motherboard.vice.com/read/wikipedia-zero-rating-facebook-free-basics-iscensoring-developing-world-internet)

In 2014, Wikimedia partnered with


(https://bomdiaangolaen.wordpress.com/2014/12/18/angolan-operator-unitel-joinswikipedia-zero-project-to-provide-free-information/) Angolan telecom provider Unitel
to oer Wikipedia Zero to its customers. Wikipedia Zero is a somewhat-controversial
program that zero rates Wikipedia and other Wikimedia properties (such as image
and video database Wikimedia Commons) on mobile phones in developing countries,
meaning customers dont have to pay for any data use on the Unitel network, as long
as the data use is associated with a Wikimedia domain.

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The Radio Motherboard podcast explored the issue of zero rating earlier this year. Radio Motherboard is available on all podcast apps
and on iTunes (http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/radio-motherboard/id946704646?mt=2).

The argument in favor of zero rating is that it gives people access to information who
would otherwise not be able to aord it (Unitel normally charges
(http://www.unitel.ao/servlet/web/Pa_BIG_NET#tab-1435054050796) $2.50 for 50mb
of mobile data; the median Angolan salary is $720 annually
(https://freedomhouse.org/sites/default/les/resources/FOTN%202015_Angola.pdf),
according to Freedom House). The argument against zero rating
(http://motherboard.vice.com/read/indias-new-open-internet-law-is-stronger-thanthe-united-states) is that by providing people with a closed ecosystem, youre creating
a tiered internet systempeople who can aord it get the real internet, people who
cant are stuck with Facebook, Wikipedia, and a couple other services, and may never
get the chance to upgrade to the full, open internet. Facebooks program, called Free
Basics, has come under reand was banned in Indiabecause some see it as a
user grab technique for Facebook, but Wikipedia Zero has gotten less ak because
Wikimedias a nonprot organization and its sites often skew to be purely informative.

If the developing world wants to use our internet, they must play by
our rules, the thinking goes

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consider what happens if creative people nd loopholes in these zero rated services.

That brings us to whats going on in Angola. Enterprising Angolans have used two free
servicesFacebook Free Basics and Wikipedia Zeroto share pirated movies, music,
television shows, anime, and games on Wikipedia. And no one knows what to do
about it.

Because the data is completely free, Angolans are hiding large les in Wikipedia
articles on the Portuguese Wikipedia site (Angola is a former Portuguese colony)
sometimes concealing movies in JPEG or PDF les. Theyre then using a Facebook
group to direct people to those les, creating a robust, completely free le sharing
network. A description for a Facebook group with 2,700 members reads
(https://www.facebook.com/groups/1553180724893584/): created with the objective
of sharing music, movies, pictures, and ANIMES via Wikimedia. I was not admitted
into the Facebook group and none of its administrators responded to my messages
for an interview.

Wikipedias old guard, however, are concerned with this development. Wikipedia has
very strict copyright guidelines and some editors of the site say theyre tired of playing
whack-a-mole.
(/EN_US?TRK_SOURCE=HEADER-LOGO)
I am reporting a possible misuse of Wikimedia projects and Wikipedia Zero to violate
copyright, one editor wrote on a Wiki discussion forum
(https://meta.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?
title=Wikimedia_Forum&oldid=12835750#Wikipedia_Zero_being_used_to_violate_copyright).
I am not sure if users are doing it in bad faith, but they have been warned and keep

doing it. I don't think that Wikipedia Zero should stop existing there of course, but
maybe something could be done, like preventing them from uploading large les or
by previously instructing them in local language about what they can or [can] not do.

In several cases, wide swaths of IP addresses suspected to belong to Angolans using


Wikipedia Zero have been banned from editing stories on Wikipedia, which has had
the side eect of blocking Angolans who are using Wikipedia Zero to contribute to
Wikipedia in a more traditional way. (In one case, IPs were unblocked because a
Portuguese Wikipedia editor decided that an Angolan amateur photographers photos
were of immense value (https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?
title=User_talk:Steinsplitter&oldid=190598884#Unblock).)

In an email thread on the Wikimedia-L listserv and on Wikipedia talk pages


(https://meta.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?
title=Wikimedia_Forum&oldid=12835750#Wikipedia_Zero_being_used_to_violate_copyright),
users in the developed world are trying to nd a compromise.

Screengrab: FB

Few seem to agree that actively blocking Angolans from editing Wikipedia articles is a
good solution, but other editors say they are sick of manually deleting pirated content
from Wikipedia articles and suggested that those using Wikipedia Zero should only be
allowed to read Wikipedia, not edit it or upload les.

Adele Vrana, head of the Wikimedia Zero program, told me in a phone interview that
the foundation has been aware of the situation since at least last summer, and said
that blanket bans or alterations of the Wikipedia Zero are not on the table. She
wrote in an email to the listserv that the Wikimedia Foundation is as stumped as its
editors.

Angolas pirates are furthering Wikipedias mission of spreading


information in a real and substantial way

We would prefer to catch it much earlier or simply prevent it outright (without


signicant limits being placed on good faith editors). Last fall, we had internal
discussions on nding technical solutions for this problem, she wrote. We
understand that its challenging for our existing editing community to handle a
sudden inux of new editors. This seems to be a crucial and important conversation
for the movement at large to have. I hope we can gure out a way to turn this
moment in Angola into an opportunity to learn how to deal with new readers and
editors.

Image: Benoit Rousseau/Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:LuandaJuin2005-1-br.jpg)

I spoke with experts at three dierent digital rights groups that have all weighed in on
international zero rating in one way or another. None of them were willing to say on
the record whether they thought whats going on with Angola and Wikipedia Zero was
a good or a bad thing. But one line of reasoning came up in one of the conversations

that made a lot of sense: In many ways, this debate is about what Wikimediaa
community and organization that prides itself on the free transfer of information
fundamentally wants to be.

Vrana told me that Wikimedia is looking into the legal aspects and understanding
local legislation and how copyright might work in Angola, but Juliet Barbara, a
spokesperson for the Wikimedia Foundation, said that for the time being Wikimedia
will use the community-developed framework to remove copyrighted material.

With the existing framework, what we have to go on are policies developed by


volunteers about the information that appears on Wikipedia, Barbara said. Those
are pretty specic about the information being knowledge oriented information
rather than personal. Im not saying thats always going to be how it is, thats just the
restriction were working with.

Many on the listserv are framing Angolas Wikipedia pirates as bad actors who need to
be dealt with in some way so that more responsible editors arent punished for their
actions. This line of thinking inherently assumes that what Angolas pirates are doing
is bad for Wikipedia and that they must be assimilated to the already regulated norms
of Wikipedias community. If the developing world wants to use our internet, they must
play by our rules, the thinking goes.

But people in developing countries have always had to be more creative than those
for whom access to information has always been a given. In Cuba, for instance,
movies, music, news, and games are traded on USB drives
(http://motherboard.vice.com/read/cubas-black-market-is-a-website-that-existsprimarily-oine) that are smuggled into the country every week. A 20-year-old
developer in Paraguay found a vulnerability in Facebook Messenger
(http://motherboard.vice.com/read/this-app-lets-you-piggyback-facebooks-freeinternet-to-access-any-site) that allowed people to use Free Basics to tunnel through
to the real internet. Legal questions aside (Angola has more lax copyright laws than
much of the world (https://www.copyright-watch.org/les/Angola.pdf)), Angolas
pirates are furthering Wikipedias mission of spreading information in a real and
substantial way.

"In general, its better to allow people more openness and freedom
to use Internet tools because you never know what ends up being
useful"

When users are faced with a choice of partial access to internet services but not to
the entire internet, they might come up with ways to use that partial internet in
creative ways that might negatively aect the entity giving it to them, Josh Levy,
advocacy director at Access Now, told me. Facebook Free Basics was criticized widely,
but Access Now is one of the few groups that has said Wikipedia Zero is a bad idea
because it creates a tiered internet.

While the misuse of zero rated systems is a new problem, it closely mirrors ones that
have been going on in the wider internet for decades, and the smart money is on
allowing Angolas burgeoning internet community to develop without our
interference, even if it means growing pains for Wikipedia. Proposed copyright
protection laws such as the Stop Online Piracy Act
(http://motherboard.vice.com/read/an-undead-sopa-is-hiding-inside-an-extremelyboring-case-about-invisible-braces), which would have censored sites that hosted
pirated content, was widely believed to be one that could have fundamentally ruined
the internet; limiting how Angolans (or anyone else using Wikipedia Zero) access the
site could have detrimental impacts.

The Wikimedia Foundation, for its part, seems to have good intentions with its waitand-see approach. The foundation gives no money to Unitel as part of the program; a
good solution here, probably, would be cheaper or free access to the entire internet.
While Wikipedia editors in Portugual can simply go to another website to download or
share pirated les, Angolans dont really have that option

This is the type of thing that reects larger battles that have gone on about the
internet overall, Charles Duan, a copyright expert at Public Knowledge, told me. In
general, its better to allow people more openness and freedom to use Internet tools
because you never know what ends up being useful.

Angolans pirates are learning how to organize online, theyre learning how to cover
their tracks, they are learning how to direct people toward information and how to
hide and share les. Many of these skills are the same ones that would come in handy
for a dissident or a protestor or an activist. Considering that Angola has had an
autocratic leader (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/aug/30/angola-joseeduardo-dos-santos) in power for more than 35 years, well, those are skills that might
come in handy one day.
-TOPICS: digital divide (/tag/digital+divide), Zero Rating (/tag/Zero+Rating), Wikipedia
(/tag/Wikipedia), angola (/tag/angola), Wikipedia Zero (/tag/Wikipedia+Zero), Free
Basics (/tag/Free+Basics), facebook (/tag/facebook), reports (/tag/reports)

Contact the author by email (mailto:jason.koebler@vice.com) or


Twitter (https://twitter.com/jason_koebler).
You can reach us at letters@motherboard.tv
(mailto:letters@motherboard.tv). Want to see other people talking about
Motherboard? Check out our letters to the editor
(http://motherboard.vice.com/tag/letters+to+the+editor).

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