British Members of Parliament are being told: if you need to edit your Wikipedia entry, better to do it at home rather than be caught in the act.
The problem is that the home of UK politics, the Houses of Parliament, has just two IP addresses, so a Member of Parliament found performing a sneaky edit on his or her Wikipedia bio can be found out by anyone with the know-how.
The advice – according to the BBC website – was given by the futurist Tom Scott at a “Parliament and the Internet” conference in Portcullis House, where MPs’ offices are located. The BBC says it was tongue-in-cheek.
But it’s important if people wish to perform those crafty edits but retain their privacy, he said.
The IP – or Internet Protocol – address is the unique identification number that links users to a location.
MPs using their office computers to do a quick edit of something they may not like are giving themselves away – unless someone else in the Palace of Westminster is doing it for them.
So, says Scott, do your editing at home.
Wikipedia allows anyone to write and edit. If you’re a registered user, it will store your username. If you’re not, and are making anonymous edits or contributions, it will nevertheless store your IP address. Anyone who knows how to find that information in a Wikipedia article can soon find out where an edit or other contribution has come from.
Scott got a laugh when he told the audience: “It would be completely wrong to assume that because a Member of Parliament’s Wikipedia page has been edited it’s that MP doing it.”
It could be an MP’s assistant or other member of staff, he added.
“MPs set a lot of store by the Wikipedia entries – particular at election time – as it is one of the main ways potential voters find out about them,” says the BBC article.
“Some high[-]profile political figures, or their members of staff, are in a constant war of attrition with vandals who post abusive or subversive ‘facts’ on their Wikipedia pages.
“Other MPs have been caught out trying to remove accurate, but potentially embarrassing, material from their entries.”
The advice from Tom Scott follows a tip at the same conference from a senior UK government official on Thursday: give false details to websites to protect your security.
But Andy Smith’s advice came in for criticism from Shadow Culture Minister Helen Goodman (Labour), who said it was “totally outrageous”.
Smith is the Internet security chief in the Cabinet Office. He said people should give accurate details only to “trusted” sites, such as government ones.
Names and address on social networking sites could be used by criminals, he said.
“When you are interacting with government, or professional organizations – people who you know are going to protect your information – then obviously you are going to use the right stuff.”
But fraudsters will gather a lot of information, “from Google, social networking sites, from email footers, all sorts of places”.
But Helen Goodman is quoted by the BBC website as saying: “This is the kind of behaviour that, in the end, promotes crime.
“It is exactly what we don’t want. We want more security online. It’s anonymity which facilitates cyber-bullying, the abuse of children.
“I was genuinely shocked that a public official could say such a thing.”