1. Bots track anonymous Wiki tweaks from government buildings


    Trust, bot verify.  Thanks to the constant nature of the Internet, it’s no longer taboo to spend time on non-work related tasks throughout the day — even within the halls of government buildings.

    “It’s not just data nerds but people who seem to be genuinely interested in politics.” – Edward Summers, @edsu, creator of @congressedits 
    It’s so incredibly easy to track what people do and where they do it online, interested parties can set up bots to share individuals’ online activity with the wider web. We interviewed two people who created bots that share what people do in government buildings in real time — like, say, edit anonymous Wikipedia articles. (Note: If a Congress person is logged Wikipedia doesn’t make their IP address known.) Tom Scott, creator of @parliamentedits and Ed Summers, creator of @congressedits, created these handles to  tweet when changes to Wikipedia pages are made from within the halls of the Parliament and Congress. We asked Tom and Ed how they set up their Wiki-bot Twitter accounts, and what surprised them about what information they saw come out of it:

    - What sparked the idea to track IP addresses in the UK/US? 

    Tom: It’s been done many times before! I did it in 2010 — and there are loads of articles from the last few years where newspapers have done the same. I just realised no-one had set up a Twitter bot for it!

    Ed: I saw @parliamentedits (a friend of mine in the UK retweeted it) and I thought it looked like an interesting idea to try on this side of the pond.

    - What specific physical addresses do you track (and what is the general range of an IP address for a location)? 

    Tom: The British Parliament’s easy: all the computers within it have only two public-facing IP addresses, and they were revealed by a Freedom of Information Act request!

    Ed: You can see the IP address ranges for the House and Senate.
    I obtained these initially from a Wikipedia article, then asked Josh Tauberer (@joshdata) who started the site Govtrack, and he pointed me to a set of ranges he uses in Govtrack.

    - Does this include mobile devices? 

    Tom: Nope: I can only track use from official, Parliamentary computers.

    Ed: If their mobile device is on a local wifi network in the House or Senate it might. If they are on mobile broadband, definitely not.

    - What are the limitations on tracking IP in this manner — for example, can people easily hide their addresses, and how would you know if they did? 

    Tom: It’s trivially easy to hide your addresses, and I wouldn’t be able to tell. (But it’s always worth checking where edits to politicians’ own pages come from — there are sometimes some rather suspicious patterns in there!)

    Ed: IP addresses are only made available for anonymous edits to Wikipedia. If a staffer or politician is logged in to Wikipedia and makes an edit, it will not show up at @congressedits. I imagine (but do not know for certain) that this is done for privacy reasons, since Wikipedia would not want to make a stream of data available that both identified a logged in user as well as their IP address, since an IP address can be used to geolocate someone.

    - What has surprised you the most? 

    Tom: So far, it’s picked up no edits — they’re actually quite rare — so ask me again in a few months’ time!

    Ed: I was surprised to get a couple changes pretty much right after I turned it on. I was kind of surprised that the changes were quite humorous. It has only found 6 edits from anonymous edits so far, so it’s kind of too early to say. Check out the Wikipedia article about edits from Congress for some more context.

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