Monday, October 24, 2011

The Donation Blockade Threatening WikiLeaks...

Last year when Wikileaks published thousands of classified State Department documents, many large financial companies like Visa and Mastercard decided to no longer allow payments to be made to the Wikileaks website. As described in The Nerfherder at the time, hacktivist groups then responded by launching denial-of-service attacks against those financial companies. These attacks lasted for a few weeks, but mostly subsided once the story dropped out of the headlines and all returned to normal.

But a funny thing happened. Almost a full year later, the "donation blockade" implemented by Visa, Mastercard, eBay, Western Union, PayPal, and others is actually having a serious effect. Ars Technica is reporting that the donation blockade is proving so effective that the very existence of Wikileaks is currently under threat. Payment transactions from those financial service companies constitute 95% of WikiLeaks' revenue, and the site claims to need $3.5 million over the next 12 months just in order to maintain its current level of service.

Servers, after all, cost money.

It's an interesting dilemma worth noting. In an increasingly cash-less age of ubiquitous digital transactions, how would most organizations function if suddenly and completely cut off from all credit cards, PayPal, and various other type-your-number-and-click payment services? My guess is most businesses, and for that matter most individuals, would probably face a near-existential financial threat within a few short months.

The majority of Wikileaks supporters, right now, don't even know how to make a donation even if they want to.

Whether this donation blockade does ultimately succeed in shutting down Wikileaks, or even if it just cripples it, there's an important lesson here that's playing out before our very eyes... to anyone who believes the internet has democratized power, this case is just one more example of how institutions still matter, and how only a small handful of them can, at any time or for any reason of their choosing, exert their will over others.

Even though Wikileaks garnered all the headlines a year ago for being a new kind of transformative force, these financial companies may indeed have the last laugh.


At 1:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wikileaks needs to become completely decentralized. No servers, nothing to shut down, no way to block payments.

At 6:18 PM, Blogger Robert J. Domanski said...

It's a question of how can they receive payments. Being decentralized might make it difficult to shut down the site on a technical level, but if Wikileaks is actually interested in making money (through donations) then they need a simple way for people to send them some sort of payment. And that's not easy when all these firms who handle most transactions suddenly prohibit all future transactions.


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