Leak-o-nomy: The Economy of Wikileaks - Julian Assange interviewed by Stefan Mey

| | Comments (2)

Stefan Mey, a German student in Berlin, who publishes the Medien-Ökonomie-Blog writes:

I'd like to show you an interview with Julian Assange, the spokesperson of
Wikileaks, on my students' blog. On the Chaos Communication Congress in
Berlin, a hacker event, I had the chance to talk with him, about the economic and financial aspects of the website (at the moment it is shut down in order to generate money) and about the relationship of Wikileaks and mainstream media.

It was planned as a very small interview of only some minutes, about the
media economy of a non-commercial web project, but then we talked for nearly
an hour and he talked about some really new aspects of Wikileaks.

Leak-o-nomy: The Economy of Wikileaks

[...]

How big is the core team of WikiLeaks?

There is probably five people that do it 24 hours a day. And then it's 800 people who do it sometimes over a year. And in between there is a spectrum.

How do you and the other four guys who work full time without getting paid finance your flat and your bread?

I made money in the internet. So I have enough money to do that, but also not forever. And the other four guys, in the moment they are also able to self-finance.

[...]

So in the moment the labour costs are still hypothetical, but the big costs that you really have to pay bills for are servers, office, etc.?

The bandwidth side, the backing is costly as well when we get big spikes. Then there are registrations, bureaucracy, dealing with bank accounts and this sort of stuff. Because we are not in one location, it doesn't make sense for us to have headquarters. People have their own offices across the world.

What about cost for lawsuits?

We don't have to pay for our lawyer's time. Hundred of thousands or millions dollars worth of lawyer time are being donated. But we still have to pay things like photocopying and court filing. And so far we have never lost a case, there were no penalties or compensations to pay.

So all in all, can you give figures about how much money Wikileaks needs in one year?

Probably 200.000, that's with everyone paying themselves. But there are people who can't afford to continue being involved fulltime unless they are paid. For that I would say maybe it's 600.000 a year.

See our previous blog article WikiLeakS.org applies for $532,000 funding from the Knight Foundation - for "local news" whistleblower leaks ?

Now let's talk about your revenues, your only visible revenue stream is donations ...

Private donations. We refuse government and corporate donations. In the moment most of the money comes from the journalists, the lawyers or the technologists who are personally involved. Only about ten percent are from online donations. But that might increase.

At the bottom of the site is a list of your "steadfast supporters", media organisations and companies like AP, Los Angeles Times or The National Newspaper Association. What do they do for you?

They give their lawyers, not cash.

[...]

You need to motivate two groups of people, in order to make the site running, the whistleblowers and the journalists. What are the motivations for whistleblowers?

Usually they are incensed morally by something. Very rarely actually they want revenge or just to embarrass some organisation. So that's their incentive, to satisfy this feeling. Actually we would have no problem giving sources cash. We don't do that, but for me there is no reason why only the lawyers and the journalists should be compensated for their effort. Somebody is taking the risk to do something and this will end up benefiting the public.

But then the legal problem would become much bigger.

Yes, but we're not concerned about that. We could do these transfer payments to a jurisdiction like Belgium which says, that the authorities are not to use any means to determine the connection between the journalist and their source. And this would include the banking system.

Exactly how strong is this legal protection in Belgium, against the revelation of whistleblower sources through the tracking of financial payments, in practice ?

If they cite "national security" or "terrorism" or "serious organised crime" etc investigations, then the US and EU governments seem to be able to legally snoop on the >Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) international banking money transfer system, which is also legally based in Belgium

On the other side you experiment with incentives for journalists. This sounds weird in the beginning. Why do you have to give them additional incentives so they use material you offer them for free?

It's not that easy. Information has value, generally in proportion to the supply of this information being restricted. Once everyone has the information, another copy of the information has no value.

"Information wants to be free" meets the fundamental economic law of supply and demand.

In Germany you made an exclusivity deal with two media companies, the Stern and Heise. Are you satisfied with these kind of deals?

We did this in other countries before. Generally we have been satisfied. The problem is it takes too much time to manage. To make a contract, and to determine who should have the exclusivity. Someone can say, oh, we will do a good story. We are going to maximize the political impact. And then they won't do it. How do we measure this?

According to this WikiLeak.org blog comment , seemingly by Julian Assange, they have not done so with The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom.

This raises the question about the cases,like The Guardian's reporting of the Trafigura / Carter-Ruck "secret super injunction", where our impression is that WikiLeakS.org appear to be getting their whistleblower leaks from mainstream media journalists themselves, either unofficially, or with the management turning a blind eye.

[...]

What happened?

This auction proved to be a logistical nightmare. Media organisations wanted access to the material before they went to auction. So we would get them to sign non-disclosure agreements, chop up the material and release just every second page or every second sentence.That was too distracting to all the normal work we were doing, so that we said, forget it, we can't do that. We just released the material as normal. And that's precisely what happened: No one wrote anything at all about those 7.000 Emails. Even though 15 stories had appeared about the fact that we were holding the auction.

It sounds as if nobody trusts anyone else in this media auction.

Perhaps the University of Cambridge's cryptographic protocol thought experiment by Frank Stajano and Ross Anderson, the Cocaine Auction Protocol (.pdf) , might help ?

The experiment failed.

The experiment didn't fail, the experiment taught us about what the burdens were. We would actually need a team of five or six people whose job was just to arrange these auctions.

You plan to continue the auction idea in the future ...

We plan to continue it, but we know it will take more resources. But if we pursue that we will not do that for single documents. Instead we will do a subscription. This would be much simpler. We would only have the overhead of doing the auction stuff every three months or six months, not for every document.

So the exclusivity of the story will run out after three months?

No, there will be exclusivity in terms of different time windows in access to the material. As an example: there will be an auction for North America. And you will be ranked in the auction. The media organisation who bids most in the auction, would get access to it first, the one who bids second will get access to it second and so on. Media organisations would have a subscription to Wikileaks.

We would be interested to hear from media lawyers about whether or not mainstream media organisations really are in a legal position to sign exclusivity subscription deals with WikiLeakS.org.


2 Comments

I find it interesting that there is no public information available about Wikileaks themselves or the non-profit behind them, Sunshine Press. As they are asking for money from the public, they need to make more information available to the public, i.e. where that money goes, how they are structured, who gets paid for what and what the plans, short and long term are. It's hard to contribute into a void. Maybe it's a great money-making scam for someone (not suggesting it is, but who knows?).
It is ironic that an organisation that is dedicated to revealing the inner secrets of others does not reveal its own inner secrets - or even any fundamental information.

@ Ivan - we asked those questions of WikiLeakS.org when they first launched, to no avail.

Ironically, what they actually need is the services of a private Swiss Bank / Tax Haven etc. to protect the anonymity of their financial supporters, but that seems unlikely, given the Bank Julius Baer and other legal censorship affairs and the political biases of some of their core activists.


Leave a comment

About this blog

This blog here at WikiLeak.org (no "S") discusses the ethical and technical issues raised by the WikiLeakS.org project, which is trying to be a resource for whistleblower leaks, by providing "untraceable mass document leaking and analysis".

These are bold and controversial aims and claims, with both pros and cons, especially for something which crosses international boundaries and legal jurisdictions.

This blog is not part of the WikiLeakS.org project, and there really are no copies of leaked documents or files being mirrored here.

Email Contact

Please feel free to email us your views about this website or news about the issues it tries to comment on:

email: blog@WikiLeak[dot]org

Before you send an email to this address, remember that this blog is independent of the WikiLeakS.org project.

If you have confidential information that you want to share with us, please make use of our PGP public encryption key or an email account based overseas e.g. Hushmail

LeakDirectory.org

Now that the WikiLeakS.org project is defunct, so far as new whistleblower are concerned, what are the alternatives ?

The LeakDirectory.org wiki page lists links and anonymity analyses of some of the many post-wikileaks projects.

There are also links to better funded "official" whistlblowing crime or national security reporting tip off websites or mainstream media websites. These should, in theory, be even better at protecting the anonymity and security of their informants, than wikileaks, but that is not always so.

New whistleblower website operators or new potential whistleblowers should carefully evaluate the best techniques (or common mistakes) from around the world and make their personal risk assessments accordingly.

Hints and Tips for Whistleblowers and Political Dissidents

The WikiLeakS.org Submissions web page provides some methods for sending them leaked documents, with varying degrees of anonymity and security. Anybody planning to do this for real, should also read some of the other guides and advice to political activists and dissidents:

Please take the appropriate precautions if you are planning to blow the whistle on shadowy and powerful people in Government or commerce, and their dubious policies. The mainstream media and bloggers also need to take simple precautions to help preserve the anonymity of their sources e.g. see Spy Blog's Hints and Tips for Whistleblowers - or use this easier to remember link: http://ht4w.co.uk

BlogSafer - wiki with multilingual guides to anonymous blogging

Digital Security & Privacy for Human Rights Defenders manual, by Irish NGO Frontline Defenders.

Everyone’s Guide to By-Passing Internet Censorship for Citizens Worldwide (.pdf - 31 pages), by the Citizenlab at the University of Toronto.

Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-Dissidents - March 2008 version - (2.2 Mb - 80 pages .pdf) by Reporters Without Borders

Reporters Guide to Covering the Beijing Olympics by Human Rights Watch.

A Practical Security Handbook for Activists and Campaigns (v 2.6) (.doc - 62 pages), by experienced UK direct action political activists

Anonymous Blogging with Wordpress & Tor - useful step by step guide with software configuration screenshots by Ethan Zuckerman at Global Voices Advocacy. (updated March 10th 2009 with the latest Tor / Vidalia bundle details)

WikiLeakS Links

The WikiLeakS.org Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page.

WikiLeakS Twitter feeds

The WikiLeakS.org website does not stay online all of the time, especially when there is a surge of traffic caused by mainstream media coverage of a particularly newsworthy leak.

Recently, they have been using their new Twitter feeds, to selectively publicise leaked documents to the media, and also to report on the status of routing or traffic congestion problems affecting the main website in Stockholm, Sweden.

N.B.the words "security" or "anonymity" and "Twitter" are mutually exclusive:

WikiLeakS.org Twitter feed via SSL encrypted session: https://twitter.com/wikileaks

WikiLeakS.org unencrypted Twitter feed http://twitter.com/wikileaks

Internet Censorship

OpenNet Initiative - researches and measures the extent of actual state level censorship of the internet. Features a blocked web URL checker and censorship map.

Temporary Autonomous Zone

Temporary Autonomous Zones (TAZ) by Hakim Bey (Peter Lambourn Wilson)

Cyberpunk author William Gibson

Campaign Button Links

Watching Them, Watching Us, UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign
UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign

NO2ID Campaign - cross party opposition to the NuLabour Compulsory Biometric ID Card
NO2ID Campaign - cross party opposition to the NuLabour Compulsory Biometric ID Card and National Identity Register centralised database.

Gary McKinnon is facing extradition to the USA under the controversial Extradition Act 2003, without any prima facie evidence or charges brought against him in a UK court. Try him here in the UK, under UK law.
Gary McKinnon is facing extradition to the USA under the controversial Extradition Act 2003, without any prima facie evidence or charges brought against him in a UK court. Try him here in the UK, under UK law.

FreeFarid_150.jpg
FreeFarid.com - Kafkaesque extradition of Farid Hilali under the European Arrest Warrant to Spain

Peaceful resistance to the curtailment of our rights to Free Assembly and Free Speech in the SOCPA Designated Area around Parliament Square and beyond

Parliament Protest blog - resistance to the Designated Area restricting peaceful demonstrations or lobbying in the vicinity of Parliament.

Petition to the European Commission and European Parliament against their vague Data Retention plans
Data Retention is No Solution Petition to the European Commission and European Parliament against their vague Data Retention plans.

Save Parliament: Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (and other issues)
Save Parliament - Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (and other issues)

Open_Rights_Group.png
Open Rights Group

The Big Opt Out Campaign - opt out of having your NHS Care Record medical records and personal details stored insecurely on a massive national centralised database.

Tor - the onion routing network
Tor - the onion routing network - "Tor aims to defend against traffic analysis, a form of network surveillance that threatens personal anonymity and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security. Communications are bounced around a distributed network of servers called onion routers, protecting you from websites that build profiles of your interests, local eavesdroppers that read your data or learn what sites you visit, and even the onion routers themselves."

Tor - the onion routing network
Anonymous Blogging with Wordpress and Tor - useful Guide published by Global Voices Advocacy with step by step software configuration screenshots (updated March 10th 2009).

irrepressible_banner_03.gif
Amnesty International's irrepressible.info campaign

anoniblog_150.png
BlogSafer - wiki with multilingual guides to anonymous blogging

ngoiab_150.png
NGO in a box - Security Edition privacy and security software tools

homeofficewatch_150.jpg
Home Office Watch blog, "a single repository of all the shambolic errors and mistakes made by the British Home Office compiled from Parliamentary Questions, news reports, and tip-offs by the Liberal Democrat Home Affairs team."

rsf_logo_150.gif
Reporters Without Borders - Reporters Sans Frontières - campaign for journalists 'and bloggers' freedom in repressive countries and war zones.

committee_to_protect_bloggers_150.gif
Committee to Protect Bloggers - "devoted to the protection of bloggers worldwide with a focus on highlighting the plight of bloggers threatened and imprisoned by their government."

wikileaks_logo_low.jpg
Wikileaks.org - the controversial "uncensorable, anonymous whistleblowing" website based currently in Sweden.

Syndicate this site (XML):

Recent Comments

  • wikileak: @ Ivan - we asked those questions of WikiLeakS.org when read more
  • Ivan Pope: I find it interesting that there is no public information read more

July 2011

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
31