How to edit Wikipedia anonymously

9 minute read

How to edit Wikipedia anonymously

Highlights:

  • Anyone can make changes to Wikipedia, but that doesn’t mean you should. Wikipedia uses artificial intelligence to spot conflicts of interest. 
  • While it is possible to make an anonymous edit on Wikipedia, you won’t be able to hide entirely thanks to device fingerprinting and IP address tracking.
  • In many cases, editing under a username is actually more anonymous than avoiding logging in because it doesn’t display your IP address publicly (though Wikipedia admins can see it).

Anyone can edit Wikipedia. Yet just because you can edit the page doesn’t always mean you should – especially if it’s about you or your company.

Doing so would be a "conflict of interest" or COI in Wiki-speak, which Wikipedia has strong negative feelings about. But many people still want to edit their own pages, or that of their brand, and look for how to edit Wikipedia anonymously to avoid detection. Others just think being tracked all the time is just plain creepy.

Whichever camp you might fall in, here is what you need to know about editing Wikipedia anonymously:

  • Without an account, Wikipedia can still see who made edits by logging some basic information about you or your company using what is called device fingerprinting.
  • According to Wikipedia "device fingerprint or machine fingerprint is information collected about the software and hardware of a remote computing device for the purpose of identification."
  • Advanced tools can identify your IP address, browser type, screen resolution and more (discussed below) when editing anonymously, meaning you can’t entirely hide behind anonymous edits. When your machine makes other edits elsewhere and at other times, Wikipedia will know if you aren't protected.

wikipedia revision histor.001 (1)

What is device fingerprinting and how does it work?

Device fingerprinting identifies a device or browser by collecting information about its unique configuration. To create a view of your device and who you are, device fingerprinting services collect various data points about your computer to create a unique digital "fingerprint."

These data points include:

  • Your IP address
  • Browser plugins installed
  • Your time zone
  • Installed fonts
  • Timestamp
  • Flash data from your Flash plugin
  • HTTP request headers
  • Silverlight data
  • User agent string
  • Mime-types

browser v mobile app

Device fingerprint trackers are pieces of code that collect and report all this information to put it together to identify you on various websites or web pages. Once the tracker has this information, it creates a unique fingerprint of who you are to allow for more advanced tracking than cookies could ever provide. It may not know your name, but it knows your computer.

To avoid this intricate tracking method, you can download plugins that help block websites from collecting a digital fingerprint for you. But these blocking devices often send up red flags for Wikipedia as someone who might be trying to obfuscate their actions. This can lead to a "sock puppet investigation" that can get you banned. 

How to edit Wikipedia anonymously

Editing a Wikipedia page is simple. Just go to the top of the page and click the “edit this page” tab. Or you can edit one specific section in the article by clicking “edit” at the top of that heading. 

If you aren’t logged into a Wikipedia account, your edit will be technically anonymous, but it will still be tied to your IP address, and they will still fingerprint you. 

Go to your friends house

If you want to edit without giving too much away use someone else's computer from a residential address - not a Starbucks. In other words, go to your friends place and create an account using their computer. Once you have logged in with the new account make the edits you want to make. Then log out of their computer and never use that computer or Wikipedia account again. This doesn't make you invisible, but it does eliminate the ability for you to be tracked or digitally fingerprinted. You can go back to your home or office and use Wikipedia normally without your identity being tied to the edit. 

Become autoconfirmed

But going to your friends house doesn't solve all problems. The temporary account you just used will have made only one edit. This shiny new account is not "confirmed". But make a few more edits over a few days and the account becomes "autoconfirmed". Wikipedia says this "...most English Wikipedia user accounts that are more than four days old and have made at least 10 edits (including deleted edits) are considered autoconfirmed."

Many pages on Wikipedia cannot be edited without being at least autoconfirmed, but it's also generally less suspicious if your account is autoconfirmed. 

Residential IPs

Most paid Wikipedia editors (note: Reputation X has exactly zero paid Wikipedia editors on payroll) have many accounts. Each account is tied to a residential IP address. A residential IP address is one that has been used previously in someones apartment or house and is reassigned, usually in blocks. Residential IP's are more expensive than normal dynamic IPs you might get from your cable provider. But they are used to circumnavigate technologies like those Wikipedia uses.  

Long histories, seldom used

The other thing paid editors have in common, at least the good ones, are accounts with long histories. Cheap Wikipedia editors will get you caught because they  burn through so many new accounts and fail to hide their IPs that you can almost see them from space. But expert Wikipedia editors are rarely caught because they have a large number of accounts, each tied to a specific residential IP address, that have made hundreds or thousands of edits. One in one hundred might be a subtle paid edit. They're very hard to spot. 

Subject matter expertise

Good editors have subject matter expertise and so do their accounts. One account may be primarily focused on financial services and have hundreds or thousands of expert edits to related pages. Another might be about NASCAR. Some accounts specialize in biographies of living persons. You get the picture. 

What if I edit Wikipedia from a public device or internet access point?

Editing from a public computer – such as those available at a library or internet café – will make it more challenging for Wikipedia to track you but does raise red flags. In these cases, Wikipedia will know very little about you specifically and will only see the changes you made to the Wikipedia page. Keep in mind that there are databases available that log the IP addresses of Starbucks and other public wifi networks. Wikipedia uses these. 

That's not to say it's a good idea to use a public device to make Wikipedia changes. These changes will still likely undergo more serious scrutiny than changes that the platform can track back to a specific person or username.  

Can you edit Wikipedia without an account? 

Yes, you can add information to Wikipedia without an account in most cases. Some Wikipedia pages are protected though, which means only the top editors can make changes to those pages. If a page is protected it will have the icon of a lock in the upper right portion of the page. One example is shown below.

Protected Wikipedia icon

If you try to create an account that masks your identity just to make changes to pages about you or your business (known as creating a “sock puppet” account), your account will often still get flagged unless it's done very carefully. Wikipedia logs every edit to a page that an account makes and every page an account creates, meaning it’s relatively easy for the algorithm to track down conflict of interest or sock puppet edits.

Can you edit Wikipedia with a VPN?

A VPN is a virtual private network. It hides your IP address by creating a "tunnel" through the internet from your machine to another.

Technically yes, you can make a Wikipedia edit using a VPN, but Wikipedia may flag your account. Any sort of anonymizing proxy servers will send up red flags to Wikipedia that your account is not trustworthy. One example of this is when you try to edit a Wikipedia article using the TOR browser. TOR bounces IPs from machine to machine around the world to hide your identity. But Wikipedia can clearly tell if an IP, or "node", is from TOR.

Using such tactics could block you from editing until you disconnect from the anonymous network. The platform uses this system to avoid Wikipedia page vandalism and incorrect edits.

Using the "friend" method above, or residential IPs can help you maintain anonymity. 

Why is my IP address blocked from editing Wikipedia? 

Even if you succeed in editing a Wikipedia page anonymously, know that Wikipedia is still connecting your edits and reviewing them as a whole. If the platform notices you’ve been making too many improper edits, it can block you from editing.

Improper edits are a squishy term. It may mean your edits are similar to those used by paid editing farms (sock puppet farms). It may mean the IP address you are using smells fishy to the algorithm. It could even be the page you are trying to edit. Wikipedia editors sometimes setup what we call "honeypots" to entrap paid editors. Anyone who attempts to edit the page is immediately suspect to increased scrutiny. 

What does Wikipedia do? They users and IP addresses that make suspected improper changes or violate editorial policies - a lot of innocent people get caught in this net but spam is a big problem on Wikipedia and the editors are, for the most part, just trying to protect it. Keep in mind that to protect the integrity of the information the platform provides, it will sometimes block users and IP addresses from making future edits, as well.

How do you know if you've been blocked? You get a message that looks like this when you try to edit:

wikipedia block

How easy is it to track my IP address to my location? 

Wikipedia admits that people who create usernames are actually more anonymous than those who make anonymous edits tied to their IP address. That’s because your IP address is unique and makes it pretty obvious who made the change to anyone viewing the edit history of a page, not just Wiki admins.

After the 2016 presidential election, Justin Blinder created an application called Wikipedia Was Here. It showed the Google Maps image for a user based on their IP address, proving just how much anonymity users without usernames actually have on Wikipedia. The program shows screenshots of buildings such as homes where the edits apparently came from. 

The real-time feed displayed the changes that an IP address made to Wikipedia alongside the Google Maps information. Blinder was trying to bring greater awareness to the lack of integrity on Wikipedia at times.

Editing Wikipedia anonymously FAQs

Can you edit Wikipedia anonymously?

Technically you can’t edit Wikipedia completely anonymously. Wikipedia tracks edits to the editor’s username, but if you don’t log in, Wikipedia still can track you by your IP address or by device fingerprinting. If you edit from a public device, use a VPN, or otherwise try to surreptitiously edit Wikipedia anonymously, Wikipedia could subject your edits to extra scrutiny, flag your account, or block you from editing. 

What happens if you falsely edit Wikipedia?

Editing Wikipedia with false information harms the integrity of the online encyclopedia. And, if you falsely edit information regularly, Wikipedia might block your username and IP address from making future edits. Too many false edits to the same Wikipedia page might also lead the encyclopedia to block people from editing that page unless they are top editors. 

Can you see who edits Wikipedia?

Yes, you can click on the history tab at the top of any Wikipedia page to see a full edit history for that entry. You will see who created the page and all the edits that other people have contributed, listed by their username or IP address.