Why is Wikimedia (still) blocking contributions via VPNs?

Sigh. For the first time (I’m ashamed to say), as I waited to fly out of Brunei, I tried to update Wikipedia’s sister site Wikivoyage, “the free worldwide travel guide that you can edit”. It’s still limited on less-visited places (like Brunei’s capital, Bandar Seri Begawan). I had some timely information to add on the few cafes/restaurants open before sunset during the month of Ramadan. But the airport IP address was blocked for edits. I couldn’t login with my Wikipedia account. I couldn’t create a new “local” account. I gave up! 🤷🏻‍♂️

When I got home, I tried again. Thanks to Wikimedia’s volunteer “stewards” for helping me investigate this further. It’s worse than I thought. The Foundation has blocked anyone using Virtual Private Networks, including Apple’s Private Relay service, from editing pages — even when logged in 😬 It’s easier to block wiki-vandals if they can’t easily hop from one IP address to another. But it means anyone using a VPN to protect their privacy — including Tor and Private Relay — is collateral damage.

The Wikipedia/Tor debate goes back to at least 2005, with one Tor user characterising IP address blocking as “a clumsy and privacy-invading countermeasure against vandalism” and asking Wikipedia:

Please block only users who are not logged in from open proxies. Abuse from logged in users can be dealt with by blocking the user rather than the IP of the open proxy. Please don’t be indiscriminate, please don’t block innocent users who prefer privacy.

I’m also not willing to switch off Private Relay and clear my web browser cookies every time I want to make a small wiki-tweak (and I still had problems doing that while trying to make this single edit). That could leave close to 1bn Apple subscribers having difficulty editing any Wikimedia sites 🫣

There is already some internal Wikimedia debate on this. Ironically, by definition, it excludes those affected, as pointed out by at least one of the talk contributors 😂😢 I was told there are mechanisms for “well-established” Wikimedia accounts to bypass the block, but by definition this won’t work for the vast majority of Internet users. (One study found “Tor users make contributions to Wikipedia that are just as valuable as those made by new and unregistered Wikipedia editors. We also found that Tor users are more likely to engage with certain controversial topics.”)

What a shame. Wikivoyage has a lot of potential, and is very useful for popular destinations. But it’s never going to become a globally-useful resource with so much friction for casual contributors 😢