Another Falls: Tableau Software Drops Wikileaks Data Visualizations

Facing indirect pressure from the U.S. Government, Tableau Software has dropped Wikileaks’ data from its site for people to use for data visualization. According to an announcement posted on Tableau’s blog, the company decided to drop Wikileaks’ content after reading Sen. Joe Lieberman’s public request that companies hosting Wikileaks’ data remove it. According to the announcement: “Our terms of service require that people using Tableau Public do not upload, post, email, transmit or otherwise make available any content that they do not have the right to make available.” It does not appear that Tableau was contacted by the senator directly, nor that it received a cease-and-desist order or any other official request to remove the visualizations.

The reasons Tableau cites are strikingly similar to the ones cited by Amazon.com, which just announced its own reasons for dropping Wikileaks’ main site from its servers.

Wikileaks was using Tableau Public to create means of browsing the cables by subject, location and other criteria. The visualizations were well received by data visualization experts, such as the blog Infosthetics.

Here’s an example of one of the visualizations:

The company also removed a blog post highlighting the Wikileaks data visualizations. That post can still be found in Google Cache.

Tableau Software declined to comment, directing press to its blog instead.

Although a private company choosing not to host content on its servers is not a violation of the first amendment, it’s certainly relevant to the state of free speech. Regarding Amazon.com’s decision, Gartner analyst Thomas Otter wrote in the comments of a blog post on Andrew McAfee’s blog: “It is a sad day for democracy, commerce, cloud computing and freedom of expression.” It’s disappointing to see other companies following in Amazon.com’s footsteps.

Yesterday, the ACLU made a statement against prosecuting WikiLeaks:

We’re deeply skeptical that prosecuting WikiLeaks would be constitutional, or a good idea. The courts have made clear that the First Amendment protects independent third parties who publish classified information. Prosecuting WikiLeaks would be no different from prosecuting the media outlets that also published classified documents. If newspapers could be held criminally liable for publishing leaked information about government practices, we might never have found out about the CIA’s secret prisons or the government spying on innocent Americans. Prosecuting publishers of classified information threatens investigative journalism that is necessary to an informed public debate about government conduct, and that is an unthinkable outcome.

It would be nice to see more hosting providers standing with the ACLU on this issue.

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