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Illuminating the Flows – and Redactions – of Content Online

Arcadia to support expansion of Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center Lumen Database

The staff of Lumen, a unique public resource at Harvard University collecting and studying millions of removal requests for online content, is thrilled to announce that the project has received a $1.5 million grant from Arcadia, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin, to expand and improve its database and research efforts.

From well-publicized takedowns from foreign governments, political campaigns and celebrities to more obscure requests from private entities and individuals, modern online platforms and search engines must regularly respond to requests and demands to remove content and links. Lumen provides a way for the public and its representatives – including academic researchers, journalists, and other stakeholders – to understand trends in demands for content removal and their outcomes in ways that balance public disclosure and privacy rights and serve the greater public interest.

“Lumen has seen tremendous growth and interest in the database over the past few years, receiving over two million new notices in the last year alone,” says Adam Holland, the Project Manager for Lumen at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard. “And in the same time period, more and more exceptional research relying on Lumen’s data, and with substantial real-world impact, has been published, with more to come soon.”

Conceived and developed in 2000 by Wendy Seltzer, one of the inaugural Berkman Center Fellows, in conjunction with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Lumen’s efforts initially focused on removal demands received by private individuals. It then became an ongoing recipient of ultimately millions of removal requests submitted to the services of companies like Google and Twitter under the United States Digital Millennium Copyright Act, with links to Lumen integrated into Google’s own results pages when material was omitted in response to a request. As the Internet and its usage has grown and evolved, so has Lumen, and its database now includes complaints of all varieties, including trademark, defamation, private information, as well as domestic and international court orders.

Over the course of the next three years, Lumen will increase the number of institutions and platforms that submit removal requests; refine the project’s online presence and underlying infrastructure to make it easier for researchers to use; conduct and facilitate further research on its data; and host a series of multi-stakeholder convenings to help better understand the details of the removal request ecosystem and to develop a set of best practices regarding those requests and transparency regarding them.

“Arcadia’s generous grant represents a quantum leap for Lumen and opens up a wide array of new possibilities for the project,” says Lumen’s principal investigator Christopher Bavitz, WilmerHale Clinical Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and a faculty co-director of the Berkman Klein Center. “I’m incredibly excited for the next three years and beyond.”

“From its inception and through its evolution, Lumen has played a foundational role in helping us to understand what’s behind what we see — and don’t see — online,” says Jonathan Zittrain, the Berkman Klein Center’s faculty director, who worked with Seltzer to get the fledgling project off the ground. “Lumen is a modest example, in the category of such vital and world-changing efforts as the Internet Archive and the Web itself, of seeing an idea through not because one was formally chartered to do it, but because humanity will be better informed if it’s done.”

The Lumen project team works with Internet publishers, platforms, and service providers to shed light on takedown requests they receive that would otherwise go unseen. Currently, Google and Twitter are Lumen’s two largest submitters of notices by volume. As part of the planned expansion supported by Arcadia’s grant, Lumen will extend the reach of its network of partners to provide new transparency to even more takedown notices from more sources. The increase in the volume of data Lumen anticipates receiving in the next few years further underscores the importance of ensuring that the project’s database is equipped to easily accept all incoming takedown notices and that working with the database is intuitive and manageable for researchers, notice submitters and other interested parties.

Lumen’s database has supported critical research over the years by both legal and academic scholars, as well as journalists. For example, according to Holland, Professor Eugene Volokh at UCLA has been publishing some incredible work relying on Lumen’s data regarding a stunning and concerning new phenomenon, falsified U.S. court orders. Arcadia’s support will make it possible for Lumen to expand its support of such research, as well as to expand Lumen’s core team in order to conduct more of its own research and writing.

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About the Berkman Klein Center
The Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University is dedicated to exploring, understanding, and shaping the development of the digitally-networked environment. A diverse, interdisciplinary community of scholars, practitioners, technologists, policy experts, and advocates, we seek to tackle the most important challenges of the digital age while keeping a focus on tangible real-world impact in the public interest. Our faculty, fellows, staff and affiliates conduct research, build tools and platforms, educate others, form bridges and facilitate dialogue across and among diverse communities. More information at www.cyber.harvard.edu

About Arcadia Fund
Arcadia is a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin. It supports charities and scholarly institutions that preserve cultural heritage and the environment. Arcadia also supports projects that promote open access and all of its awards are granted on the condition that any materials produced are made available for free online. Since 2002, Arcadia has awarded more than $663 million to projects around the world. More information at https://www.arcadiafund.org.uk/

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Lumen

Lumen collects and studies online content removal requests, providing transparency and supporting analysis of the Web’s takedown “ecology." More