Photo by Thirteen Of Clubs on Flickr. Some rights reserved
The whistleblowing website Wikileaks has company - suddenly, a lot of it. In the past week alone three new sites have sprung up offering to act as conduits for leaks - though with varying amounts of believability. Openleaks, Brusselsleaks and a new one launched overnight in Australia called "Tradeleaks" are all trying to garner the trust of internet users with stories to tell.
Openleaks, announced last Friday, has been set up by Daniel Domscheit-Berg, a former associate of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who left after a dispute with him. It aims to split the process of publication of leaked data from its own work.
It already has its own Twitter account, openleaksorg, which has gained almost 2,000 followers. It says that its priorities are "technical infrastructure, neutrality and a strong relationship with journalists... Whistleblowers can send without risk."
"We felt that Wikileaks was developing in the wrong direction," Domscheit-Berg told BBC News. "There's too much concentration of power in one organisation; too much responsibility; too many bottlenecks; too many resource constraints." But he didn't want his team to have to decide what is relevant for publication; that would be up to news organisations.
Meanwhile Brusselsleaks - which also has a Twitter account - is trying to reveal some of the lobbying that goes on within the huge budget-making process of the multinational organisation: "Brussels – the European Capital and the place where decisions are made which impact the globe," it notes. "Many of these decisions happen behind closed doors and we have been working to make it more transparent for many years. Journalists, activists and communications professionals have now come together to form Brussels Leaks, a place to centralise intelligence gathered on the inner-workings of the EU."
The site's backers say that none of them is affiliated with any industry or lobby group, and instead that they work for media outlets: "What we see all the time (and we're sure you've seen) are people working for lobby groups or powerful institutions who want to get information out there, but can't. Even if they had personal connections with us, they just didn't feel comfortable passing on documents. And sometimes we did get the documents, but couldn't get them out there because our known personal connection to 'that person' might put them in danger (i.e. job security)."
It notes its inheritance from the concept created by Wikileaks: "Wikileaks – something we have no connection with other than ideals – showed the power of this. As we say on the website, we are not necessarily expecting outrageous revelations but there is a lot of important information out there – information which might help an NGO explain why the European Commission is failing to act on something in particular, for instance. This isn't necessarily all about media; it's about getting documents out there to help society. That's what is important to us."
Finally, the most unusual of the three newcomers is "Tradeleaks", apparently set up by the high-profile Ruslan Kogan of the Australian budget consumer electronics manufacturer and retailer Kogan Technologies. In a press release, the company said that the site would "do to trade and commerce what WikiLeaks has done to politics."
It added: "We know that most retailers are open and honest, but we also know there is a lot of dodgy scheming and deception in the world of trade. The problem is there is no way for the average consumer to stay informed about this secrecy. TradeLeaks is here to change that. Customers can now learn the truth about any retailer out there and make more educated decisions with their hard earned money."
However it is using a different model from Wikileaks, which pre-screens information before releasing it. "[On Tradeleaks] we do not independently assess the veracity of any information posted on our website. Rather, we rely on users to assess the merits of all information posted through posting reply comments and queries, and by rating the quality of the information posted."
It insists that it will even allow information about its own company to be posted: "TradeLeaks is completely transparent and open. Of course, this means that someone could post something about their experiences with Kogan as well. We know that TradeLeaks will be judged by how transparently it is administered, so we are committed to the highest level of independence and objectivity. No posts will be removed, unless they are defamatory without fact."
At present, though, the post most highly-rated by users suggests that "This is a waste of time" and that it is "simply an attempt to grab publicity". Given that Kogan has been ordered to modify its advertising by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission after accusations of potentially misleading conduct, and has challenged rival retailers to on-air debates, it may be that Tradeleaks will have rather less impact than its siblings.
It is also unclear whether Tradeleaks will be able to withstand the determined efforts of spammers who will seek visibility if posts are unmoderated - and how, if it does, it will cope with Australia's libel laws, which resemble those of the UK and would make Kogan liable if the site can be shown to act as a publisher by editing what appears rather than acting as a simple conduit.