Fascinated to read in the mainstream press about Tableau's decision to remove a series of visualisations published by WikiLeaks using Tableau Public, following pressure from Senator Joe Lieberman. Elissa Fink of Tableau has published an explanation of the background behind this decision. The key excerpts from this explanation are:
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. Furthermore, if we receive a complaint about a particular set of data, we retain the right to investigate the situation and remove any offending data, if necessary. Our decision to remove the data from our servers came in response to a public request by Senator Joe Lieberman, who chairs the Senate Homeland Security Committee, when he called for organisations hosting WikiLeaks to terminate their relationship with the website.
This is clearly a very difficult matter which has caused a great deal of reaction in support of and in opposition to Tableau's decision as you will read in the comments section. My view is it is very unfortunate that Tableau has had come to this decision. I don't necessarily think they believe their 'terms of service' reason, especially given this data is now so widely cascaded on the Internet. Unfortunately, it does create a tricky precedent that will be interesting to keep an eye on over time with Tableau users likely to test the boundaries of this policy approach on other subject matters and data contexts. I generally support what WikiLeaks stand for (though I find the cablegate release less about whistle-blowing and more about diplomatic gossiping) but you cannot ignore or be complacent about the massive baggage that comes with any slightest association with the organisation. The reactions this organisation stirs around the world is quite incredible. I have had limited but first hand experience of dealing with the same potential difficulties of association. Do we actually expect a private company like Tableau to be waving the flags on the frontline of free speech activism? Lets be realistic, no. But I'm sure their organisational values are generally sound so lets not go over the top on the possible shortcomings of principles they hold dear and instead take a look at the bigger picture. The action Tableau has taken is regrettable but it has been done so in the context of pressure being mounted by the American government and Joe Lieberman, in particular, on organisations associated with WikiLeaks, no matter how tenuously. You have to say though, had the pressure yet got that heated or could they have held firm a bit longer? Unfortunately for them, and probably us too, Tableau are likely to be bloodied and bruised by taking this decision.
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