Here’s what WikiLeaks knows about you

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is seen on a screen speaking via web cast from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London during an event on the sideline of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council session on March 23, 2015 in Geneva. Assange took refuge in June 2012 in the Ecuadorian Embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faces allegations of rape and sexual molestation, which he strongly denies. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
Photograph by Fabrice Coffrini — AFP/Getty Images

Given the anti-surveillance manifestos of its founder, one might be under the impression that WikiLeaks knows nothing about the people who read its trove of purloined government documents, internal corporate memos, and other appropriated goods. After all, the organization does not, as so many other websites do, collect information about its users and sell it to advertisers and other third parties for a profit. In fact, anonymity is a selling point: How else could it so successfully source tips and leaks?

Nevertheless, WikiLeaks’ operators are not completely blind to their audience. In a recent interview with Der Spiegel, the German news magazine, Assange briefly details the data he has access to. “Do you know something about your readers?” Der Spiegel asks.

“Not much,” Assange replies, “we don’t spy on them.”

But after that reassurance, Assange admits to knowing some information. For instance: “most of our readers come from India,” he says, “closely followed by the United States.”

And that’s not all. Assange reveals further that he’s privy to the site’s most popular searches. They involve names.

We also have quite a number of readers who search for persons. The sister is getting married and someone wants to check the groom. Or someone is negotiating a business deal and wants to know something about his potential partner or a bureaucrat he has to talk to.

No spying, huh?

Of course, knowing about your readers can be useful. It can help publishers and developers to better serve their audience, and to build a better distribution platform. And that is a very different proposition from knowing about your leakers. The latter is primarily where WikiLeaks distinguishes itself, having brought its anonymous submission system back online this year after a half-decade hiatus.

Still, some readers may find it surprising that the privacy firebrands at WikiLeaks track, however minimally, the locations and search requests of its users. Though the site’s ultra-terse privacy policy does state that “We do not store your IP or any other identifying details,” that does not mean they’ve left themselves entirely in the dark.

(Fortune contacted WikiLeaks for comment and clarification about its policies. We will update this story with any relevant information once we hear back.)

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