Why the difference between real WordPress vs for-profit “WordPress.com” matters

Image “Data Thief – Hacker – Cyber Criminal” by Flickr user Blue Coat Photos

Short answer? Real WordPress is free, open-source, created and distributed by a not for profit foundation, and distributed to individual tens of millions of personal web servers around the world.Meanwhile, the for-profit, deceptively named WordPress.com is a social-media-style company like Twitter or Facebook, with terms of service that let the owners freely collect and sell your information.


Do you need to worry if the for-profit “wordpress.com” company starts selling their user’s data to the highest bidders? Not if you use the open-source and real WordPress software that’s freely downloadable from the non-profit WordPress.org.

So… what’s the difference? It ought to be pretty simple.

The real, open-source software is called WordPress and it’s downloadable from a non-profit organization called “WordPress.org.” You download the software and run it on your own account with a hosting company like SiteGround.com, MDDHosting.com, Cloudways.com, or Kinsta.com. (Note: those are examples of hosting companies, I don’t have commercial/affiliate relationship with any of them.)

So what’s confusing? The man who developed a free, open-source content management system later set up a company that offered limited, heavily modified trial versions of his free software on his company’s cloud infrastructure. Since his company has access to and at least partial control over his customers’ websites it’s possible for him to sell their personal information or allow GTP-style AI programs to train on his customers’ content.

Even the folks at Lifehacker confuse the two

As it happens, WordPress [ed – the commercial .com company] and Tumblr are preparing to do just that. As first reported by 404 Media, the parent company for both sites sites, Automattic, has a entered into a deal to sell user data from Tumblr and WordPress to AI companies like Midjourney and OpenAI. The AI companies intend to use the data to train their systems.

Source: LifeHacker: Tumblr and WordPress Are Selling Your Data to AI Companies

This is true only of the for-profit version and I’m sorry (but not surprised) they weren’t more clear. Unlike the for-profit version, if you have a real, legitimate WordPress software runs that runs on your hosting company servers, your data is your data! Obviously if your site is public then anyone can take a look. That’s fine, of course — it’s the whole point of having a website! But if you’ve got private pages or if you limit access only to those you give access to? That’s your version of WordPress, not anyone else’s.

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David Innes, RealBasics.com

I've been building and maintaining websites since 1997 and building and supporting similar hypertext-driven software since 1987. I've done maintenance, support, and maintenance for physical and digital systems since 1981. And no, I still haven't seen it all but by now I usually know where to look. More about David Innes...