On Monday, commonly tight-lipped Twitter released their first-ever transparency report revealing how often and who of governments make requests of the social media microblogging platform. From the report, it looks like not only are requests somewhat common; but their incidence is increasing to the extent that January to June 2012 saw twice as many requests as all of 2011.
The transparency report contains a lot of interesting and juicy tidbits, including that the United States has made a total of 679 requests in 2012 (80% of all requests to Twitter for information.) The next closest is Japan at 98 requests (only 12%!) Apparently, the US has become extremely interested in penetrating the privacy of Twitter users—perhaps related to the social impact of social media on political protests such as the Occupy movement.
Also in the reports is the number of removal requests that Twitter receives.
“This data includes formal government requests we’ve received to remove or withhold content on Twitter. Governments generally make removal requests for content that may be illegal in their respective jurisdictions.”
Very few in 2012, resulting in a total of 3 requests—none from the United States—and none of them resulted in any content removed.
Finally, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act—the scourge of YouTube—rears its ugly head with a total number so far in 2012 DCMAs received by Twitter as 3,378 leading to a total of 5,275 tweets removed, and 599 media elements removed. Twitter can store images (in the form of user avatars and the like) so those will quickly become targets for DMCA requests; and there’s no mention in the request if the rest of them are for tweets that link to copyrighted media or what.
“Wednesday marks Independence Day here in the United States. Beyond the fireworks and barbecue, July 4th serves as an important reminder of the need to hold governments accountable, especially on behalf of those who may not have a chance to do so themselves,” Twitter said.
Twitter doesn’t always comply with requests from governments. They have a strict adherence to the laws; but they do bite back when the request is too broad, vague, or essentially blank.
“We do not comply with requests that fail to identify a Twitter user account. We may seek to narrow requests that are overly broad. In other cases, users may have challenged the requests after we’ve notified them,” Twitter said. This raises the specter of the Wikileaks case when Twitter went to court to allow individuals being subpoenaed over their accounts to know and challenge the requests for their information.
We need more technology and social media companies who fight for the rights of the users who use their systems. We’re giving them a lot of information when we sign up for profiles, send information to one another, or even make our feeds private (so only friends can see them.) In a way, there’s an expectation that our privacy will be protected by the social media company; and governments, such as the United States, who rely on a sense of due process and personal rights should allow us to respect that.
I am looking forward to Facebook’s transparency report.
That ought to be juicy.