Looking at the list of nine US tech firms that are alleged to be participating in the NSA’s vast surveillance gathering program PRISM, there’s one notable omission – Twitter is not on the list.
Actually, we probably shouldn’t be surprised that Twitter isn’t bending over backwards to feed your personal data to the feds – after all, its track record for respecting its user’s privacy rights is far superior to most other technology firms. While companies like Google routinely comply with government subpoenas asking for information, Twitter has developed a reputation for putting up a fight. Which is why the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) recently saw fit to award it a six out of six rating for its efforts to protect users from the government (see below).
Neither the Washington Post nor The Guardian – the two publications that broke the news of the NSA’s surveillance – made any reference to Twitter, and so we can only speculate as to the reasons why its not on the list. Twitter hasn’t made any official statement about the revelations so far, although shortly after the news broke, Twitter’s top lawyer Alexander Macgillivray was quick to retweet the EFF’s praise for the company’s data-privacy record.
One possible reason for Twitter not sidling up to the NSA might be the fact that the government’s spy chiefs simply aren’t interested. After all, Twitter doesn’t have anything like the data that Facebook, Microsoft or Google have on their customers. And we know that Twitter isn’t completely squeaky-clean – in the second half of last year, it complied with 57% of the 1,009 government requests for data that it received. However, this is better than Google’s record at least – in contrast, the search giant rolled over and gave up its data for 66% of the more than 21,000 requests it received.
But whatever the reason for Twitter’s absence, its omission will surely enhance its reputation among US internet users, who, going by early reactions, seem to be outraged that other tech firms are apparently all too willing to participate in the NSA’s spying. The thing is, people are quickly catching on to the vast scope of government data collection, and many of them don’t like it one bit. Hence, any company with a decent track record in this area can use this as a big selling point. Microsoft recently tried to do the same when it lambasted Google’s Gmail for reading user’s emails, boasting that its own email service Outlook.com did no such thing. But now that we know Microsoft was the first company to sign up for PRISM, one has to wonder how truthful these claims are.
Whether or not Twitter can maintain its excellent track record in the privacy stakes remains to be seen. The company is said to be plotting an IPO sometime later this year or next – if so, the money it receives will see it become a lot more powerful, approaching the same status as those tech giants that are assisting the NSA. The worry is that as Twitter becomes bigger and gathers more and more data, it could come under greater pressure to bend over when the authorities come calling for its data.