Twitter Report Reveals Fed’s Growing Demand For User-Data
July 3, 2012

Twitter Report Reveals Fed’s Growing Demand For User-Data

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

Social microblogging site Twitter has released its first ever Transparency Report revealing it had received more government requests in the first half of 2012 than it had in all of 2011.

In all, the site said in its blog it had received 849 government requests for user information since the beginning of the year; 679 of those requests have come from the US government, while only 11 each stem from the United Kingdom and Canada. Japan´s government made 98 requests and all other countries outlined in the report made only a handful (less than 10 each).

The micro-blog said it has complied with about three-quarters of the user-data disclosure requests by producing “some or all information” requested by the US government. That number is somewhat less -- 63 percent on average -- for global government demands. However, in some countries very few demands for user-data were relinquished.

Twitter said it had notified users, when allowed to do so, that it was submitting user-data to federal authorities.

The micro-blog also revealed in the report content removal requests made by governments. It said it had received a total of three court orders to remove content; two court orders came from Greece and one from Turkey. It also received 1 request each from government, police, or other law enforcement agencies in France, Pakistan and the UK.

The content removal requests were for a total of 18 accounts, and despite the requests, Twitter did not remove any content, according to the report.

The largest grouping of requests came from sources outside the government requesting Twitter to remove copyright-infringing or defamatory material. In total, the company received 3,378 requests to remove material, but only complied with 38 percent.

With compliance, the takedowns affected nearly 6,000 user accounts. It removed 5,275 tweets and 599 pieces of media.

In most cases, the offending tweets were automated links to insalubrious websites that claimed users could download illegal software. Others included images stolen from their original owners and accounts created to impersonate and defame other users.

Jeremy Kessel, manager of legal policy at Twitter, wrote on the company´s official blog: “We´ve received more government requests in the first half of 2012, as outlined in this initial dataset, than in the entirety of 2011. Moving forward, we´ll be publishing an updated version of this information twice a year.”

“One of our goals is to grow Twitter in a way that makes us proud. This ideal informs many of our policies and guides us in making difficult decisions. One example is our long-standing policy to proactively notify users of requests for their account information unless we´re prohibited by law. These policies help inform people, increase awareness and hold all involved parties——including ourselves——more accountable; the release of our first Transparency Report aims to further these ambitions,” wrote Kessel.

The micro-blog will also use a service called Herdict to monitor which states and regions block access to Twitter, adding that the service “collects and disseminates real-time, crowd-sourced information about Internet filtering, denial of service (DoS) attacks, and other blockages.”

Twitter´s report follows a similar move by Google, which nearly two years ago made an impact when it published a trove of data surrounding government demands for user data, as well as information on the number of takedown notices connected to copyright infringement.

Releasing this report is 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.

Besides Google, Twitter has not been the only company to release transparency data; Dropbox, LinkedIn, SpiderOak, and SonicNet have all published similar reports. Looking ahead, it would seem likely that other top companies would follow suit, namely Facebook, Verizon, and Microsoft.