Twitter Resists Government Data Mining

May 16, 2016

Twitter LogoTwitter recently took steps to make it more difficult for governments to acquire social media content associated with Twitter users.  Privacy advocates and Twitter customers will likely applaud the measures.  Although Twitter’s actions are consistent with protection of personal privacy, they will almost certainly not be sufficient to deter government surveillance of social media.

Twitter reportedly has an agreement with Dataminr, a company that sells data regarding social media user behavior patterns and communications to a range of customers, including media organizations and government agencies.  Twitter is apparently one of the owners of Dataminr.

Recently, Twitter informed Dataminr that the arrangement between the two companies does not grant Dataminr authorization to sell or otherwise provide Twitter user data or content to government agencies for surveillance purposes.  Dataminr content and analysis is often used by Dataminr customers to identify behavioral trends and reaction to current events associated with social media users.

Matsuura Blakeley BannerTwitter’s actions are consistent with prudent privacy protection policies.  They are not likely, however, to prevent governments from using social media content for surveillance on individuals.  Although Twitter has made it somewhat more cumbersome for governments to acquire the social media data analytics they seek, they will now attempt to obtain that material through other means.

Although Twitter has decided not to permit sale of its social media data to governments for surveillance purposes, governments continue to have the ability to access the data.  Governments can conduct their own monitoring of social media content and use, and engage in analysis of the data they collect.  Under some circumstances, governments can also make use of compulsory data production mechanisms, court orders for example, to compel social media platform operators and social media data analysis organizations to provide user and usage data.

Twitter’s decision not to permit sale of its data to governments for surveillance purposes is an important privacy protection action.  However, the ability of Twitter and other social media organizations to protect the privacy of their users is extremely limited.  Social media users should recognize that the content and information they share through social media are not private or secure.

Sharing content and information through social media is essentially the equivalent of publishing that material.  Upon such publication, privacy is effectively lost.  Not even the operators of the social media platforms can guarantee the security or privacy of user content.  All social media users should always keep this fact in mind as they make decisions regarding the content and information they choose to share.