Twitter reminds everyone it won’t cooperate with government or police surveillance


Twitter doesn’t want third parties spying on its users.

In a blog post, Twitter reiterated its policy that forbids third party organizations from using the company’s public data or data products, like Gnip, for surveillance purposes.

As a company, our commitment to social justice is core to our mission and well established. And our policies in this area are long-standing. Using Twitter’s Public APIs or data products to track or profile protesters and activists is absolutely unacceptable and prohibited.

While this policy is not new, Twitter data (resold through third party brokers) can still end up in the hands of companies that profile activists and protesters for law enforcement across the world.

Twitter says this stance on surveillance does not impact its own guidelines for dealing with law enforcement. In some cases, Twitter is legally required to hand over user information to enforcement agencies. That isn’t changing.

Although courts request user data from Twitter regularly, as published in the company’s transparency reports, law enforcement use social media scanning tools to read, collect and profile public account data for surveillance and monitoring. A court order is generally not required to collect public social media data.

Broader questions as to whether data-intensive companies, like Twitter and Google, will take decisive action to reject government surveillance operations have surfaced since Donald Trump’s presidential win hit Silicon Valley by surprise.

Trump’s platform promises to be heavy on surveillance, including a potential plan to create a database specifically for Muslim-Americans. (Unlike many of Trumps campaign promises, this one actually appears to be on the table.)

Twitter, for its part, has shut off access to at least two different companies —Geofeedia and Snaptrends — that were providing surveillance services to U.S. law enforcement efforts this year.

Those relationships were severed after the ACLU and other social justice organizations complained that the companies were using Twitter’s “firehose” — the inside term for the 500 million tweets that blast over the social media platform each day — to help police surveil activists. Geofeedia laid off half its staff after Twitter shuttered access to its data.

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Today’s comments signal Twitter is cracking down even further on its anti-surveillance rule.

“Over the coming months, you’ll see us take on expanded enforcement and compliance efforts, including adding more resources for swiftly investigating and acting on complaints about the misuse of Twitter’s Public APIs and Gnip data products,” the company wrote in its blogpost.

Twitter’s policy requires those who purchase its data to submit info outlining how it will be used. This is how the company tries to ensure outside parties don’t use the information for surveillance, a spokesperson clarified.

Earlier this month, the FBI hired Dataminr, a social media analytics company, to help the agency search the “complete Twitter firehose, in near-real time.” Twitter owns a five percent stake in Dataminr, yet earlier this year pulled access to the service because it was being used by the CIA.

“A narrowly tailored news alert product is available to some first responders, like the FBI. Our position on surveillance use cases is clear and those use cases are strictly prohibited,” Twitter said in a statement to Fortune about the FBI’s use of Dataminr.

Twitter and its developer community rarely seem to see eye-to-eye on how to use the company’s data trove. In fact, Twitter has had such a rocky relationship with developers that CEO Jack Dorsey apologized publicly for it in October of last year.

“Somewhere along the line our relationship with developers got a little bit complicated, a little bit confusing, a little bit unpredictable,” he said at the company’s developer conference, Flight. This year, that conference was scrapped.

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