Twitter takes a Stand Against Mass Surveillance

By Nicholas Pell

It’s good to know that someone in social media is in your corner. In this case, it’s Twitter. The big blue bird recently barred Dataminr from using Twitter for mass surveillance for the United States government. That’s a big deal because it’s one of the largest social media platforms in the world drawing a line in the sand when it comes to government snooping. So why did Twitter take this step? 

What Is Dataminr?

Dataminr sounds scary, and it might be. But it’s nothing more and nothing less than Twitter’s analytics partner company. It’s not that Dataminr won’t be doing data-mining with Twitter’s information. It’s just that they won’t be sharing it with the CIA and other federal agencies. They can find some other way to get the same information, but they probably won’t and even if they do, it’s going to involve a lot more headaches. In short, Twitter put a giant hurdle between the CIA and its user data. 

Why Did Twitter Do This?

Hold onto your hats, libertarians and privacy advocates: It didn’t really have much to do with Twitter’s respect for your private information. At the end of the day, it was a branding decision for Twitter. The micro-blogging site didn’t want to be seen as the type of company who would be sharing a direct line on their data firehouse with the world’s biggest snooping organization. There’s not a lot of consistency here. For example, RT, which is basically a Russian state propaganda news service, still has access to Dataminr. 

What Does Twitter Say?

Twitter says that it has never authorized the use of its data for any third-party government or intelligence service. Some semi-governmental agencies, such as the World Health Organization, have used Dataminr’s pipeline into Twitter’s data, but for non-surveillance purposes. The problem that Twitter seems to have is less about the government having access to this data and more about surveillance agencies having access to it. 

Dataminr hasn’t commented on the brouhaha at all. Though it’s worth noting that the relationship between Twitter and Dataminr is more symbiotic than anything. The latter owns 5 percent of the former. 

Look for increased conflicts between the intelligence community and Silicon Valley. The spat between Twitter and the CIA and Apple and the FBI are very much the shape of things to come. But make no mistake about it: When your favorite social media company says they’re not going to share information with government snoops, it’s largely a symbolic act. If a state actor wants to get data, they’re going to get it, no matter how many hoops they have to jump through. More than anything, the CIA is angry that Twitter refused to bend the knee.


Nicholas Pell  is a freelance writer based in Hollywood, CA. He writes about music, personal finance and technology for publications such as LA Weekly, Salon and Business Insider. He’s been online since the days of Usenet groups and bulletin board systems.


Read more about: Security , Social media , technology , feature
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