The site shows that Twitter got 1,858 requests for its users’ data in 2012. This data can include IP address, the GPS location of tweets, username, a user’s followers and following, the content of tweets, use of hashtags, and more.
Digging into the data shows the countries with the most requests. The US is at the top, with 13 times more requests than the second-highest country, Japan:
- The United States, 815 requests
- Japan, 62 requests
- Brazil, 34 requests
- The United Kingdom, 25 requests
- Canada, 15 requests
Privacy protection in the US is much weaker for digital communications, like posts on social networks or emails, than for physical objects and spaces, like homes or paper letters. In most cases, all law enforcement has to do is ask a social network for your data, and the site has no choice but to comply. Unless privacy laws are strengthened, Twitter and other websites will keep having to hand over your data whenever they’re asked…without so much as a warrant.
In a blog post, Twitter’s Legal Policy Manager Jeremy Kessel noted the importance of being open and clear about just how often they’re asked for member information:
We believe the open exchange of information can have a positive global impact. To that end, it is vital for us (and other Internet services) to be transparent about government requests for user information and government requests to withhold content from the Internet; these growing inquiries can have a serious chilling effect on free expression – and real privacy implications.
Of the big social networks, Twitter is the strongest protector of its users’ privacy. Twitter doesn’t have a real name policy (unlike its competitors Google+ and Facebook), which respects freedom of speech and people’s interest in self-expression. Even though they have to turn over their users’ data when the government requests it—that’s just the state of the law right now—Twitter goes above and beyond what’s legally required to notify the user whose data is being requested, and they’ve fought some high-profile legal battles about individual privacy rights. Their privacy settings are simple—1 or 2 check boxes versus around 45 separate Facebook settings. They make it very easy to delete an account or a tweet; they don’t try to hide these things from users. They also voluntarily implemented Do Not Track in a strong, meaningful way on their site, meaning that it stops data collection for advertising.
Google also releases a transparency report. Facebook does not, and many reports describe how Facebook actively assists law enforcement by voluntarily turning over its members’ data before they’re even asked for it.