Twitter joins transparency bandwagon

Twitter became the latest internet company to reveal attempts by governments to access user data and remove content, as the micro-blogging service followed in the footsteps of Google and released its first transparency report on Monday.

The report revealed that Twitter received government requests for user details from 1,181 accounts in the first half of 2012.  Twitter complied with just under two-thirds of all government requests for user data.

Both these figures were heavily distorted by the US – which accounted for both the most requests and had the highest approval rate. The US issued 679 requests for user information – almost 80 per cent of all requests – and had three-quarters of them approved.

The Japanese government was the second most prolific after the US, issuing 98 requests, of which only 20 per cent were approved. The UK, meanwhile, made 11 requests and had two approved.

Governments are increasing the number of requests for user data, according to Jeremy Kessel, who works in Twitter’s legal policy department.

“We’ve received more government requests in the first half of 2012, as outlined in this initial dataset, than in the entirety of 2011,” said Mr Kessel.

Japan was the only non-western country to have any of its applications approved. Twitter refused to comply with requests from countries such as Turkey, Indonesia and India

Twitter also revealed that it received 3,338 copyright takedown notices for the first half of 2012, affecting almost 6,000 accounts and resulting in the removal of 5,275 tweets.

Twitter’s move comes as online companies with access to extensive amounts of user data, such as Google, are attempting to bolster their reputations as defenders of privacy.

The report came on the same day that a New York court ordered the social media site to hand over almost three months of tweets from Occupy Wall Street protester Malcolm Harris.

“Wednesday marks Independence Day here in the United States,” said Mr Kessel in a blog on Monday. “Beyond the fireworks and barbecue, July 4th serves as 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.”

In June, Google released its own transparency survey, which revealed attempts by governments such as Spain and Poland to remove content critical of government authorities or public figures.

In the second half of 2011, Google was asked to remove more than 440 items such as blogs, videos and search results that contained or linked to information critical of government authorities and public figures.

Dorothy Chou, a senior policy analyst at Google, said: “The most alarming trend we see is the number of requests to remove political speech, which we are receiving in every single cycle and from countries we wouldn’t expect it to come from.”

In the second half of 2011 – the latest period for which figures are available – Google complied, fully or partially, with 93 per cent of user data requests from the US.