Jan 212011
 
 January 21, 2011  Business, Surveillance

Robert McMillan reports on Daniel Ellsberg’s comments at the Churchill Club Wednesday.

“Facebook, Google, Twitter: Put them all together. If they’re all working together, their ability to manipulate us, to know [about us], this is absolutely antithetical to democracy,” he said. “People in this audience have the ability to decide that they are ready to take a risk in their lives to fight to preserve democracy in this country and to preserve us from total transparency to our executive branch.”

Clearly, I agree with Ellsberg that those companies who collect and retain huge amounts of personal information about us should band together to push back against government over-reach and that they can – and should – be diligent in protecting their users’ privacy.

Facebook won’t say whether it has had similar requests, but in an e-mail message Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes shed some light on Facebook’s approach. “We are required to regularly push back against over-broad requests for user records. … [I]n most cases we are able to convince the party issuing legal process to withdraw the overbroad request, but if they do not we fight the matter in court (and have a history of success in those cases).”

Facebook has been hit with a “growing volume of third party data requests,” he said. The company isn’t saying exactly how many requests it’s received, or how fast the number has been growing, but it’s thinking of publishing some data on this in the future.

Google declined to comment for this story.

Facebook’s statement to McMillan is interesting for what it doesn’t say as much as what it does. It doesn’t say that the company would do what Twitter did – fight to unseal any court orders that would prohibit them from notifying users. It would seem, from their statement, that as long as the request using legal process (which may not be a court order?) isn’t asking for what the company thinks is too much, it would likely comply and the user might never know.

Facebook’s statement in conjunction with Google’s ongoing “no comment” make Twitter’s recent actions stand out in even starker contrast.

Read more on Computerworld.

The issue is not about WikiLeaks.  The issue is about stewardship of our personal information and whether big companies such as Google are acting in our interests – or in their own  – when confronted with law enforcement requests for our information.

Google, Facebook, MySpace, and other companies should take a lesson from Twitter.  Protecting privacy pays off in brand reputation and customer loyalty. And to make that point, I urge readers to take a minute and go cast your vote on a Helios referendum to name Twitter Company of the Year for Data Protection Day 2011.  Voting at http://bit.ly/e6LAFY is secret, it’s quick, and it’s easy.    If enough of us show that we do give credit where it’s due, other companies may be inspired to earn user admiration for defending privacy, too.

  2 Responses to “Ellsberg: With Wikileaks, Google, Facebook must take a stand”

  1. Which are the companies other than Twitter that have done something similar in the past? Why are they never mentioned alongside Twitter?
    ( E.g.: https://www.eff.org/files/filenode/inreusaorder18/yahooresponse.pdf linked in http://paranoia.dubfire.net/2011/01/thoughts-on-doj-wikileakstwitter-court.html )

    • Fair question.

      I think that the reason I’ve focused on Twitter now is because many of us believe (but cannot be sure or prove) that other companies have received the same order but haven’t taken the stance that Twitter did. If they have also received 2703(d) orders, then Twitter has raised the bar/set the new standard for how some of us want companies to respond.

      So I would be absolutely delighted to rave about other companies if they are in the same position as Twitter and respond the same way. Otherwise, while I certainly value past efforts of Google and Yahoo! to challenge the government when it requests records without a search warrant, I’m left wondering where they are right now and wondering whether they have caved this time around — and if so, why, and what it means for users’ privacy going forward.

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