Twitter Joins Google, Herdict in the Fight for Internet Transparency

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By Devon Glenn

Inspired by Google, Twitter has partnered with Web accessibility startup Herdict to fight censorship and ensure privacy on the Internet. On Monday, the company released a Transparency Report that lists every copyright complaint or government request for information and whether content had to be removed as a result.

Wrote Twitter legal policy manager Jeremy Kessler in a blog post:

One of our goals is to grow Twitter in a way that makes us proud. This ideal informs many of our policies and guides us in making difficult decisions. One example is our long-standing policy to proactively notify users of requests for their account information unless we’re prohibited by law; another example is transmitting DMCA takedown notices and requests to withhold content to Chilling Effects. These policies help inform people, increase awareness and hold all involved parties––including ourselves––more accountable; the release of our first Transparency Report aims to further these ambitions.

Like Google’s Transparency Reports, Twitter’s will include all government requests user information, government requests to withhold content, and DMCA takedown notices from copyright holders that the company receives. This information will be updated twice a year.

Not every request to remove content is rooted in evil. As our sibling blog AllTwitter pointed out, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey’s own company, Square, is listed as a complainer. Apparently, someone had been using the company’s logo and a derivative of its name to create an unauthorized account.

But the transparency reports could help identify larger patterns of abuse. In this report dating back to January 1, 2012, Twitter lists every country in which the government has asked for user information, usually in connection with a criminal investigation, and whether they were able to obtain it. Most countries have made less than ten requests, making the U.S., the U.K., and Japan look much more prolific by comparison.

Toward this end, Twitter has also partnered with Herdict, a project of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University that “collects and disseminates real-time, crowdsourced information about Internet filtering, denial of service attacks, and other blockages.” Wrote Malavika Jagannathan on Herdict’s blog, the partnership “will hopefully encourage more users to track the accessibility of Twitter and the sites that are important to our other partner organizations.”

It will take some digging to determine the reasons behind the blockages and requests for information — neither of these tools provide that much detail — but as Twitter puts it, “these two new initiatives…are an important part of keeping the Tweets flowing.”

Image by Julien Tromeur via Shutterstock.