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Twitter, Google ramp up data privacy disclosure

Twitter, for its part, has released the latest iteration of its Twitter Transparency Report, while Google laid out three initiatives for data protection and privacy.

It is the second version of Twitter’s report, detailing the volume of government requests that the social network receives for user information, government requests to withhold content and Digital Millennium Copyright Act-related complaints from copyright holders; the first edition was published last July. “Since then we’ve been thinking about ways in which we can more effectively share this information, with an aim to make it more meaningful and accessible to the community at large,” wrote Twitter’s legal policy manager, Jeremy Kessel, in a blog. “In celebration of #DataPrivacyDay, today, we’re rolling out a new home for our transparency report: transparency.twitter.com.”

The report shows that despite being a global network, most requests for Twitter information comes from the US. Out of the 815 requests emanating from the States, the network complied in 69% of the cases.

In all, 1,858 information requests have been received by Twitter since Jan. 1, 2012, along with 48 removal requests and 6,646 copyright notices.

“We believe the open exchange of information can have a positive global impact,” said Kessel. "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.”

The Twitter Transparency Report follows the lead of Google, which has been publishing its own report on government requests for Google users’ data for three and a half years – its latest version was published last week. In the second half of 2012, Google reported a marked rise in requests. Google indicated that user data requests of all kinds have increased by more than 70% since 2009. And from July through December 2012, Google received 21,389 requests for information from government entities in the US alone, regarding 33,634 users.

In honor of Data Privacy Day, Google’s David Drummond, senior vice president and chief legal officer, laid out the search company’s three main initiatives and policies for protecting user data.

“It’s important for law enforcement agencies to pursue illegal activity and keep the public safe,” he said in a blog. “We’re a law-abiding company, and we don’t want our services to be used in harmful ways. But it’s just as important that laws protect you against overly broad requests for your personal information.”

First, Google is advocating that laws like the U.S. Electronic Communications Privacy Act are updated, so the same protections that apply to personal documents that people keep in their homes also applies to email and online documents.

Second, Google pledged to “continue our long-standing strict process for handling these kinds of requests.” That means requests are scrutinized to make sure they satisfy the law and Google policies. “For us to consider complying, it generally must be made in writing, signed by an authorized official of the requesting agency and issued under an appropriate law,” Drummond noted.

Requests are also rejected if they’re too broad; and the company notifies users about legal demands when appropriate so that they can contact the entity requesting it or consult a lawyer.

Google also requires that government agencies conducting criminal investigations use a search warrant to compel it to provide a user’s search query information and private content stored in a Google Account – such as Gmail messages, documents, photos and YouTube videos.

The third initiative is disclosure through a consistently improved Transparency Report. For instance, “last week we released data showing that government requests continue to rise, along with additional details on the U.S. legal processes – such as subpoenas, court orders and warrants – that governments use to compel us to provide this information,” Drummond said.

He added, “We’re proud of our approach, and we believe it’s the right way to make sure governments can pursue legitimate investigations while we do our best to protect your privacy and security.”
 

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