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This article was published on May 9, 2016

Twitter might be going too far in trying to protect our privacy from US government agencies

Twitter might be going too far in trying to protect our privacy from US government agencies

Given that roughly 500 million tweets are published each day, it can be difficult for any organization, including sophisticated government agencies, to analyze them for valuable insights.

But doing so would help them get a better idea about critical events, like terror attacks, and understand people’s sentiments about major issues at any given point of time.

Apparently, Twitter is having none of it. The Wall Street Journal reports that the company has blocked Dataminr, a company that delivers analytics and identifies patterns across every tweet ever published, from granting US intelligence agencies access to its service.

Citing a source familiar with the matter, WSJ reported that Dataminr executives recently told intelligence agencies that Twitter didn’t want the company to continue providing the service to them, according to a person familiar with the matter.

A senior intelligence official added who confirmed Twitter’s move said the company “appeared to be worried about the “optics” of seeming too close to American intelligence services.”

Twitter tightly controls its APIs and the data they expose; According to WSJ, Dataminr, which Twitter has a 5 percent stake in, is the only service that has access to the real-time network’s full stream of current and historical tweets – so there aren’t many alternatives available for the government to work with.

Dataminr said its service is used by private firms in sectors like finance, news, corporate security and crisis management. The company noted that it notified its clients about the Brussels attacks in March 10 minutes ahead of news media, and has also provided timely alerts on ISIS attacks on the Libya oil sector, as well as the Brazilian political crisis.

Twitter can be an incredibly powerful source of information about things that are happening and about to happen. If there are clues out in the wild and the government isn’t infringing our rights to privacy in analyzing tweets for clues to protect us, I don’t see why it shouldn’t be allowed to use an effective tool like Dataminr.

It’s becoming clear that Twitter data is becoming increasingly important in intelligence agencies’ investigations: Mashable noted that the company’s latest transparency report showed that the US government’s number of data requests from the platform increased by 65 percent in the final six months of 2015 compared to the same period in 2014.

The problem with Twitter’s decision to cut off intelligence agencies’ access to Dataminr is that it reduces their ability to seek out insights about potential dangers to our society through legitimate methods.

And while Twitter is looking to shut out government agencies, Dataminr’s service continues to be used by the Department of Homeland Security – making today’s move seem even more misguided.

We’ve contacted Twitter and Dataminr for further comment and will update this post if there’s a response.