November 20, 2009
[Post by Venkat]
General thoughts on the policy: The policy is short, easy to understand, and in plain English. The thrust of the policy is that most users typically use Twitter to publicly disseminate information, and users should expect any of this information to be broadly disseminated. This includes dissemination by Twitter, third party applications, search engines, etc. To the extent you want to restrict use of this information, Twitter gives you the tools to do so in your profile settings.
1. Geolocation: The policy provides that you can turn geolocation on and off, and if you have it turned on, your location information is obviously broadcast and also used by Twitter. Geolocation is opt-in and this makes sense.
3. Metadata: Interestingly, the policy also treats tweet metadata as public information ("information you are asking us to make public"). This seems to create some grey area between information which you broadcast and is truly public, and information which is available to Twitter (but not to your followers) from your use of Twitter. Robert Scoble has a post with comments from Twitter's COO signaling Twitter's turn to advertising and possible use of metadata in this context. I didn't pick up on this at first, but I think this is significant.
4. Subpoenas: The part of the policy that talks about disclosing information in response to a subpoena provides plenty of wiggle room to either require law enforcement (or a civil litigant) to obtain a subpoena or for Twitter to respond to a "legal request" (presumably, this could be a letter from law enforcement). It's probably unreasonable to expect these types of companies to always take a stand and require a subpoena or fight for the privacy rights of users when a third party tries to unmask a commenter or user, but it would be nice from the user perspective to have some clarity. I'm guessing in practice Twitter provides notice when a third party seeks information from or about a user's account, but this doesn't seem to be required under the policy. (The social media dynamic is probably a strong check here.)
The Trademark Guidelines: It's worth mentioning that Twitter also refreshed its trademark guidelines. They are pretty standard fare, but contain some rules that people pretty clearly are not following right now, for example: (1) use only the current Twitter logo to link to and promote your Twitter account ("40 cute free Twitter badges"); (2) don't use Twitter's logo on the cover of your book ("The Twitter Book"); (3) don't use screenshots of third party profiles or tweets without the third party's permission; (4) don't use Twitter marks on apparel or merchandise without Twitter's permission ("Sock Guy Socks"). The trademark guidelines also address some of the sore spots in the area of third party use of Twitter's trademarks (or terms which Twitter is trying to obtain trademark protection for): (1) "don't use Twitter in the name of your website or application;" (2) "don't register a domain name containing 'twitter';" and (3) "don't apply for a trademark with a name including Twitter or Tweet (or similar variations thereof)." Both Twitter and third party developers are trying to obtain trademark protection for the term "tweet," (see for example "CoTweet") and it's unclear as to how the battle between Twitter and these third party developers will play out. It's difficult to tell at this juncture whether Twitter's new trademark guidelines signal a true change in policy or whether it's business as usual. (See posts by Tom O'Toole here and Mike Masnick here for some discussion of Twitter's "laissez faire" attitude with respect to third party use of Twitter trademarks.)
[Edited: to add the point about disclosure in response to subpoenas or law enforcement requests. I should probably also note that I've been using Twitter for the past 15 months or so. I was going to say that I'm a "casual user," but at 5000+ updates, that's a tough claim to make!]