Gone in 140 characters – Privacy issues raised as Twitter employee hands over personal details of @Skype registrant to Skype

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Of course, we know that Twitter names are something of a Wild-West environment right now. Anyone can grab a famous person’s name or brand and there is not much policing going on. After all, it would be almost impossible to police. But until now most thought that rogue accounts, once identified, would simply get shut down or perhaps just shut off and transferred to their rightful owner without too much fuss. But, in what appears to be a new move, Twitter is handing out the personal details of people who register brand names on the micro-blogging service to big companies, without alerting the original registrant or performing any kind of standard due diligence. The move raises huge issues for the site, where Twitter names are increasingly being treated like domain names – but unlike domains there is, thus far, no kind of recourse to any kind of domain resolution system.

Not long after Twitter launched, Stephanie Robesky of Atomico, the venture fund established by the former founders of Skype, registered @Skype while still at the company. But, she says in a blog post yesterday, she forgot about the move, only to be reminded of it after she realised a Twitter employee had handed out her name, email address and contact details to someone at Skype who then contacted her. In an open letter to Twitter yesterday, she blogged:

“This is a violation of my privacy and, quite honestly, probably a big violation of your privacy policies. It is unprofessional of your team to hand out users information regardless of circumstances and this is something that we never would have done at Skype – even if Obama himself couldn’t log in to an account that he says wasn’t even his! I hope that you and your team take privacy more seriously in the future.”

She told me on email: “I registered the Skype Twitter name because I worked at Skype at the time so thought it might have been of use to us at some point. I’m sure I told someone in marketing who ignored me and had no clue at the time what Twitter was. Left Skype last year and forgot that I even had registered the name until yesterday… Glad they don’t have my credit card details.”

A response from a Twitter employee to Robesky betrays a cavalier attitude to ‘Twitter name resolution’, accusing her of violating Twitter’s terms of service, despite clearly having revealed her personal information.

From: XXXXXXXX XXXXXXXX
Sent: 07 April 2009 16:31
To: Stephanie Robesky
Subject: Re: Skype name account

Hi Stephanie,

I was informed by a representative of Skype that you had set-up
the account on their behalf but you were no longer an employee
and they did not have access to the account. In such situations we
do release the account to them.

Just curious why you didn’t turn over the keys to your employer before
you left the company? In which case, you’re violating our Terms of
Service by squatting on the user name.

Cheers,
XXXXXXXX

The question for Twitter is whether it has the right to release user information in “special cases” and how it determines that a company gets precedence over a Twitter name, as opposed to an individual.

Earlier this year – in an attempt to get a dialogue going about government policy – I proved how childishly simple it was to register the Twitter name of UK Government Minister. That account was simply shut down. But whether Twitter handed over my details to the government I’ll probably never know.

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