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.

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.


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.

  • http://www.drewolanoff.com drew olanoff

    This is clearly one of those cases where this is something new. I seriously doubt Twitter had anything but the best intent in this situation, and they’ll be able to learn from it.

    The Twitter employee clearly handled the situation in a way via email that wasn’t perfect. Again, they’ll learn.

    I have no worries about privacy or anything like that when it comes to Twitter.

    • needle

      Dont search for needle in a haystack.. Finding fault is favorite of many ppl.

    • riffic

      twitter might have a critical mass of users, but they have a namespace problem. This is why a decentralized system such as laconica/open micro blogging is a better solution for the long term. why trust anyone else to control usernames?

  • http://mobilekick.com Yakov

    It is a disgrace to twitter, and all who succumb to corporate fear mongering.

    • http://alexwilhelm.com Alex Wilhelm

      When I got @alex, I had to negotiate with the owner. That is how this should have been handled. Just booting her is downright unprofessional.

      • http://www.darnellclayton.com Darnell Clayton

        Twitter gave me @Darnell after I requested it (as a spammer was using it–not very cool).

        Either way, Twitter could have just simply transferred the account over, unless they assumed that she worked at Skype (perhaps from previous data).

  • John

    Twitter continues to strike me as an incompetent company which is successful despite that. Their service stability is ridiculously bad given the amount of funding they have. They haven’t really innovated in the past year. And they make ad-hoc decisions without clear policies.

    • http://angrykeyboarder.com Scott Beamer

      You just described dozens of well-knwown companies.

  • http://www.chrisgrayson.com Chris - Art Director

    She just “forgot”, eh?

    Sounds like sour grapes from a bitter and disgruntled former employee.

    She registered her employer’s trademarked name while she was still an employee (would be interesting to know if she did that while using a company computer).

    Then left the company, but did not turn the account over to her employer when she left.

    She’s lucky Skype isn’t suing her.

    • Ryan

      I trademarked “Chris”, therefore you are in violation of the law. People contact me in regard to this issue or you will be hearing from my lawyers.

      • http://www.chrisgrayson.com Chris - Art Director

        Skype is an invented word, and is trademarked every which way. Chris is a common use name. You’re a moron (and probably 12).

      • Ben - Super Genius

        Oh come on, no need to resort to petty insults. You had a great valid point that you decided to take a dump on with the ad hominem.

        We’ll get a they-said-she-said-they-said back and forth for some time, where, very likely, a simple request to open the door for a positive resolution before accusations would have left this as a great story for all parties to laugh about in the end. Instead, it goes to the “gwah trademark terms of service squatter gwah” tit-for-tat which just frustrates everyone. If they don’t give it up willingly and get a funny blog post about it, then you take it, explain why, and move on.

    • ex-Skype

      Chris – Glad to see that you didn’t bother reading reading the article. Not only did she give the name immediately back to Skype but she is also employed by the founders in their VC.

      That is definitely something to be bitter and disgruntle about…

      And you are calling Ryan a mormon?

    • Chris - VC

      No offense dude, but you’re an idiot. She was one of the first founding employees, really nice and super smart, and made a pretty penny when Skype was sold. So… bitter? umm.. no. But I suppose you’re not the type of person who has a corporate IM account through Yahoo/Google/whathaveyou and didn’t “turn it over” to your former employer.

  • http://s lance lee

    she got what was coming to her….she was probably trying to milk it…afte all doesn’t skype have over 400 million accounts.

  • Tiktaalik

    My Twitter account name shares a strong similarity to a celebrity and already I’ve had one person send me a twitter message automatically assuming that I was that celebrity.

    At some future date will my Twitter account automatically be handed over to someone else because they’re more well known than me?

    • spanky

      Yes. Give up now. You are done for.

  • Ana

    “Squatting” or not, Twitter should have acted as the liaison between the user and Skype and not handed over personal information. In the end, Twitter’s name is attached and therefore I believe they have control of it, but giving out info? Should be smarter than that.

  • Justyn

    If she registered it while working at the company, there’s a good chance her employment contract gave them ownership. It’s no different than an employee registering a domain for a company. If the admin at techcrunch left, shouldn’t the company be able to access the account?

    People will make a big deal about this. It’s not. They could have simply shut the account off and gave it to Skype (the only reasonable alternative to what they did), which would have upset people as well. If I want to buy someone’s domain, I deal with the owner (or their agent), not the registrar.

    Twitter doesn’t need to be involved in arguments over user names.

  • http://jackyan.com Jack Yan

    I thought Twitter was American and don’t they have something in their Constitution about the presumption of innocence? Whomever wrote the email to Ms Robesky needed to have more of the facts before casting the first stone.

    • Alex Cabrera

      a.) There is nothing in the constitution about the presumption of innocence.

      b.) The constitution would have nothing to do with a private organization or individual sending and email. Just because government institutions have to play by certain rules does not mean individuals have to do the same.

      c.) Feedback such as yours are what make comment threads possibly the worst form of communication ever devised by man. Not only did your comment offer nothing of value and was incorrect in its very basic assumptions, but the mere fact that you are able to publish such drivel to a worldwide audience with such ease and impunity is a testament to the lowered respect for the written word that modern communication technologies have wrought.

      • Joey Duncan

        Actually, Alex,

        a) the presumption of innocence can be found in the Constitution, although not those precise words. Look to the provisions which talk about due process and the cases interpreting same. Think about it in the negative. Would removing the presumption of innocence violate the constitution? If the answer is yes (and it is), that means the right is in the Constitution.

        b) As far as individuals, it’s true I don’t have to give anyone the presumption of innocence, but I would argue that it is a part of our culture, at least among mature adults, that we do offer the presumption of innocence to each other. This is both from American ideals of liberty and biblical principles as well.

        c) I really don’t think a rebuttal to this is required.

  • https://spideroak.com Daniel Larsson

    Eh No Thanks! As a Twitter user, and Skype lover I would very much appreciate if you don’t just share data with each other!

  • JB Mahler

    Based on the e-mail above, Skype clearly knew the name of the former employee with the account a-priori. The question is why couldn’t they contact her without going through Twitter?

  • Hmm

    That’s one rude-ass email. Jeebus twitter!

  • Tom G

    Twitter, or at least the employee responsible for that email, seem to have the typical small company attitude towards privacy and customers. They need to grow up and realize that if they want to play with the big boys, they need to act like the big boys, and take privacy seriously.

    If that email came from an engineer, then they should be reprimanded immediately. If it came from any customer-facing employee, they should be fired immediately. If it came from the CEO, then the investment community should take it as a sign that this company is not ready for the big leagues yet.

    Twitter is getting serious amounts of love around the world’s media for being the next big thing. Any more signs of arrogance, and they’ll be shot down in flames

    • some dummy

      totally agree – got a snotty email like that from StumbleUpon customer rep a while ago. Stopped using them and bad mouth them every chance I get (which is a lot as I have a big mouth)

  • http://www.storyofmylife.com/antje antje wilsch

    we’re still waiting (over 5 weeks now) for claiming our Registered (R) tm name with twitter by someone who signed up using it and has since abandoned it. Keep getting messages from them that they’re backed up and NOT to respond if the matter has been resolved. We respond and probably get kicked to the bottom of the queue again. Still no resolution to this.

    • Ridiculous

      Do you mean “story of my life”? If so I have to laugh since it’s a commonly used phrase that far predates your usage.

      • antje wilsch

        tell it to the USPTO and lawyers *shrug*. Wouldn’t care if the guy who had it was actually using it, but he’s not. My point was only that Twitter is unresponsive, not to incite you.

  • http://www.deathbymarmite.blogspot.com/ privateStatic

    suddently I am very glad that I don’t have any personal information on twitter apart from my email address.

    It definitely is very unprofessional of Twitter to just give out information of one of their users.
    And to respond to an inquiry so rudely?
    Not cool

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Doug_Clinton/551806966 Doug Clinton

    There’s something odd here. The article says “a Twitter employee had handed out her name, email address and contact details to someone at Skype”.

    A user’s settings on Twitter do not contain anything that could really be described as “contact details” that doesn’t appear on the user’s page anyway. So the only thing they could have given away is the email address. However, if her name appeared on the site and she was a former employee then what are the chances that they did not already know how to contact her?

    I’m afraid this looks like another one of TechCrunch’s ill-informed and alarmist articles of which there have been many in the past couple of months. TechCrunch is rapidly becoming the Sun of the blogging world (or worse, the Daily Mail, both UK newspapers for those not familiar with them).


  • http://kachwanya.com kachwanya

    Seriously twitter should learn something out of this. Users privacy is very important and should not be taken lightly the way they have done in this case. And whoever wrote that email should be fired …..

  • http://makingamark.blogspot.com makingamark

    My first reaction on reading this was to think the issue was obviously one of an inadvertent infringement of a trademark by an ex-employee who apparently doesn’t understand her status as a company employee compared to that of a private individual.

    I’m pretty sure if you acted as an employee of a company your status is one of an ‘agent’ and not ‘private individual’ .

    I’m also pretty sure that issues of privacy arise do not arise if there has been verifiable claim of an infringement of a trademark. Don’t all the agreements signed for services like this say that you realise all your personal details that you supply will be handed over to legitimate claimants in relation to any legal notice that you’ve ‘broken the law’.

    However having read some of the other comments, I’m left wondering whether the issue really is how well Twitter deals with legitimate claims for trademark infringement?

  • http://twitter.com/LNXGUY LNXGUY

    SKYPE [tm] is a legally registered trademark. Using the trademark without the permission of the owner (SKYPE, not the employee) is a violation of federal law. SKYPE, the owner, has the right to take posession of the account, or delete it. There was no ill intent or unlawful act by Twitter. The former employee was not an agent for Skype and essentially gave away her email address.

    • Ana

      In the end, twitter.com/skype is still twitter’s.

    • Joey Duncan

      No. Using it without permission is not in itself “a violation of federal law”. In fact, I can call myself “Skype” without violating any trademark. I can open a business with the name Skype without violating federal law. What I can’t do without consequences, is start a Voip business using the name Skype, and not because “its a violation of federal law” (which sounds like a crime) its because it infringes upon someone elses intellectual property which may lead to a civil lawsuit by the owner.

      They had to pass a law to prevent cybersquatting of trademarks, but that law only applies to domain names, not Twitter IDs.

      Now, if that violates some part of twitter’s TOS, that’s different, but it does not make it a crime. Plus, I would like to know if the user in question was actually tweeting under the name or whether it was just out there not being used. If it was just out there, then Twitter really looks the jackass with that email they sent.

      Regardless, Twitter handled this situation badly.

  • foo

    “Anyone can grab a famous person’s name or brand and there is not much policing going on.”

    And this is not true for the rest of the net? jeez.

  • http://jearle.eu @jearle

    If she did indeed register it for Skype, she should have used her @skype.com email address, at which point, Skype could have recovered the account at any time. If she registered the account with her personal email address, then she didn’t exactly do it in a work capacity, at which point, it’s a little untoward.

    If she registered it at a Skype email and then changed it to her personal account, that’s a different story.

  • @carie

    Is it only me who find this saga rather amusing? Why get in red n’ hot over some widely open secrets – there’s no real privacy when you use social networking sites. I actually agree with the Twitter employee to a point: remember to turn over the keys to employers before you leave the company. ~

    • some dummy

      you’ve obviously never run a company before. If I found out a customer service rep responded flippantly like that to any customer, they would be fired.

  • http://voiceontheweb.biz/2009/04/how-to-recall-you-own-skype-%e2%80%93-take-heed-twitterers/ How To Recall You Own @Skype – Take Heed, Twitterers! | Voice on the Web

    […] the @Skype TwitterID even though she had moved on in her career and never used the account. In an email exchange with Techcrunch she responded: “I registered the Skype Twitter name because I worked at Skype at the time so thought it might […]

  • http://www.nerdgirl.com Stephanie

    Hi folks! To clarify the point here – my name was not public on the profile. My name was very obvious in the email address in the Twitter account – literally firstname.lastname, so it wasn’t hard for Twitter to say who owned the account. The email address did not work anymore, but the people at Skype were given my name by the folks at Twitter. The people at Skype contacted me via Skype because I am on good terms them. I was a bit alarmed that Twitter would give out any details on the account. And even Twitter admits that they did give out the details to Skype.

    The point that I raise is my name or email or any details should never have been given to anyone – not even myself if I couldn’t log in to the account and the email address didn’t work. Under any circumstance.

    The correct action (in my mind) should have been to delete the account in accordance with their rule of inactivity for 6 months and give it to Skype without revealing any details.

    Every company should take their users’ privacy seriously. At Skype we would never in a million years have given any information about customers to anyone and in this day and age all companies need to follow this as a rule. Plain and simple.

    • Pete Austin

      Agreed. Your action in registering @Skype is not unusual – insiders often spot a technological opportunity well ahead of marketing and it’s wise to register domains and similar as a precaution. The 95% of these accounts which never get used then expire, so there’s no special need to keep track of them. Twitter should have expired the inactive account, and certainly not passed on your details.

  • http://www.openrightsgroup.org/newsblog/2009/04/twitter-hands-over-personal-details-of-skype-registrant-to-skype/ Open Rights Group Newsblog : Blog Archive » Twitter hands over personal details of @Skype registrant to Skype

    […] Twitter hands over personal details of @Skype registrant to Skype Posted by Richard in Uncategorized at April 8th, 2009 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. via uk.techcrunch.com […]

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