Wow, that’s quite a reaction to our post earlier this evening saying that we will publish some of the confidential Twitter documents we’ve been forwarded. Nearly 200 comments in a little over an hour, mostly saying we shouldn’t publish. Hundreds of Tweets, and it has become a trending topic. There’s even a poll asking people if we should post the documents or not.
Let’s put aside the highly sensitive documents that we aren’t going to publish, but which will likely end up on the Internet anyway. We’re not going to post that information whether we have the legal right to or not. No discussion is needed.
But we are going to publish some of the other information that is relevant to Twitter’s business, particularly product notes and financial projections. Many users say this is “stolen” information and therefore shouldn’t be published. We disagree.
We publish confidential information almost every day on TechCrunch. This is stuff that is also “stolen,” usually leaked by an employee or someone else close to the company, and the company is very much opposed to its publication. In the past we’ve received comments that this is unethical. And it certainly was unethical, or at least illegal or tortious, for the person who gave us the information and violated confidentiality and/or nondisclosure agreements. But on our end, it’s simply news.
If you disagree with that, ok. But then you also have to disagree with the entire history of the news industry. “News is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising,” is something Lord Northcliffe, a newspaper magnate, supposedly said. I agree wholeheartedly.
That doesn’t mean we are entitled to do anything we like in order to get to that information. But if it lands in our inbox, we consider it fair game. And if we have reason to believe it will be widely published regardless of what we do, the decision isn’t a hard one. We throw out the information that is sensitive or could hurt an individual, and publish what we think is newsworthy.
In the end, this is no different than, as an example, this 2006 post where we posted confidential Yahoo documents showing their valuation of Facebook in a proposed acquisition.
Nor is it any different than the WSJ publishing this internal Yahoo memo, which was also “stolen” in 2006.
And I believe it is significantly less of an ethical issue than Gawker’s posting of Sarah Palin’s private emails.
It’s not our fault that Google has a ridiculously easy way to get access to accounts via their password recovery question. It’s not our fault that Twitter stored all of these documents and sensitive information in the cloud and had easy-to-guess passwords and recovery questions. We’ve been sitting in the office for eight hours now debating what the right thing to do is in this situation. We’ve spoken with our lawyers. We’ve spoken with Twitter. And we’ve heard what our readers have to say. All of that factors in to our decision on what to post or not to post.
We are always in the delicate position of balancing what’s right for the community with publishing insider news that helped build this site into what it is today. We don’t sit around and republish press releases, we break big stories.
I feel bad for Twitter and I wish this had never happened. But it did happen and the documents are out there and they are going to be published somewhere on the Internet. Hopefully the embarrassing and sensitive stuff about individual employees will never see the light of day. And hopefully this situation will encourage Google and Google users to consider more robust data security policies in the future.
Update: Here is Twitter’s response.