Twitter Reports Spike In Government Data Requests, Including Double The Amount Targeting Journalists
from the usual-suspects-involved-but,-you-know,-more-often dept
Governments love targeting Twitter for user data requests, but apparently now more than ever. The latest Twitter transparency report says new records are being set in the data request sector.
The social network saw “record highs” in the number of account data requests during the July-December 2021 reporting period, with 47,572 legal demands on 198,931 accounts.
The worse news is targeting of journalists is also on the rise.
The media in particular faced much more pressure. Government demands for data from verified news outlets and journalists surged 103 percent compared to the last report, with 349 accounts under scrutiny.
Demands from Russia will likely fall off precipitously now that Twitter is blocked in the country (along with Facebook), a move made shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine. Turkey has always had a thing for persecuting journalists, so business there should remain steady. India has its own problems with bringing Twitter in line with its aggressive censorship efforts. That number could fluctuate dramatically in the coming months, depending on the outcome of Twitter’s legal challenge of the country’s ridiculous content moderation demands.
The usual suspects are also involved in demands for content blocking, led by a somewhat surprising (but perennial) contender.
97% of the total global volume of legal demands originated from only five countries (in decreasing order): Japan, Russia, South Korea, Turkey, and India. These five countries have remained Twitter’s top requesting countries for legal demands over the past three years.
Apparently, Japan is fighting crime via Twitter, something it has done often enough to secure the top spot for three years running.
Japan continues to submit the highest volume of requests, and was responsible for half of all global legal demands received in this period. 96% of requests from Japan referred to laws regarding the prohibition of financial crimes, narcotics, and prostitution.
Either Japan has plenty of Twitter-using criminals or this is a cheap, but ultimately wasteful, effort that has done little to deter Japanese users from engaging in these crimes and posting about them on Twitter.
The good news is Twitter is pushing back where it can.
It denied 31 percent of US data requests, and either narrowed or shut down 60 percent of global demands. Twitter also opposed 29 civil attempts to identify anonymous US users, citing First Amendment reasons.
It’s also still fighting to be allowed to report US national security related requests in more detail, a legal battle it has been engaged in since 2014. In addition to challenged National Security Letter gag orders, Twitter is hoping to provide more information than the mostly meaningless “bands” that only allow the public to guesstimate how often the government targets Twitter with these orders.
As for user data demands, the US still leads the way — something that’s likely due to the relative convenience of Twitter being US-based and, therefore, easier to approach.
The United States submitted the most government information requests during this reporting period, accounting for 20% of the global volume, and 39% of the global accounts specified. The second highest volume of requests originated from India, comprising 19% of global information requests and 27% of the global accounts specified.
Japan (17%) and France (17%) and Germany (6%) round out the top five countries by volume. Combined, these five countries accounted for 79% of all global information requests during this reporting period. This is the second report in a row in which these countries represent the top five global requesters (in varying order).
The spike in demands doesn’t track with Twitter user base growth. Twitter only added about 33 million users worldwide last year, an increase of less than 10%. Governments are the real growth industry here. And that means Twitter will continue to spend more on compliance without the apparent ability to offset the costs with user growth or sustained profitability. Somehow an extremely online car salesman temporarily convinced himself he wanted to make these problems his own, which kind of demonstrates the difference between being smart and being wise.