Twitter’s Security Debacle, and the Publishing of Stolen Documents

It’s now widely known that hackers got ahold of some extremely private communications held by Twitter’s co-founder, and then leaked them to several blogs including TechCrunch. For a legal analysis check out Sam Bayard’s post at the Harvard Berkman Center’s Citizen Media Law Project.

A number of folks have asked me what I think of the situation. Here’s part of what I said on a mail list yesterday:

As always, the circumstances matter; I’d never make a blanket condemnation of such acts. The New York Times’ reporting of secret — and illegal — spying by our government on Americans strikes me as exactly what we want, and need, from journalists.

This particular episode, however, makes me want to take a shower. I wouldn’t have published the material, but that’s just my personal stance. As the saying goes, what the public is interested in may not be in the public interest.

TechCrunch’s Mike Arrington is almost certainly within his rights to post at least some of this material — though no way would his lawyers let him post it all, if it contains everything he’s said it contains — even if what he’s doing is, IMO, supremely cynical. Especially puke-worthy is Arrington’s public agonizing about whether (and what) to post. It strikes me, whether he intends it or not, as linkbait designed to pull lots and lots and lots of traffic.

What boggles me almost more than anything about this, by the way, is the shabby security at Google and Twitter.

One of the most important outcomes of this event, if we learn the right lessons, will be to improve our security practices when it comes to personal and company information. The systems we now use for password recovery are absurdly open to social hacking, and that’s apparently what got the Twitter folks in trouble.

Come to think of it, I wonder how careful the TechCrunch team has been about its own passwords and other security…

5 thoughts on “Twitter’s Security Debacle, and the Publishing of Stolen Documents”

  1. Thoughtful article and I appreciate your point of view.  Reminds me of a test that our Washington DC lobbyist uses to check on what they say or write – how would you feel if this showed up on the front page of the Washington Post?  Follow me on Twitter on craigdnorris.

  2. TechCrunch has now joined the ranks of and Valleywag in my books. I can only hope someone returns to favor.

  3. Cody, I don’t think TechCrunch deserves that level of contempt. While I believe they’ve made a mistake in this case, I also have a lot of respect for what they’ve accomplished in other ways.

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