Twitter data update

Our launch of the Twitter data was a great success, and we thank Marshal Kirkpatrick at ReadWriteWeb (also) and Jordan Golson at GigaOm for their coverage. The community reaction has been overwhelming and energizing. We accomplished our two main goals: crack open some issues close to our hearts and kick-start the conversation about sharing data online.

Twitter has advanced some reasonable concerns, however, and have asked us to take the datasets down. We have temporarily disabled downloads while we discuss licensing terms. The outcome of discussions will, we hope, encourage more internet services to open up and share data in bulk. The two biggest issues this data release highlighted are third party redistribution and user privacy.

Redistribution rights. Twitter maintains a legendarily open API:

“Except as permitted through the Services (or these Terms), you have to use the Twitter API if you want to reproduce, modify, create derivative works, distribute, sell, transfer, publicly display, publicly perform, transmit, or otherwise use the Content or Services.
“We encourage and permit broad re-use of Content. The Twitter API exists to enable this.” [highlighting added by us]

However, Twitter wants to more closely control who has access to data at massive scale and to prevent its malicious use. We understand this concern — innovation is always a double-edged sword. The applications and services that can use this data to make the world a better place far outnumber those with bad intentions, however, and good people need better access to this type of data. The best solution is to apply a reasonable license to the data. We are addressing this in our talks with Twitter, and we expect to have a resolution soon.

User privacy. What little criticism we heard from the community was the potential for a breach of user privacy. This is an issue with many types of internet data, and one we take seriously. We ensured that the datasets released posed no such dangers. The Token Count data contained no personally identifying information, only what the entire mass of twitter users were discussing over time. The API ID Mapping Dataset is simply a sort of phone book for the Twitter APIs: it converts screen names to numeric IDs and reveals absolutely nothing about the corresponding user. Infochimps.org’s policy is to not host any personally identifying information of non-consenting individuals — we apply this rule to any data that goes on the site from any source.

These are hard issues and it took a bold move to bring them into the open. It will take further sharing and discussion to establish best practices for these concerns so that Twitter and other internet services (Facebook, Amazon, etc.) can share their data to the benefit of the greater online community. Stay tuned while we agree upon appropriate licensing for open sharing of this social data.

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