Confidentiality in the Age of Social Media

Posted on July 17, 2009 by Comments Off

Topic of the week in social media was TechCrunch’s decision to publish confidential internal documents from Twitter, sent to them by a hacker:

On Tuesday evening more than 300 confidential Twitter documents and screenshots landed in our inbox. We said we were going to post a handful of them only, and we’ve spent much of the last 36 hours talking directly to Twitter about the right way to go about doing that. We’ll have more to say on that process in a couple of days.

The documents include employment agreements, calendars of the founders, new employee interview schedules, phone logs and bills, alarm settings, a financial forecast, a pitch for a Twitter TV show, confidentiality agreements with companies such as AOL, Dell, Ericsson, and Nokia, a list of employee dietary restrictions, credit card numbers, Paypal and Gmail screen shots, and much more.

Some comments have been very critical of TechCrunch’s decision to publish the documents, in spite of them having apparently consulted with Twitter before publishing.  (I’m willing to bet NOT publishing was not an option on the table during those discussions.)

Here are two typical negative reactions from bloggers:

Daring Fireball wrote:

What you may ask, is the dilemma, since it is clear that any decent human being would simply refuse to have anything to do with something so lurid? Arrington’s dilemma is that he’s unsure how to clean the stains from his pants, incurred during his excitement at the opportunity to publish as much of this material as he can get away with.

He is a very sad excuse for a man.

Too Much Nick wrote:

I’ve never liked TechCrunch, but before now it was mostly personal preference or distaste. Now it’s major. IF YOU EVER, EVER, EVER READ OR LINK TO TECHCRUNCH, YOU ARE NOW SUPPORTING A SITE THAT UTTERLY DISRESPECTS ALL PRIVACY AND RULE OF LAW. THEY ARE SCUM.

If you want to vote for whether TechCrunch should have published the documents, here’s a quick Internet poll.

Interestingly, in a post this week on Marketing Magazine’s blog, M&C Saatchi Asia head Chris Jaques asked readers to tell him in confidence which agencies have secretly laid off staff recently, under the reasoning that agency management are lying when they say they have fired people for being “not good enough”:

I promise to keep your name and personal details completely confidential.

But I would like you to let me know approximately how many people have been made redundant from your agency in 2009?

Everyone needs to know the truth: the real facts, not the agency management’s PR-controlled bullshit.

Because agency management throughout the region are lying, and it’s the agency staff who are suffering. Management are telling the media that they have made no redundancies, so that they can preserve a false image of success and resilience.

Which means that they are happy for their staff to suffer for the sake of their own reputation. Which makes me screaming mad, for one critical and undeniable reason:

If agencies are denying that they have made any redundancies because of financial reasons – then those people who have been made redundant, must have been fired because they are not good enough. Which, in most cases, is simply not true. I’ve personally interviewed many, many talented people this year who have only lost their jobs because their bosses are losing money.

(I took offense at that “PR-controlled” bit, but hey he’s an advertising man.)

We always say that Transparency and Authenticity are the currency of the social media age, but where do you draw the line? Some would say TechCrunch’s decision to publish crossed the line, and since Chris Jaques’ mission is to uncover the truth, he did not break any ethical standards.

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