Dick Costolo: "Twitter's needs are rarely in conflict with users' rights"

By Carmel DeAmicis , written on December 6, 2013

From The News Desk

In the privacy scandals, Twitter has been heralded as a standout bastion of user security. Where companies like Facebook have been roundly criticized for confusing and ever changing privacy settings, Twitter has tread carefully around sharing data with advertisers. Unlike Google and Facebook, the company respects users' browser "Do Not Track" setting. Twitter was also noticeably absent from the leaked PRISM list of big tech companies cooperating with the NSA. But as the NSA scandal continues to unfold and Twitter faces pressure as a public company to grow its ad revenue, user privacy issues become difficult to navigate.

"Do you feel increasingly handcuffed and in a tough position over that?" Sarah Lacy asked Dick Costolo at the PandoMonthly.

"We've invested significant time and resources and money into trying to make sure our users can defend themselves and defend requests for their information," Costolo says. But he admitted, "It gets more and more challenging as you operate globally."

That's the biggest challenge facing Twitter when it comes to user privacy. Speech laws across the globe are wildly different and conflicting. "Sometimes the speech laws in country x are completely at loggerheads with the speech laws in country y. And meanwhile there's a Twitter conversation going on between people in country x and country y," Costolo explained, furrowing his eyebrows together.

Despite the inherent difficulties of navigating these issues, Twitter's team still internally refers to itself as the free speech wing. On the roadshow, an investor called Costolo on that, asking how he plans to balance that philosophy with the inherent pressures of being a public company. But Costolo isn't concerned. He said the needs or goals of the business are rarely in contention with users' rights. Instead, it's almost always two different sets of user rights in conflict with each other.

"This set of users saying you should get suspended if you say XYZ on Twitter, and this set of users saying you shouldn't get suspended just for saying XYZ on Twitter," Costolo says. That's where the company has to increasingly strike a balance with different media and speech laws across the world.

"I think we've done a great job of pushing back when we get requests we don't think are appropriate legal requests."