New Delhi: From the period between January to June 2019, popular social media platform Twitter has provided information sought by Indian “requesters” in only 5% of such requests made.
The corresponding figure for other countries, including the United States of America, the United Kingdom and Japan in the same time period, is more than 50%. This has raised questions as to whether Twitter was adopting a biased approach when responding to information sought by different countries as compared to India. As per the “transparency report”, a biannual report that is released by Twitter, India is among the countries whose requests were the least accepted by Twitter.
From January to June 2019, which is the latest figure that has been shared publicly by Twitter, out of the 474 “information requests” related to 1,268 Twitter accounts that were made by India, Twitter provided “some” information in 5% of the requests.
As per the data shared by Twitter, requests seeking information of an account or accounts can be made by law enforcement agencies, a government agency, a lawyer representing a criminal defendant or a civil litigant.
Twitter defines “information requests” as: “Requests including, from worldwide government requests, that Twitter has received for account information, typically in connection with criminal investigations.”
Conversely, Twitter acted on 70% of the 2120 requests made by the United States and 67% of the 658 requests that were put across it by the United Kingdom in the same time period.
Japan, which made 1,742 requests for information, saw 52 % of them being accepted by Twitter, while it was 56% in the case of France’s request for providing information on 549 requests. Germany, which made 458 requests, saw 18 % of its requests being accepted by Twitter. Since January 2015, the request accepted by Twitter to share account related information sought by Indian requesters has been falling sharply.
In the one-year period between January 2015 to December 2015, Twitter shared information in 61% of the cases, which came down to 54% in 2016, 36 % in 2017 and 29% in 2018.
It is pertinent to mention that Twitter revenue from India at the end of March 2019 was Rs 56.96 crore, up from Rs 43.42 crore which was the figure at the end of March 2018. It earned almost 77% of its revenue from “marketing and business planning and from advertisers”, while the rest 23% came from “in house research and development”.
The profit that it earned (before tax) at the end of March 2019 was Rs 7.39 crore, which was Rs 4.77 crore at the end of March 2018. “Removal requests” are defined by Twitter as: “Removal requests include worldwide legal demands from governments and other authorised reporters, as well as reports based on local law(s) from trusted reporters and non-governmental organisations, to remove or withhold content.”In that context, too, request coming from India are the least accepted by Twitter.
Out of 8 court orders and 496 “other legal demands” made between January and June 2019, only 6% were accepted.
Responding to The Sunday Guardian’s request for a comment on the issue, a spokesperson of Twitter said, “The requests that we receive from all governments around the world, including India, are detailed in the Twitter Transparency Report, and requests to withhold content are published on Lumen. We were amongst the first companies in our industry to publish a Transparency Report, such is our commitment to privacy and freedom of expression.”
“In our continuing effort to make our services available to people everywhere, if we receive aproperly scoped request from an authorized entity, we have a specially trained team that reviews each report against the Twitter Rules and our Terms of Service, and determines whether or not it is in violation. Our policy is always to err on the side of freedom of expression, as appropriate and within the parameters of the law.”
“We remain committed to working with governments around the world, including in India, to encourage healthy behaviour on the service,” the spokesperson added. Twitter further stated that as explained and detailed in their Information Requests page, they may not comply with requests for a variety of reasons. For example, “We may not comply with requests that fail to identify a Twitter and/or Periscope account or other content on those platforms. We may seek to narrow requests that are overly broad. Account holders may have challenged the requests after we’ve notified them. We may have sought additional context from the requester and did not receive a response.”
Last year in February, India’s parliamentary panel on information technology, headed by BJP MP and Union minister Anurag Thakur, had summoned Twitter officials over the issue of “safeguarding citizens’ rights” on social media platforms. In April, Indian intelligence agencies had raised serious concerns over the misuse of Twitter and the delay on the part of the social media platform to stop Pakistan-based anonymous handles from using the platform to spread communal disturbance in the country.