Tech Week Ahead: Owning Social Media Content

Audie Cornish talks to Steve Henn about the week in tech news. They cover a court case that raises questions about who owns social media online content.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. And it's time now for All Tech Considered.


CORNISH: If Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are walled gardens, a lot of us spend a lot of time tending to our own little online plots. We post photos, update our status, tweet and retweet. But who really owns the produce of our online labor? Who has the right to destroy it or even share it or subpoena it?

Steve Henn joins us now in D.C. to talk about a case in New York that raises these questions. Hi there, Steve.


CORNISH: So what happened?

HENN: Well, you remember the Occupy Wall Street protests last year and the march across the Brooklyn Bridge. One of the activists who was arrested, Malcolm Harris, was charged with disorderly conduct. And prosecutors tried to get his old tweets, saying that those tweets would help convict him. Twitter fought the subpoena. And that move by Twitter was applauded by civil rights activists, who said that it was an important step in companies defending the rights of users to control the information they put online.

CORNISH: How is this viewed in the industry, though, people looking at Twitter?

HENN: Well, it really depends on the company. I mean, Twitter has been more protective of consumer rights than other companies, like, for example, Facebook. But last week, the judge threatened Twitter with a contempt citation, fines and was going to force them to reveal, sort of their inner financial workings. And so Twitter caved.

They turned over to Mr. Harris' deleted tweets. Now, those will be subject of a hearing, but ultimately, civil rights activists view this as a real blow for the ability of consumers to control whether and how their information is shared online. And, really, they were hoping that Twitter would appeal this case and create new legal precedents that gave all of us more control over how, what we post online can be collected by the government or used.

CORNISH: And for now, what does this mean for us?


HENN: For now, this means that if you put something online, you really shouldn't have a lot of faith that you'll ever be able to take it back.

CORNISH: NPR's Steve Henn. Steve, thank you.

HENN: Sure thing.

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