I use social media, I write about it, question it, wonder at it and, more than occasionally, gets very irritated by it and those that abuse it. Issues around privacy continue to be the greatest bugbear and it is quite interesting that the biggest potential abusers of that privacy are now arguing in favor of it.

Well, maybe that’s stretching things a bit, but Twitter is certainly challenging a US court’s demands for it to release Tweets of individuals under investigation or charged with crimes. As GigaOM reports, the case centers on the Twitter account of Malcolm Harris who was arrested while walking on the Brooklyn Bridge during a 2011 protest. Early this year, prosecutors issued subpoenas demanding that Twitter turn over information for two names associated with Harris: “@destructuremal” and “@getsworse.” Twitter responded by telling Harris about the subpoenas who then asked a court to quash them.

In an April ruling that raised eyebrows in legal circles, Judge Matthew Sciarrino Jr. found that Harris couldn’t sue because his tweets belonged to Twitter. The learned judge then rejected Twitter’s own efforts to quash the subpoena, ruling that Harris had no privacy rights to his tweets on the grounds that using Twitter is like “shouting on the street where everyone can hear.”

Twitter took umbrage to these statements and has now filed arguments for its appeal highlighting that is has been a key tool in the fight for freedom in repressed countries and that users actually do have privacy rights using their Twitter accounts. Of course, they have to argue this publicly, otherwise face the backlash of a community becoming increasingly concerned about its own privacy.

The arguments revolve around the key themes that users already have and been able to demonstrate privacy rights in their Twitter content; Twitter users should be given the same rights to challenge subpoenas such as Gmail users have; that Twitter users have privacy rights under the US Fourth Amendment (not sure where that leaves the rest of the world) and that the honorable Judge Sciarrino, Jr. made a terrible mistake in declaring Harris’ Tweets, even those deleted, were public.

Now the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has chimed in supporting Twitter’s appeal claiming that, “Under the First and Fourth Amendments, we have the right to speak freely on the Internet, safe in the knowledge that the government can’t get information about our speech without a warrant and without satisfying First Amendment scrutiny.” Good luck with that one. Constitutional arguments tend to be become very drawn out and expensive affairs.

The same people now fighting in Twitter’s corner today may, some day, be on the opposing side if that very same private data of Tweeters is used for profiling and marketing purposes in future. A very fine difference, surely?

Now that Facebook has gone public and the pressure is mounting for it to show substantial revenues it, too, will come under the spotlight as to what it does with user data, private or otherwise. If you think you know how Facebook deals with privacy, and what your privacy settings actually restrict, then you’d better think again.

Digital Trends has dug deeply into Facebook’s ‘Data Use Policy’, all 8,500 words of it, and made some very surprising discoveries that users may not be aware of. First and foremost, Facebook can record and access all information you share on Facebook — all of it, and it can also access information other Facebook users share about you on Facebook. Even scarier is that you don’t even have to have a Facebook account for the social network to scoop up certain bits of data about you that others put there. Your life is now an open book, albeit with some of the pages stuck together.

There is no reason to go into detail here but it would make highly recommend reading for everyone to get a clear understanding of what can be legally done with your data (if not what is actually being done with it), at least what is being disclosed. Definitely not pre-bedtime reading!

First published at TM Forum as The Insider, 28 August 2012