Twitter is banning US spy agencies from using a service that can detect terrorist attacks early

Jack dorsey twitter square ceoJustin Sullivan/Getty ImagesJack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter.

Twitter has reportedly banned US intelligence agencies from using Dataminr, a service it part-owns that provides real-time alerts for breaking news like natural disasters, terror attacks, and actionable business events.

The Wall Street Journal reported the news on Sunday, citing US intelligence officials who say that Twitter was concerned about the “optics” of the relationship.

Twitter and Dataminr did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment, although the social network told the Journal that its “data is largely public and the U.S. government may review public accounts on its own, like any user could.”

Dataminr, which Twitter owns a 5% stake in, works by trawling Twitter’s “firehouse” of all public tweets, using sophisticated software to automatically monitor it for developing news and events that the user might be interested in. It can flag up potentially significant news events before they make their way to the media — a tweet from a company employee laid off in a restructuring, for example, or a photo of the damage immediately after a terror attack taken by a survivor.

It is used by workers in the financial industry looking to get the edge on actionable events, where being first to someone can be the difference between profit and loss. It is also popular with journalists for getting alerts on breaking news and finding sources on the ground (Business Insider previously had a free trial of the service).

US spy agencies have also made use of the service for monitoring terror attacks (like those in Brussels) — but according to the Journal, Twitter has now made Dataminr pull the plug. The social network is — an unnamed intelligence official alleges — concerned about looking too friendly to the agencies, at a time of soured relationships between the tech industry and the US government over policy issues like encryption and surveillance.

Twitter told the Journal that it has a policy “barring third parties … from selling its data to a government agency for surveillance purposes.” However, US agencies were reportedly able to use Dataminr for two years before the ban was enacted.

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