Why All the Fuss about TechCrunch?

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A few days ago a French Hacker calling himself Croll began releasing documents containing private financial data and personal information on employees he had stolen from Twitter’s servers. To give an idea of how sensitive some of that data was, one document was the minutes from the meeting between Google and Twitter back in March. I can’t imagine that either Google or Twitter would want that posted on the Web.

To date TechCrunch is the only high-profile website that has decided to publish some of that information. Because they rank #2 on the Top 100 Blogs (Technorati), this is news indeed. We can understand why small-fry websites that feel the need to make a name for themselves might resort to what many regard as unethical activity, but why TechCrunch?

Could it be that Michael Arrington has made a serious misjudgment? His action indicates that he assumes his public is after sensationalism or ‘news’ even more than they want the security of a web where leaders accept responsibility for ‘setting the tone,’ as I mentioned in my first article about TechCrunch publishing hacked documents from Twitter’s servers.

The Legal Defense For Publishing Stolen Data?

To start with, it is salient to point out that Michael Arrington, TechCrunch’s high-profile cofounder is a graduate of Stanford Law School. So it’s a fair assumption that he has already checked out his legal stance and is fairly confident that he won’t be paying a price there. French Lawyer Clarinette who specializes in the use and misuse of the Internet, communicated to me via Twitter one short sentence, that I took to mean she assumes he’s relyng the Fruit of the Poison Tree Doctrine, where stolen information is inadmissible as evidence in court.

Clarinette also sent me this article showing how TechCrunch could be protected by the First Amendment, and she has set out some of her thoughts on the matter on her own blog.

A big thanks to Steve Plunkett who sent me this article on California law as it pertains to stolen property. According to this, Arrington could actually go to jail for using that stolen data.

OK, that’s the law: what about ethics?
But what about the innocent? What about privacy rights? Is it ‘right’ that those seeking fame, fortune and domination should be allowed to profit by exploiting security lapses at the expense of others? It remains to be seen how well the legal system does in fact defend the innocent here. At the very least we should all make it very clear that we won’t give our votes to websites who abuse privacy.

But I firmly believe Arrington misjudged the social implications, and certainly the reactions of his readers when he decided to publish those documents.

Here are just a few of the responses i’ve seen on Twitter yesterday and today:

And the Internet is abuzz with commentary that overwhelmingly condemns TechCrunch’s actions. SEOmoz points out that it’s not a first for TechCrunch to be lurking in murky water. For instance, they published over 550 blogposts ranking for ‘porn’ in the last year alone.

The UK’s Guardian Newspaper has a great appraisal of what exactly happened with TechCrunch, and where they stand.

Econsultancy  decided to take a look at it from a different point of view and is speculating that, from the data contained in the stolen documents, it could mean that Twitter is losing its edge. I suppose that’s the kind of commentary we can expect from a website that is happy to capitalize on someone else’s unethical behavior.

From his actions, you might be forgiven for thinking that Michael Arrington is pretty thick-skinned but is he as insensitive about himself as he for others? It seems not: where his own personal privacy is concerned, even he says that some things need to change.

What TechCrunch Can Expect

I think the fallout from TechCrunch’s error of judgement in publishing a hacker’s stolen data won’t be felt all at once. I think it will trickle in. We’ll see a lot more comments like that by Lisa Barone (above) until the notion that TechCrunch is untrustworthy sinks into the public consciousness, and they will gradually find themselves slipping from that coveted and hard-won #2 position. I feel that ultimately this incident will serve to make the Internet a better place as we all decide where we stand, and as other influential websites learn that they cannot tread on our sensibilities with impunity without some kind of fallout.

Patricia Skinner is an SEO consultant, social media coach & reputation management expert. She is also community leader at the nascent SEO Self Regulation Community. She can be reached any time through her SEO website. Why not follow her on Twitter & her LinkedIn profile.

Patricia Skinner
Patricia Skinner is co-founder and Search and Social Director at Mideast SEO, and spends her days doing what she loves best; cooking up winning strategies... Read Full Bio
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  • Joshua Odmark

    What a fantastic article, thanks Patricia.

    I am just sitting here in the calm before the storm.

    I half expected Twitter to pounce all over TechCrunch, but I have yet to see any public move from Twitter.

    I personally know a lot of professionals that have sworn off TechCrunch because they decided to run the confidential Twitter documents.

  • Anu Patel

    He teamed up with Twitter to help them make lemonade out of lemons.
    All that was printed was done with the cooperation of Twitter to get publicity for Techmunch and to create spin for Twitter.

    YAWN, next.

  • Joshua Odmark

    Classic case of someone believing everything they read.

    Quoting EV, CEO of Twitter:

    @TechCrunch @arrington “we have been given the green light by Twitter to post this information” What?! By whom? That’s not our understanding

  • Patricia Skinner

    Hi Joshua, thanks for the compliment.

    Yes I have had people tell me they’re unfollowing TechCrunch on Twitter, and won’t be reading the blog anymore too. It’s surprising how many people feel strongly about it: we only have to look at the number of articles on the subject in the past few days to gauge the emotion.

  • Marco

    Nice article. I probably won’t be frequenting techcrunch as often in the future.

  • Tag44

    Thanks for the article and for sharing such hidden inside info with us.

  • Nick Stamoulis

    I think it is time for Twitter to step things up a bit and tighten up their security so this does not happen. That revenue plan is gold.

  • Adam

    Is it just me or does twitter get hacked all the time?

  • Patricia Skinner

    Hi Adam, it does seem that Twitter has been hacked a little too often: it could be that it’s just a fascinating target because of its popularity right now. And it’s obviously something to do with security lapses. But this is not an excuse for TechCrunch publishing stolen data, as I mentioned in my first article over at my own website: Hacking, Cyber Crime, TechCrunch & You.