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Yes, Samaritans, the law does apply to you. Even if you mean well

How to escape from the do-gooders' creepy Twitter surveillance app

Twitter users: This is a stalkers' wet dream

The response was overwhelmingly negative.

Some users were justifiably worried that internet abusers would use the app as an early warning system, telling them the very best time to get their nasty words in.

Others were very unhappy with the Samaritans' evident approach to feedback:

Given Twitter's 140-character limit, others managed to sum it up surprisingly well.

Not everybody thought it was a bad thing, though, and some were quick to skewer the argument that this is an invasion of privacy. Self-described “depressing epileptic cripple” Lawrence Fleming sent your correspondent a link to his blog post about Radar.

“Trolls suck, we all agree that trolls suck,” Fleming writes. “And the thought of trolls having a tool to keep track of people is unpleasant. If they are using the Samaritan’s Radar to do this, then they’re god damn idiots.”

He continues:

Your twitterfeed is not being scanned. The person using the app’s home feed is being scanned, of all the people who they followed. Does this seem like there’s no difference? Well you’re wrong. By tweeting, you have offered up your tweets to the world, there is a reason why people who have elected to have your tweets placed in an easily readable list are called “followers” and not “friends”.

The act of following is an asynchronous act. It does not require the permission of the person being followed. They can choose to reciprocate the follow by following back or they can ignore it.

Friendship implies a mutual agreement of socialising. Facebook gives you friends. Twitter gives you an audience. Now you know what? That still sounds kind of creepy, you can be followed without your permission, people will be alerted whenever you tweet without your permission because that’s what Twitter does. But if you have an issue with that, you have an issue with Twitter. Not with the Samaritan Radar.

Which is a very good point. Simply put, if you don't want people acting on your public Twitter posts, don't post them.

A do-gooders' fail

Doubtless the app was well intentioned, but the overwhelmingly negative response to it clearly indicates that someone at the Samaritans should have at least asked around before launching the thing.

Moreover, if you want to scan people's Twitter timelines and harvest sensitive personal data from them, then you need to abide by the Data Protection Act. Rejecting section 12 notices on the grounds that you don't think DPA applies to you is simply childish - a response better suited to children and ostriches.

We'll leave the last word on this sorry story to Rowenna Fielding, who pointed out what should have been obvious when the Samaritans first dreamed up this app:


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