Silicon Valley Smackdown Over Twitter Leak and Its Handling

By now, pretty much everyone who cares about the startup Twitter knows that a French hacker managed to access both some of the company’s confidential and personal documents last month.

We know because on Tuesday night, the individual, a Frenchman who uses the handle “Hacker Croll,” sent several hundred confidential Twitter documents and screenshots to TechCrunch, after French blogger Manuel Dorne, who claims he received the documents first, decided not to post anything other than a few screenshots.

“I don’t want to cause damage to Twitter or to help their rivals,” Dorne told the BBC yesterday.

TechCrunch’s decision to publish a number of those same documents — including the original pitch for a mundane-sounding Twitter TV reality show; an internal financial forecast that highlights Twitter’s 2013 projections (1 billion users, $1.54 billion in revenue, 5,200 employees and $1.1 billion in net earnings); and internal strategy memos listing year-end goals, like establishing a reputation system — has had tech watchers abuzz for days over TechCrunch’s ethics, or lack of them.

Before posting anything, Michael Arrington explained to his readers that his staff and TechCrunch’s attorneys were working closely with Twitter and its attorneys on striking a balance around the “right way” to go about publishing the information that TechCrunch was sent.

Ultimately, however, Arrington said that TechCrunch was making the same decision that many news organizations — most of which are leaked information regularly  — make every day. As long as TC wasn’t publishing anything that could hurt Twitter, its employees, or anyone who’s interviewed at the company and could do without being exposed as a one-time candidate, he didn’t see the conflict. “[C]ertainly, it was unethical, or at least illegal or tortious, for the person who gave us the information and violated confidentiality and/or nondisclosure agreements. But on our end, it’s simply news,” he wrote.

For my part, I’m not sure that the information served any greater good. Still, I understand why TechCrunch moved in the direction it did and I’m happy it’s chosen to work closely with Twitter in ensuring that nothing published could materially damage the company.

Plenty of folks in Silicon Valley aren’t nearly so ambivalent, however. In fact, friendly seed-stage investors Josh Felser, Chris Sacca, and Travis Kalanick have been publicly expressing their disparate opinions on Twittergate all morning — via “tweets,” naturally.

Sacca, a Twitter adviser, thinks TechCrunch should have kept mum on what it was sent and told Kalanick a few hours ago, “Your characterization of news outlets trafficking in stolen goods really requires understanding what ‘stolen’ means,” and “Trav, if you’re going to play lawyer, go read up on what a trade secret is (it’s a very specific term).”

 “Thx,” tweeted Kalanick in response. “I have read up on trade secrets this morning. It is a specific term & if I’ve missed something here, pls make the argument.”

Later, when Sacca said he was signing off, Lakanick added, “respect ur opinion but if u disagree w/ [Arrington] publishing any of it u are in conflict w/ what most news orgs in the country do every day…again if there is an arg to be made make it… u can’t mk ur pt by saying ‘You’re wrong and I’m going to take my toys and go home.’

Felser, who’s been chiming in occasionally from France, is meanwhile siding with Sacca and Twitter, writing Kalanick via the add-on Firefox application Power Twitter. “I know there is precedent 4 [Arrington] to publish the stolen twitter files but it just feels wrong 4 techcrunch to profit from hacking.”

He added in a follow-on tweet: “I know that news orgs publish illegally obtained info but our community should frown on tech piracy not reward it.”