This tale has a happy ending — check it out here — and kudos to Twitter for doing the right thing.
This morning I received the following e-mail:
We’ve received a request regarding the release of a trademarked username.
It has come to our attention that your Twitter account:
is in violation of our basic Terms of service, specifically article 4 which mentions impersonation:
1. You must not abuse, harass, threaten, impersonate or intimidate other Twitter users.
In this case “impersonation” is the issue. Impersonation is against our terms unless it’s parody. The standard for defining parody is, “Would a reasonable person be aware that it’s a joke.
To settle this issue we have changed the username to mims1 to eliminate confusion. You can change your user name:
1. Visit Twitter.com/settings
2. Edit the Full Name and Username fields
3. Click “Save”
Sorry about that! If you’d like a t-shirt, send us your address and size and we’ll send one right out.
Uh, you’re welcome?
That means that twitter.com/mims, which used to belong to me, now belongs to some other guy. Meanwhile I’m relegated to twitter.com/mims1.
Here’s the problem. Mims is my actual last name. So twitter.com/myactuallastname is an entirely reasonable twitter account for me to have. In fact, I specifically registered it early so that I’d have the shortest and handiest Twitter handle possible. No “ChristopherMims4362″ for me. I’d been through that with AIM.
Only, now, I don’t have that name. Twitter.com/mims1 is OK I guess. One digit away from my original twitter name. Except that if I told it to someone in a bar, odds are they’d end up at the wrong URL… likely the one I originally had.
It’s also the principle of the thing. What if my business were in some way dependent on that URL? What if I’d published it in ad kits that had already gone out to clients?
It’s just sort of scary in that it highlights the fact that in the rush to put all our data — an increasingly valuable commodity in the world of white-collar work — all over the web, it’s easy to forget that you really can’t rely on third parties to safeguard that data. Or even to guarantee that it will be in the place you left if last.
To their credit, so far the Twitter people are being super nice about the whole affair – they wrote back with an apology and an offer to look into this further. Not that they’ve actually, you know, reversed their unilateral decision.
So, to sum up, some newly rich and newly legally empowered guy with one hit under his belt just waltzed in and stole something from me without my even being made aware that this would — or could — happen. That puffery about violating the terms of service? I mean come on — it’s not like I grabbed twitter.com/nfl.
I’m not sure I would have been so excited about Twitter in the first place if I had been aware that at any moment I might get a crappy username because someone with money covets mine. It’s not exactly Prima Nocte, but it still rubs me the wrong way.
Let this be a lesson… if your last name is the same as a famous person’s, your data, your URLs — they’re not safe.
I wonder what will happen to all those kids who have already been named after famous brands as they enter the online world… are they going to be unable to register with the social networking services of the future under their own names?