Crunch Time

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 17, 2009; 8:24 AM

What would you do if a computer hacker sent you a batch of purloined corporate documents?

On the one hand, stealing stuff is wrong. On the other hand, you didn't steal it, it just wound up in your in-box.

The answer, for the Web site Tech Crunch, was to publish. Or rather, consult the lawyers and then publish.

What gives this yarn some visibility is that the zip file, with 310 documents, contains confidential material from red-hot site Twitter, which has vigorously objected.

Co-founder Biz Stone blogged that one employee's account was hacked and that "this is more about Twitter being in enough of a spotlight that folks who work here can become targets. In fact, around the same time, Evan's wife's personal email was hacked." That would be Evan Williams, the other Twitter co-founder.

Will the company sue? "We are in touch with our legal counsel about what this theft means for Twitter, the hacker, and anyone who accepts and subsequently shares or publishes these stolen documents . . .

"We have a culture of sharing and communication within Twitter and these stolen documents represent a fraction of what we produce on a regular basis. Obviously, these docs are not polished or ready for prime time and they're certainly not revealing some big, secret plan for taking over the world . . .

"Nevertheless, as they were never meant for public communication, publishing these documents publicly could jeopardize relationships with Twitter's ongoing and potential partners."

Of course, Twitter users post links to unauthorized material all the time. And reporters regularly feast on leaks of secret, even classified, papers. But there is nothing ambiguous here about the fact that someone blatantly violated the law, and that makes me uncomfortable. Is the news value so great that it warrants using these tainted goods?

Tech Crunch first reported that the "vast majority" of documents "are somewhat embarrassing to various individuals, but not otherwise interesting . . . There is clearly an ethical line here that we don't want to cross." Except for the really juicy stuff.

Then came this: "As of February the company had $45 million in the bank . . . Here are the numbers they were targeting for the end of 2013: 1 billion users, $1.54 billion in revenue, 5,200 employees and $1.1 billion in net earnings."

Next was a pitch for a TV show called "Final Tweet": "The pitch: four teams of 'young entrepreneurs' battle with non-profit organizations to win a cash prize of $100,000. They'll travel across the U.S. and live off 'limited cash.' "

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