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Pro-Privacy Lawyer Leaves Twitter

Alex Macgillivray was a major figure responsible for Twitter’s decidedly pro-free speech position. However, in late August 2013, he publicly announced his decision to leave the company. While Macgillivray is not well-known outside a small group of Silicon Valley executives and internet advocates, he has been described as Twitters “conscience-in-residence” and was credited with turning the social network into one of the fiercest defenders of user privacy in cyberspace.

Macgillivray announced that he would be replaced by Viyaya Gadde, a member of Twitter’s current legal team. He commented:

“I am proud to have worked with colleagues who defend and respect the user’s voice; who push freedom of expression and transparency; and who innovate and lead. It has been my privilege to work and fight on behalf of great companies and their users over the last decade. A privilege and a lot of work. So, I’m looking forward to engaging my various internet passions from new and different perspectives.”

Although he did not mention where he might be headed, Macgillivray’s decision to leave Twitter follows a period of intense scrutiny over its systems for reporting abuse. What does his departure say regarding Twitter’s defense system against government requests for user data, or its position on online free speech and privacy?

Background

Like many of the IT industry’s prominent lawyers, Macgillivray got his start at Google. He spent eight years at Mountain View, becoming the company’s primary attorney for well-known products, such as web search and Gmail, and later its plans to scan millions of out-of-print library books.

As a Harvard student, Macgillivray had a keen understanding of software code as well as legal code. At university, he co-programmed software to facilitate the experimentation with distance learning. His experimental hacking – carried out with Wendy Saltzer, the prominent internet lawyer and policy counsel at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) – also made others take notice.

Former colleague and copyright lawyer David Kramer recalls, “… trying without success to keep up with the news on internet-related legal developments that was coming fast and furious. Alex always seemed a step ahead. Why? Because he was using a specialized news aggregation tool that he had coded himself.”

Peer Perspectives

Cindy Cohn, legal director of the internet rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) commented:

“Alex is one of the few attorneys I know who routinely tries to, and often does, hack the law and use technology to make the law work for people. He thinks about how best to use the current law and technology to bring about a more fair and honest arrangement for Twitter, its employees and its users. That’s not easy and he does it well.”

High praise also came from Trevor Timm, an activist also with EFF: “[Macgillivray] is a true leader on free speech and users’ rights, and we need more like him.”

New Counsel

With its new general counsel, Vijaya Gadde, Twitter is poised to turn its privacy challenges into opportunities, as well as set an industry standard for best practices for other social media outlets. Macgillivray commented, “I couldn’t be happier with [Gadde’s] appointment.”

Gadde herself has managed the company’s corporate affairs for the last two years. She has a corporate background and is well-positioned to lead the efforts with the company’s initial public offering, which is expected to occur in 2014. Gadde specialized in corporate and securities law at the Silicon Valley firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrigh & Rosati for ten years before moving on to Juniper Networks, a computer security company, and most recently, in July 2011, joining Twitter.

Of course, the company’s previous counsel will continue working with Twitter in an advisory role.

Despite Silicon Valley observers suggesting a reorganization of Twitter’s legal department, tension between Macgillivray and chief executive Dick Costolo, and a desire to leave before the administrative burden of Twitter’s IPO next year, the general counsel’s departure appears to be amicable.

Summary

This article discusses Macgillivray’s role as Twitter’s former general counsel. He publicly announced his departure from the social media giant at the end of August. He is being replaced by Vijaya Gadde, who has been managing the company’s corporate affairs since July 2011.

CIPP Exam Preparation

In preparation for the Certified Information Privacy Professional/Information Technology (CIPP/IT) and the Certified Information Privacy Professional/United States (CIPP/US), a privacy professional should be comfortable with topics related to this post, including:

  • Privacy and system design – security safeguards (I.I.a.v.; CIPP/IT)
  • Business intelligence and analytics (VI.E.; CIPP/IT)
  • Privacy program development (I.C.b.; CIPP/US)
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