In case of emergency, do not use Twitter

Over the past year, I’ve spoken at numerous conferences on how social media is impacting emergency preparedness and response. Often cited are the examples of where information was spread rapidly. One of the most frequently mentioned cases were the live updates about Terrorism in Mumbai spread through Twitter.

Yet when I recount these stories, I feel the audience tense up. Unvetted, unofficial information? What if it was used by “the bad guys”? This social media thing doesn’t appear to be beneficial at all!

A recent article on ReadWriteWeb declares: Twitter is not an Emergency Broadcast System. I scanned it eagerly: did they admit to the challenges associated with decentralized information? Was it an infrastructure problem: what if service was unavailable?

Nope: evidently TechRadium, a Texas-based technology company, “argues that it has patents covering the process for simultaneously notifying large numbers of people about emergencies through multiple communication gateways, such as cell phones, pagers and e-mail.” According to Law.com, TechRadium claims their patent rights are being violated when Twitter is used by organizations to send out bulk messages about emergencies.

I’m not an expert on Intellectual Property or patent law, but it surprises me that a patent can apply to a small extension of use of a product. As is mentioned in the Law.com article, it appears that sending out a mass email to your address book about an emergency would therefore be an infringement of these patent rights. I’d be interested to know if there is some clause about “primary” vs auxiliary use. Twitter was not designed for that exclusive purpose, although it can be used that way. Like abusing household cleaners: you can put a warning on the container, but you’re not going to outlaw the product just because people use it in unintended ways.

The article explicitly mentions the use of Twitter by organizations to send out mass messages. This is a big red flag for me – TechRadium didn’t seem to care about Twitter until they felt they were losing out on a sales opportunity. But social media makes it easy for anyone to be a publisher: if @CDCEmergency can’t tweet mass messages, can @jnwilliams76? Also — at its core, Twitter is ideal for spreading crowdsourced messages, so it accounts for the rapid receipt and dissemination of information. TechRadium appears to be more specifically for simply sending out “official” notifications.

Services like TechRadium are great when you have a known subscriber base, but Twitter offers other distinct benefits: the ability for people to find updates online without previously signing up. This overcomes some of the barriers of traditional emergency preparation programs, where people are only motivated to act when the situation arises. With Twitter, individuals are already using the service. Compare this to a separate system like TechRadium, where individuals may have to make a conscious effort to subscribe. Again: this comes back to the primary purpose of the service: most people on Twitter likely aren’t only signing up to subscribe to emergency alerts.

Does TechRadium have a right to feel their Intellectual Property is being infringed upon? Should Twitter be used for mass emergency broadcasts?

5 thoughts on “In case of emergency, do not use Twitter

  • I think it’s absurd for a company to assert any kind of ownership of emergency communication. “Sorry we couldn’t warn you about that tsunami. We don’t have siren rights in Indonesia.”

    However, using Twitter for emergency communication could be considered equally ridiculous. Remember when Perez Hilton texted tweets asking for emergency medical assistance after allegedly being assaulted by Will.I.Am? Instead of calling 911, he used his cell phone to tweet for help.

    Hopefully the average Twitter user understands the difference between broadcasting details of a terrorist attack and using a cell phone text to ask someone else to call an ambulance for you, but I’ve been disappointed before.

    Follow me on twitter: girlasaurus_rex

  • Yep, the first problem is with the patent : why was such a patent accepted in the first place? It’s so obvious and was certainly done before …
    … and at the end, lawyers win … a lot of cash :/

  • Here is the deal with the TechRadium patent trolls.

    (no, I have not been affected by them! I just hate maggots!)

    They monitored existing technological methods and processes which were not patented and started writing patent applications while delivering an industry inferior product which was stricken by loss after loss in bidding opportunities.

    Low and behold, some moron examiner grants them a patent on methods and processes which have been in existence for 20 years prior (including in educational materials dating back to the 70’s) and what does TechRadium do?

    They launch suits against every company they had lost bids to.
    Is this the original design intent of a patent process?

    Here we have a company with a very very low yearly sales record (might that infer an inferior product??) and a busy news page which has recitation after recitation of patent information in news releases.

    Look at this link: http://www.techradium.com/about/pressReleases.cfm

    All the markings of a well thought out subterfuge by a pond scum company.

    i.e. If we cannot beat them, let’s leverage a bogus patent to extort licensing agreements.

    One moronic company, BlackBoard Connect, went ahead and settled with these idiots for a cross licensing agreement!

    Wanna know why?

    Simple.

    PondScum Inc. is not trying to extort each company for a LOT of money…..just a few points.

    As in a few points times thousands of companies. Classic Troll behavior.
    Turns out, BlackBoard joined up with TechRadium, ahem, excuse me: PondScum.
    TechRadium Reaches Agreement with Blackboard Inc. to. Cross‐License Notification Patents

    http://www.iptoday.com/pdf/2009/10/TechnoBytes_Oct09.pdf

    You gotta just KNOW that TechRadium gave up the farm to get this agreement and then used it as a bully pulpit to attack numerous companies.

    Give them credit….they chose a good victim in BlackBoard. PondScum knew if they arrived at an agreement with BB, even if it was 1/10000th of a penny on a dollar, it would bolster their troll subterfuge.

    Oh, the reason BB settled? Ha! Easy. They saw that the patent was bogus, but with a near free licensing agreement….they themselves could participate in the patent advancement (and defen$e) and guess what?

    PondScum agreed!

    Now you have BlackBoard and PondScum commiserating and joining on co-patent technology!

    So the other player the industry needs to REALLY take a look at is BlackBoard Connect!

    They are sitting back, executing NDA’s with companies and reporting back to PondScum which companies are viable candidates for the next lawsuit.

    Ya just can make this stuff up.

    Okay. I feel better now….

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