Is my Twitter username mine forever?

imageI’ve just been reading about the fate of Tom Armitage’s @towerbridge Twitter account.

Back in February 2008, Tom registered the @towerbridge username on Twitter and built an automated bot that tweeted details about London’s famous bridge. The account detailed when the bridge opened and closed, which vessel was passing through, and in which direction the vessel was headed. The Twitter account quickly became popular, and in due course nearly 4000 interested people were “following” the account, watching every move of this iconic London landmark.

Earlier today, however, Tom got an email saying that his bot had disappeared; without warning, his @towerbridge account had been taken away and reallocated to the operators of the Tower Bridge tourist attraction. Tom had not been informed in advance that this was going to happen, and in the process of transferring the username, all the historical data that the account had accrued also disappeared.

Now, clearly some will say that Tom had no right to own the @towerbridge account; after all, he has no official connection with the Bridge, and merely happened to register the account first. It does pose a question, however, about the extent to which our Twitter handles are our own.

I’ve been the proud owner of the @simonlucas handle since May 29th 2007. If, however, a more famous Simon Lucas should come along, perhaps a big Hollywood actor, is my username safe? Or is there a risk that ownership could be transferred to him, simply because he is better known and has more clout? Could he or his agents suggest that me tweeting from @simonlucas could cause confusion?

I hope that this is not the case.

This incident is nevertheless a useful reminder that we do not own our usernames; they are held by a private company and could be taken away from us at any time. Perhaps we should make sure we don’t get too attached to our online identities!