Twitter may have found a way to rig the Internet realty market, at the expense of users’ privacy
An intriguing federal class action lawsuit is shining light on a little-known practice of the social media mogul which might include reading, intercepting and altering links in order to pump up its value which in turn, pumps up ad revenue.
The suit started by Texas plaintiff Wilford Raney seeks massive damages for all Twitter users and accuses the company of privacy violations on user-to-user direct messages that are private. The lawsuit, filed in San Francisco Federal Court claims that Twitter “surreptitiously eavesdrops” on its users, saying that when they send a direct message Twitter “intercepts, reads, and, at times, even alters the message.”
Raney explains, “If a user writes a direct message that includes a hyperlink, Twitter will ‘identify the hyperlink and replace it with its own custom link’ in order to show that it is the source of the traffic and to generate better advertising rates.” RT explains it involves the cover of Twitter’s custom, shortened “t.co” link and, “By sending users to Twitter’s analytics servers before they arrive at the linked-to website, the social media giant is allegedly benefiting by showing the linked-to company where the traffic is coming from.” Thus, they can negotiate better advertising rates.
This lawsuit may be a result of revelations from a Polish privacy expert who shared that Twitterbots shadow every click you make from their site.
Elizabeth Warmerdam of Courthouse News writes:
Twitter has publicized that it replaces hyperlinks found in tweets but does not disclose that it looks for and replaces hyperlinks contained in private direct messages, Raney says.
“Twitter users reasonably expect that their direct messages will be kept private during transmission. Nonetheless, unbeknownst to them, Twitter intercepts and reads the contents of every direct message,” Raney says.
The company never obtains or even seeks its users’ consent to do so, which violates their privacy under the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the California Invasion of Privacy Act, the lawsuit says.
Raney’s lawsuit aims to represent two classes: every American on Twitter who has ever received a direct message, and every American on Twitter who has ever sent a direct message.
Raney, represented by Samuel Lasser with Edelson PC, seeks damages as high as $100 per day for each Twitter user whose privacy was violated under the federal law and $5,000 per class member under the state law.
If successful, that could spell some extra wallet padding for the average Twitter user. When someone follows a Twitter fan page, it is often customary to receive an automated direct message from the fan page with a “thank you” and links to their website and Facebook page. In other words, that’s a lot of direct messages and therefore, chances that someone’s privacy was violated if the accusation turns out to be true. Additionally, Twitter has more than one billion registered users; over a third of them are active. No doubt, the advertisers who may have paid inflated rates will be watching this case.
The lawsuit has one major obstacle – Twitter’s terms of service. Did you know that clicking that little box agreeing to their contract allows Twitter to have its way with your content uninhibited? However, it’s that word “content” that will be central to the case because it doesn’t specify whether it applies to private messages too. Should your private messages be considered “content” for Twitter to intercept and alter at their discretion?
Twitter holds that the above claims are “meritless” and plans to fight it to the end.
If nothing else, this lawsuit highlights a potential practice that seriously oversteps the privacy of its users whether it’s truly specified in a contract or not – all in the name of that almighty dollar. Whether this particular accusation turns out to be true or not – it still highlights a pervasive attitude among big social media sites that what you express – even privately – is not your own.
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