An In Depth Look at Twitter’s New Terms of Service

    September 11, 2009

I know it may appear I go looking for trouble, but I promise you I just like to share with you my concerns. In the case of Twitter’s update to its Terms of Service, I started thinking about what the changes could mean to us users.

I’m a huge fan of Twitter, and very much rely on the service for my micro-communications, so I hope none of these scenarios ever materialize.

1. Ownership of Tweets

While Twitter’s new Terms state that you maintain full ownership of your Tweets, it provides no guarantee that you can get access to, or download, such content.

We reserve the right at all times (but not [sic] will not have an obligation) to remove or refuse to distribute any Content on the Services and to terminate users or reclaim usernames.

Twitter further states:

Twitter reserves the right to immediately terminate your account without further notice in the event that, in its judgment, you violate these Rules or the Terms of Service.

Unlikely but Possible Scenario:

Make one mistake and, without notice or opportunity to rectify, Twitter can delete your account and all the Tweets that you supposedly own.

2. Advertising

Twitter’s new terms include the following language:

In consideration for Twitter granting you access to and use of the Services, you agree that Twitter and its third party providers and partners may place such advertising on the Services or in connection with the display of Content or information from the Services whether submitted by you or others.

Unlikely but Possible Scenario:

Twitter could start embedding links in your actual Tweets or start using inline contextual ads–those double-underlined links that open ads, not web pages–all without your permission.

3. APIs

You’re giving Twitter pretty broad usage rights to distribute your Tweets:

You agree that this license includes the right for Twitter to make such Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals who partner with Twitter for the syndication, broadcast, distribution or publication of such Content on other media and services, subject to our terms and conditions for such Content use.

Unlikely but Possible Scenario:

What if Twitter started selling your Tweets to analytics or research companies? The company is sitting on a mountain of data and if the advertising model fails, Twitter could make a healthy bottom line by selling that data.

4. Private Data

I’m not sure if this is new, but Twitter has every right to read your direct messages:

We also reserve the right to access, read, preserve, and disclose any information as we reasonably believe is necessary to (i) satisfy any applicable law, regulation, legal process or governmental request, (ii) enforce the Terms, including investigation of potential violations hereof, (iii) detect, prevent, or otherwise address fraud, security or technical issues, (iv) respond to user support requests, or (v) protect the rights, property or safety of Twitter, its users and the public.

Unlikely but Possible Scenario:

Twitter becomes concerned that you’re using its service to organize a protest about its new Terms. It takes a look at your Direct Messages and concludes that you are a threat to the safety of other users. It annihilates your account!