Is Twitter’s Decision to Sell Tweets a Violation of Privacy?

    March 1, 2012
    Heather Campobello
    Comments are off for this post.

Remember all those snarky tweets you sent to your friends about the latest box-office failure you wasted two hours of your life on? Well, marketing companies might have been analyzing that information because Twitter is selling past tweets to data firms.

It is thought that these tweets will be very useful in strengthening branding and marketing strategies by identifying consumer trends.

But what about those of you who tweeted about your favorite adult entertainment sites and other sensitive information?

If you find the fact that Twitter is selling “two years of archived tweets to UK-based Datasift,” unsettling, you are not alone. Many privacy advocates are up in arms about the exchange of information.

Director of the Big Brother Watch Campaign Group, Nick Pickles, said “people may consider tweets to be personal property but this deal makes clear they are not. Our personal posts on social media are yet another way for advertisements to be better targeted and that’s a very lucrative industry.”

This ruffles my feathers a bit because I want some kind of financial incentive if data firms want to study what I buy, where I buy it, and how much I was willing to pay for it. Others feel that selling the Tweets is fair game because users are not paying to use Twitter, making us the product. In effect, we do not own our tweets. Instead, they are being utilized to identify who we are as if we are some type of product to be sold to whoever is willing to pay the most for us; “datasift claims to have around 1,000 clients willing to pay up to 10,000 pounds a month [approx. $19,000 USD] to analyze tweets for them.”

Despite the decision to monetize tweets, it is unlikely that this will negatively impact Twitter because it has become far too popular; over 250 million tweets are on their torrent every day.

  • http://stararmy.com Star Army Scifi RP Forum

    Is there a definitive word on whether or not “protected” (non-public) Tweets were included with the deal? If they were not, I don’t see an issue as the data is already publicly available and data miners are already scraping it. If Tweets that were never meant to be seen except by friends are included, then that would be a bad thing.

  • Stephen

    There are wider issues here than mere privacy.

    Who owns the data which gets posted to Twitter? The people who posted it or the people who own Twitter?

    if Twitter does NOT own that data then there is word for what Twitter is doing. It is called “stealing”.

    Conversely, if Twitter DOES owns it then where exactly does this put user data from family photos on Facebook to users’ backups which are now being to various Cloud sites. By uploading such things does the uploaded data thereby become the property of the people who own the site, who can dispose of it as they wish?

    True, a site may have a page somewhere which says the data belongs to the posters. But such pages are essentially worthless if at a stroke of a proverbial pen such a page can be changed by the site owner to expropriate the data to himself.

    In a sense this is the flipside issue as the copyright issue which saw Megaupload taken down not long ago. If it is wrong for people to post music or movies which do not belong to them how can it be right for Twitter to do what it is proposing. At the very least the people who posted the data now being sold are entitled to a monetary share in the profits.

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