Twitter Inc Sued Over Direct Message Eavesdropping

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According to Eriq Gardner at The Hollywood Reporter Twitter was served by lawsuit that the firm involved is hoping to turn into a class-action suit for intercepting private messages sent between its users.

What the suit alleges

The suit which is being brought by Jay Edelson’s firm, Edelson PC, which focuses on suing tech interests for violating users privacy, was filed this week in San Francisco federal court. The accuses Twitter of “surreptitiously eavesdropping” on its users in violation of both federal and state law.

The lawsuit is not suggesting that Twitter is hiring people nor using its employees to read direct messages but rather that an algorithm is “systematically intercepting, reading and altering” these direct messages in order to replace a URL with a custom hyperlink that Twitter uses to achieve “better advertising rates.”

“Twitter’s algorithms will read through the Direct Message, identify the hyperlink, and replace it with its own custom link, thereby sending the person clicking on the link to Twitter’s analytics servers before passing them on to the original linked-to website,” alleges the suit.

Twitter has made it clear that it feels it has done nothing wrong and according to an email from the company, “We believe these claims are meritless and we intend to fight them.”

Hoping for class action status against Twitter

While Edelson PC was enlisted to file the claim, the suit itself was brought forward by Texas resident Wilford Raney who hopes that the suit can represent two classes: U.S. Twitter users who have sent direct messages and U.S. Twitter users who have received direct messages. It’s believed that Raney and Edelson PC are looking for a settlement of about $100 per day for each user listed in the suit.

A somewhat similar suit was brought against Google in 2013 when it was argued that Gmail users did not consent to have their emails read for the sake of targeted advertising, nor did the users with which they communicated. However in 2014, U.S. District Court judge Lucy Koh refused to combine numerous lawsuits into a single class action having judged them to be far to different to but under a single umbrella.

“What Twitter is doing is probably not legally actionable any more than Gmail scanning emails for advertising,” said Ryan Calo a law professor at the University of Washington.

Protection through terms of service

It’s difficult to see this getting too far after a quick look at a small section of Twitter’s terms of service which seem to offer them broad powers. At least to me the layperson….

We may modify or adapt your Content in order to transmit, display or distribute it over computer networks and in various media and/or make changes to your Content as are necessary to conform and adapt that Content to any requirements or limitations of any networks, devices, services or media.

We may use this information to make inferences, like what topics you may be interested in, and to customize the content we show you, including ads. Our default is almost always to make the information you provide through the Twitter Services public for as long as you do not delete it, but we generally give you settings or features, like direct messages, to make the information more private if you want.

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