Twitter is the target of a class action lawsuit which accuses the micro-blogging website of eavesdropping on a user’s direct messages.

While it won’t be true to say that there are people at Twitter who actually save or read your DMs, the accusation is made with respect to the fact that Twitter replaces whole URLs in DMs with its shortened ( versions. This, the lawsuit says, is in violation of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and California’s privacy law.

The complaint filed in federal court in San Francisco from Wilford Raney and others claims that “Twitter surreptitiously eavesdrops on its users’ private Direct Message communications. As soon as a user sends a Direct Message, Twitter intercepts, reads, and, at times, even alters the message.”

While Twitter has removed the 140-character limit from its DM service, this sifting through the messages and replacing the URLs with shorter ones can be presumed to be for only one purpose which is tracking. Another advantage Twitter gets through this could be that Twitter can negotiate better advertising rates. According to the lawsuit, the social giant should, at the very least, collect consent to do such things within the private messages:

Twitter never obtains (or even seeks) its users’ consent. As such, and as a result of Twitter’s unlawful and continuing privacy violations, Plaintiff brings suit individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated to enjoin Twitter’s unlawful conduct and to seek redress and statutory damages under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 2510 et seq. (the “ECPA”), and the California Invasion of Privacy Act, California Penal Code §§ 630 et seq. (“CIPA”).

Scrutinizing the whole issue, we can see that Twitter’s one-on-one messages are called ‘direct’ not ‘private’ and the company claims that these snippets of communication are essentially more private that their public counterpart. Also, Twitter’s privacy policy doesn’t clearly describe how your DMs are treated. Just a few indications here and there. Here are two instances from the same that seem to indicate that Twitter is allowed to alter your DMs if and when required:

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.

Twitter may come just off the hook if these areas are taken into consideration.

The lawsuit has been filed on behalf of all Americans who have sent or received DMs over the Twitter network and expects damages as high as $100 per day for each Twitter user whose privacy was breached. This means that every single American who has ever received or sent a direct message over Twitter will be eligible to claim the damage, if the case goes out of Twitter’s hands.


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