Twitter is being sued for invading users’ privacy over its practice of replacing hyperlinks in direct messages with its own “t.co” short links. The lawsuit says the company has been “systematically intercepting, reading, and altering” direct messages, most likely a reference to Twitter’s long-standing practice of automatically shortening and redirecting any in-message links.
“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.
A lawsuit filed this week in San Francisco federal court alleges Twitter is “surreptitiously eavesdropping” on people who send private messages on the social media service in violation of federal and state privacy laws. The change is due to a Twitter algorithm that allegedly benefits Twitter by demonstrating to the New York Times or other sites where the source of traffic comes from, which the lawsuit alleges allows Twitter to charge better advertising rates.
The suit claims Twitter is violating the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and California’s privacy law.
Users might well not object to the shortened hyperlinks, in and of themselves, but they help Twitter obtain detailed profiles on users that can be monetized, the suit says.
Read the full complaint here.
In 2013, U.S. District Court judge Lucy Koh rejected Google’s argument that Gmail users, and the users with whom they communicated, had consented to having their email read for the objective of targeting advertising. In that case, the judge looked at whether the interception happened in the “ordinary course of business” – an exemption under the ECPA – and ruled that the “limitation…means that the…provider…must demonstrate that the interception facilitated the communication service or was incidental to the functioning of the…service”. 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. Google faced a similar lawsuit past year over its ad-serving mechanism in Gmail, although the company settled before a meaningful precedent could be set.