The news that Twitter has a deal with a United Kingdom company allowing marketing companies to access the site's billions of archived messages has struck a chord with security experts who fear the move is an unwelcome privacy invasion.
"You thought that tweets you posted months ago had vanished like your breath on a cold day or were simply hidden away so deeply and awkwardly on the Twitter website that they would be too difficult to uncover?" Sophos' senior technology consultant security researcher, Graham Cluley, wrote yesterday (Feb. 28). "Think again."
The issue stems from Twitter's deal with DataSift, which became known in December. The deal gives the Reading, England, company access to tweets from the past 24 months, which it can then sell (starting at about $1,000 per month) to clients to be used for marketing purposes.
Until this deal, companies could access and search through only the past 30 days worth of tweets; now DataSift will be able to live up to its name by scouring tweets back to January 2010.
Tim Barker, DataSift's marketing manager, told BBC News his company takes in about 250 million tweets every 24 hours, all of which are analyzed for content. That massive amount of content will provide DataSift's business clients with the ability to better market their products to Twitter's more than 300 million worldwide users. DataSift's software will also log Twitter users' location data and their social media influence, based on the monitoring service Klout.
It's a development that's rubbing security experts the wrong way.
"There's a certain creep factor anytime a company collects your information, and justifiably so," Chester Wisniewski, senior security advisor at Sophos told SecurityNewsDaily.
Gus Hosein, the executive director of Privacy International, agreed, telling BBC News, "The fact that two years' worth of tweets can now be mined for information, and the resulting 'insights' sold to businesses, is a radical shift in the wrong direction."
Hosein added that Twitter, built to foster real-time conversation, has turned into "a vast market-research enterprise with unwilling, unpaid participants."
Barker defended DataSift's mission.
"I don't see that this creates any new dilemma, because this information is being pushed out socially right now," Barker said, noting that Twitter "has been public from day one."
"What DataSift will do," he added, "is help companies get a longer view of this and a better insight."
Wisniewski said despite the "creep factor," he isn't shocked at Twitter's decision to monetize people's tweets.
"I'm not happy, but i'm not surprised," he told SecurityNewDaily. "If you're not pulling out your credit card, you should be thinking, 'How are they going to make money?'"
Wisniewski, speaking from the RSA security conference in San Francisco, said Twitter's markteting partnership has already become a hot-button issue. If it bothers people and makes them pay closer attention to what they put out into the public, he said that's a positive step.
"The public is getting more aware and paranoid, and that's a good thing," he said. "You have to think about what you do on the Internet. It can feel like a private place, but it's a public place, and it's the largest public place in the world."
The tweet-selling controversy could become more bothersome to Twitter users when combined with the social media company's announcement yesterday (Feb. 28) that it will now allow promoted tweets (sponsored messages) on Twitter's iPhone and Android apps.