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New Twitter Lawsuit Tests the Limits of Privacy Concern

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It's getting to be like listening to a broken record. Between Facebook, Google and now Twitter, all the social media heavy hitters have been getting flack for supposed privacy violations. The validity of it seems to fluctuate with each new case but now Twitter are under fire for supposedly monitoring private messages sent between users.

Thing is, they don't have any squishy human staff members doing this, it's all done by an algorithm, and all that algorithm actually does is look for hyperlinks and then swap them for shortened T.co urls. The reasons behind this are two-fold: firstly because Twitter owns T.co, and secondly for link tracking. This seems like fairly standard, admissible practise on the face of it, but they are now facing a class action lawsuit on behalf of all Americans, seeking damages which would equate to “$100 per day for each Twitter user whose privacy was violated.”

That's a lot of money. The framing of the argument seems to be that Twitter have been doing this without anyone's consent, which is a fair argument, but how many people would actually have taken issue with it if they'd been asked? I'm not a gambling man, and that's why I'd put my life savings on 'almost none'.

As is often the way with issues like these, the focus seems to be on the headline, rather than the body and in fact in this case it's on a heavily edited version of the headline. By the time the actual story reaches the point of just saying 'Twitter is monitoring private messages' it's so condensed, chopped up and taken out of context it looks like a Jeremy Corbyn quote in a Daily Mail headline. The fact of the matter is that nobody is actually monitoring or storing any private or sensitive data, the messages are just being trawled for links. Your secrets are safe.

The other thing worth bearing in mind is that whilst the term 'private' is being banded about a lot, Twitter never claimed that their messaging service was completely airtight. It's not even called private messaging, it's called direct messaging, and it's really just a way of contacting another user with a less limited, less public message instead of a tweet.

Something pretty similar to this happened to Google last year when they were almost enveloped by an amoebic mass of multiple lawsuits for sweeping Gmail accounts to strengthen their custom advertising arm. The case ultimately fell apart because the individual suits were all too similar, but it was a close call.

This case is, if anything, even less severe than the Google one and Twitter have since put forward a statement saying that they found the claims to be 'meritless' and that they 'intend to fight them'. I can't see Twitter losing this case, to be frank. Even the idea of demanding cash settlements, for every American who has ever sent or received a Twitter message just seems to frame the most ridiculous extremities of the ongoing battle between Johnny Law and Ida Internet (I've no idea, just run with it).

If you're going to take legal action against privacy violation, you need to understand how it works now and suing everyone who ever monitored anything you did on the internet does not demonstrate so much as a spark of that understanding. The internet has changed human society harder and faster than anything ever has before. The law needs to catch up.


Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF

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New Twitter Lawsuit Tests the Limits of Privacy Concern Reviewed by Callum Davies on Wednesday, September 16, 2015 Rating: 5

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