Privacy SOS

The brands and police are listening, and Twitter intends to help them

Soon you might find yourself shocked by how much companies and government agencies know about you, in close to real time.

Unless you lock your Twitter account, everything you say on the microblogging website is by default public. The company already sells bulk access to our tweets; these direct data sales make up about $70m of Twitter's $1.3b income, with the rest coming from advertising. According to a report in The Guardian, Twitter plans to expand its data sales of what one executive calls the "firehose"—the enormous stream of tweets—pouring out of Twitter users worldwide.

But the company isn't just planning on aggressively marketing firehose data to other private corporations, like insurance companies or data brokers. It's also openly discussing selling our information to law enforcement.

Here's one possible way that information could be used, according to a Guardian interview with Twitter's analytics expert, Chris Moody:

Moody’s example of monitoring a football crowd would use geolocation and programs that scan for aggressive or negative reactions. In this way, tweets could help gauge the mood of fans during and after a match, helping police decide where to deploy resources in combating domestic violence or public disturbance. He is careful to stress that the information is about the crowd – not a means for police to target individual fans.

That seems innocuous enough. But imagine the police in Ferguson, Missouri buying tweet data from Twitter and data mining tweet information from the St. Louis area, or the FBI buying data about Muslims or political activists.

Information is power. Twitter's intensification of efforts to sell access to its firehose of real time tweet data means anyone with the money to pay for it, whether bankers or government spies, may soon know a lot more about you than they do today. So be aware that lots of people besides your followers may be listening when you talk about your intimate affairs.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.