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Twitter sold data to a Cambridge Analytica-linked researcher — but it’s not as bad as it sounds

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Facebook isn’t the only social network you need to worry about when it comes to protecting your personal data.

Twitter confirmed on Saturday to The Telegraph that it sold data access to the academic who also obtained millions of Facebook users’ information without their direct consent, then sold that data to political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica

The researcher, Aleksandr Kogan, has been derided in recent weeks for creating a personality quiz on Facebook that was used to harvest data from millions of users and their friends.

Now, Twitter has revealed that the academic’s commercial enterprise, Global Science Research (GSR), also purchased one-time API access to a random sample of public tweets between December 2014 and April 2015. Although the revelation does not have nearly the same scope as the Cambridge Analytica’s recent Facebook scandal, it does show how prevalent the practice of data-sharing can be.

A Twitter spokesperson told Mashable on Monday that the data collected by GSR was already public and said “based on the recent reports, we conducted our own internal review and did not find any access to private data about people who use Twitter.”

It’s also important to mention that it’s a fairly common practice for Twitter to sell API access to large organizations for surveying opinions around different news events, topics, and ideas. 

In a strange twist, a Cambridge Analytica spokesperson told The Telegraph that the company has used Twitter for political advertising in the past, but that it had never “undertaken a project with GSR focusing on Twitter data and Cambridge Analytica has never received Twitter data from GSR.” In essence, the company would like to distance itself from this new report.

So, is it time to #DeleteTwitter? 

Following Facebook’s kerfuffle with Cambridge Analytica, it’s easy to understand why you might be on-edge about your online privacy. That said, there’s reason to believe that the sale of your Twitter data isn’t a reason to panic. Twitter only grants customers access to data that users have already made public — so things like tweets and statements, not addresses or phone numbers. 

“Unlike many other services, Twitter is public by its nature,” a Twitter spokesperson told Mashable.People come to Twitter to speak publicly, and public Tweets are viewable and searchable by anyone.”

So all companies and developers can buy are samples of public tweets from specific accounts or certain keywords. Twitter doesn’t sell DMs, and  prohibits developers from inferring race, political affiliation, or other personal information from users’ tweets. Email addresses, phone numbers, and IP addresses aren’t public on Twitter (unless you chose to tweet them out in the relevant time frame), and Twitter uses have to opt into geo-location. 

Still, Twitter has ended Cambridge Analytica’s advertising. 

“Twitter has made the policy decision to off-board advertising from all accounts owned and operated by Cambridge Analytica,” a company spokesperson told Mashable. “This decision is based on our determination that Cambridge Analytica operates using a business model that inherently conflicts with acceptable Twitter Ads business practices.”

So we’re safe for now, but this should still serve as a reminder to us all: Be careful what you put online. Even on highly anonymous platforms like Twitter, you never know where your data could end up. 

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