Twitter has been in the headlines over the last few weeks. From the controversial acquisition by billionaire investor Elon Musk to the stakeholders filing a lawsuit claiming market manipulation, the microblogging site has had its storms.
Last week, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Justice (DoJ) fined the company $150m for passing over users’ data to third parties without consent. Authorities said that Twitter collected email addresses and phone numbers for security purposes but used the data to target them with adverts.
“Twitter obtained data from users on the pretext of harnessing it for security purposes but then ended up also using the data to target users with ads.” FTC chair, Lina Khan observed. “This practice affected more than 140 million users while boosting Twitter’s primary source of revenue.”
The cases that led to the hefty fine took place between May 2013 and September 2019. While Twitter asked users to provide them with information that would allow two-factor authentication, Twitter used this data to allow advertisers to target cadres of Twitter users. Advertisers were able to match telephone numbers and email addresses with what they had in their database, making it easy to send targeted advertisements.
“While Twitter represented to users that it collected their telephone numbers and email addresses to secure their accounts, Twitter failed to disclose that it also used contact information to aid advertisers in reaching their preferred audiences.” A complaint filed by the DoJ stated.
Damien Kieran, Twitter’s chief privacy officer said that the social media company had “cooperated with the FTC every step of the way,” adding that Twitter would “ensure that people’s personal data remained secure and their privacy protected.”
Almost 90% of Twitter’s annual revenue comes from($5bn) comes from advertising. By providing users’ data to third parties for advertisement purposes, Twitter is using unorthodox means to bolster its business.