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Twitter Slapped With Class-Action Lawsuit for Eavesdropping on Direct Messages

Complaint also argues that social media service shortens URLs in violation of privacy laws

Twitter has been slapped with a proposed class action lawsuit, which alleges that the service uses URL shorteners in violation of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and California’s privacy law.

According to court documents filed Monday, Texas resident Wilford Raney brought the complaint to federal court in San Francisco, citing that although “Twitter represents that its users can ‘talk privately,’ Twitter ‘surreptitiously eavesdrops on its users private direct message communications.”

The complaint alleges that Twitter “intercepts, reads, and at times, even alters the message” as soon as someone sends a direct message.

According to the suit, Twitter benefits from replacing original user hyperlinks with its own and cites a New York Times link as an example.

“Twitter increases its perceived value to third-party websites and would-be advertisers,” the court documents read. “That is, in the example given, the New York Times would identify Twitter as the source of internet traffic, whereas without replacing the link the source would be anonymous.”

The plaintiff argues Twitter changes a link like “www.nytimes.com” to links like “http:/t.co/CL2SKBxr1s” while still displaying the original link to its users so that when someone clicks on the new link, the user is first taken to Twitter’s “t.co” website and then forwarded to the newyorktimes.com websites. Therefore, New York Times will see Twitter as its main traffic source.

Why go to the trouble? “The end result is that Twitter can negotiate better advertising rates,” says the lawsuit.

Although not actual people, but Twitter algorithms, are making the changes, the lawsuit alleges that it still violates the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and California’s privacy law.

And yet, while Twitter promises not to read direct messages, a close look shows that Twitter replaces links in those privates message with “t.co” links as well. And because Twitter doesn’t disclose this but acknowledges that it publicly replaces hyperlinks found in only tweets, the lawsuit argues that the service “reads the contents of each one without consent.”

In general, Twitter advertises Direct Messages as a way to “talk privately,” but the lawsuit claims that “contrary to Twitter’s representations, Direct Messages are not private.”

Lastly, the lawsuit alleges that “Twitter uses cookies, such as the ‘t.co’ cookie, not only to track users as they connect to its own websites, but also as they surf the web. Indeed, Twitter partners with websites operators to include ‘tweet this’ buttons on their websites, to expand Twitter’s tracking and analytics capabilities.'”

The plaintiff brought the class action lawsuit against Twitter on behalf of himself and two classes: the sender class, “who sent a Direct Message where Twitter was not a party to the message,” and the recipient class, parties who received a Direct Message. The damages are as high as $100 per day for each Twitter user whose privacy was violated — as of right now, it is unclear how many members are disclosed in each party, but “on information and belief, there are tens of thousands of people in each of the Classes, making joinder of each individual member impracticable.”

A Twitter representative has not responded to TheWrap’s request for comment.