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Twitter Profited From Users' Data Without Their Consent, Lawsuit Alleges

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Queenie Wong Former Senior Writer
Queenie Wong was a senior writer for CNET News, focusing on social media companies including Facebook's parent company Meta, Twitter and TikTok. Before joining CNET, she worked for The Mercury News in San Jose and the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon. A native of Southern California, she took her first journalism class in middle school.
Expertise I've been writing about social media since 2015 but have previously covered politics, crime and education. I also have a degree in studio art. Credentials
  • 2022 Eddie award for consumer analysis
Queenie Wong
2 min read
Twitter logo on a phone

Twitter, like other social networks, has grappled with privacy issues.

Graphic by Pixabay/Illustration by CNET

What's happening

Twitter users sued the social media company, alleging in a lawsuit the tech platform profited from their personal information without their consent. Twitter disclosed in 2019 that phone numbers and email addresses users provided for a security feature may have been used for targeted advertising.

Why it matters

It's an example of the legal consequences tech companies face when they violate user privacy.

Twitter is facing more legal woes for allegedly providing advertisers user phone numbers and email addresses without their consent. In 2019, the company disclosed that personal information users handed over for a security feature may have been used for targeted advertising.

On Thursday, two Twitter users sued the social media company in a proposed class action lawsuit filed in a federal court in Northern California. In the 38-page complaint, Texas resident Christina McClellan and California resident Billy Moses say they wouldn't have provided Twitter personal information such as their phone numbers and email addresses if they knew the company was going to use this data for targeted advertising.

The lawsuit is the latest consequence Twitter is dealing with over alleged privacy violations. In May, Twitter agreed to pay a $150 million penalty for allegedly violating the Federal Trade Commission Act and a 2011 order by the FTC by misrepresenting how it would use nonpublic user contact information. Twitter users in other states such as Washington have also sued the tech platform for violating their privacy.

Twitter encouraged users to provide their phone numbers and email addresses for an extra layer of security known as two-factor authentication but didn't inform them that data could be used for targeted advertising.

"As a result of Twitter's deceptive practices, consumers surrendered valuable personal information that they expected to remain private and to be used only for security purposes," the lawsuit states. "Consequently, consumers were deprived of the ability to control how this information is used and who possesses it."

The lawsuit alleges Twitter profited from this data without user consent because advertisers could use emails and phone numbers to figure out a potential customer's identity and learn about where they live, what products they purchase, where they shop and other valuable information.

"The more intimate and private details that Twitter can collect or induce its users to provide, the more revenue it derives," the lawsuit says.

There are other risks that come with providing phone numbers and email addresses because they can be used to identify a person. Hackers, the lawsuit notes, can use an email to try to access a user's social media accounts or collect other information for identity theft.

The lawsuit also alleges the company violated California's Unfair Competition Law and its contract with users. Twitter's privacy policy at the time said it doesn't share information such as email addresses and phone numbers with its partners but the data it provides could be linked to other data if a user provides consent to that partner.

As part of the lawsuit, Twitter users are demanding a jury trial and that the company take other actions such as disclosing to users whether and how their personal information was used.

Twitter said it didn't have a comment about the lawsuit. The company's legal troubles have been mounting after billionaire Elon Musk tried to back out of buying the social media platform for $44 billion.