Twitter: We Don't Illegally Intercept Direct Messages

Twitter - H 2015
AP Images

Twitter - H 2015

A proposed class action lawsuit suggests that Twitter surreptitiously eavesdrops on its users’ communications, but on Monday, Twitter responded that what it does is "routine business conduct," that altering links in direct messages among users allows it to "prevent spam and malware," and that its users "expressly consent" to the activity deemed objectionable.

In September, Wilford Raney and others similarly situated filed the lawsuit in San Francisco and looked to hold the social media service liable for violating the Wiretap Act, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and a California privacy law. The plaintiffs are coming to court in the aftermath of unsuccessful lawsuits against Google and Yahoo for scanning email for the purposes of delivering advertising. The new case against Twitter reprises much of the legal controversy in those earlier lawsuits by attempting to figure out what constitutes illegal "interceptions" and violations of "seclusion."

The plaintiffs say that when Twitter users send links to each other, the social media company transforms the URLs into link shorteners for the purpose of having traffic directed through its own system so as to negotiate better advertising rates.

In a motion to dismiss, Twitter argues that the Wiretap Act is applied narrowly and neither it nor CIPA apply to its "processing" of direct messages. It picks up on plaintiff admissions that links are converted and "checked against a list of potentially dangerous sites" as well as increasing advertising, which Twitter says enables its "free services." Twitter adds that shortening URLs allows users to share more without running into character limits, and that all this constitutes the "ordinary course of business" exception to the Wiretap Act and doesn't amount to an "egregious breach of social norms" either.

"Notably, Plaintiff does not allege that this link processing involves any human review," it adds.

Twitter addresses its terms of service and privacy policy disclosures, too.

Among other things, users are told by Twitter, "We may modify or adapt your Content," "Twitter may keep track of how you interact with links across our redirecting clicks or through other means," and "We also reserve the right to access, read, preserve, and disclose any information as we reasonably believe is necessary to...detect, prevent, or otherwise address fraud, security or technical issues...or protect the rights, property or safety of Twitter, its users and the public."

Twitter uses this to argue that users consent while pointing out that Raney doesn't appear to have stopped using its service even after complaining. The defendant adds that Raney failed to allege any injury, which factors into his standing and an analysis of the tort claims.

That's really just the start of all the arguments against the lawsuit. Here's the entire 30-page memorandum