Report: Twitter sold data to Cambridge academic behind Facebook scandal
The data was apparently legally obtained through Twitter's data licensing program.
Now it’s Twitter’s turn. Bloomberg is reporting that the company licensed data to Aleksandr Kogan, the Cambridge University researcher whose “personality quiz” app on Facebook led to the Cambridge Analytica data privacy abuses.
Kogan’s company, Global Science Research (GSR), gained access to Twitter data through its API, reportedly for a single day in 2015. The data covered a five-month period from December 2014 to April 2015, Twitter said in a statement to Bloomberg.
GSR paid for the data through Twitter’s data licensing program. Twitter says that GSR didn’t have access to any private information or direct messages.
As part of Twitter’s data licensing program, companies are required to explain their intended use cases. Twitter’s current developer terms also include the following language on restrictions:
You should be careful about using Twitter data to derive or infer potentially sensitive characteristics about Twitter users or their content. In particular, don’t derive or infer, or store derived or inferred, information about a Twitter user’s:
- Health (including pregnancy)
- Negative financial status or condition
- Political affiliation or beliefs
- Racial or ethnic origin
- Religious or philosophical affiliation or beliefs
- Sex life or sexual orientation
- Trade union membership
- Alleged or actual commission of a crime
Aggregate analysis of Twitter data that does not process any personal information (e.g., information about identifiable accounts or individuals) is permitted, provided that the analysis also complies with applicable laws and all parts of the Developer Agreement and Policy.
The revenue that Twitter generated from enterprise data licensing in Q1 2018 was $90 million.
Twitter ad and data-licensing revenue
Aleksandr Kogan has since publicly apologized for his role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, saying that he didn’t believe he was doing anything wrong at the time. Cambridge Analytica’s exploitation of the data he provided may have impacted the outcomes of the Brexit vote in the UK and the 2016 US presidential election.
Cambridge Analytica hired Kogan’s firm to obtain user data for political marketing purposes. Facebook said that the data of as many as 87 million users was improperly accessed and used. However, it’s likely the scope of data appropriation was much larger.
Facebook has since made changes aimed at preventing Cambridge Analytica-style abuses in the future. For its part, Twitter says it banned Cambridge Analytica as an advertiser (and presumably a data licensee).
Postscript: Twitter provided the following, previously issued statement:
Based on the recent reports, we conducted our own internal review and did not find any access to any private data about people who use Twitter.
Unlike many other services, Twitter is public by its nature. People come to Twitter to speak publicly, and public Tweets are viewable and searchable by anyone. In 2015, GSR did have one-time API access to a random sample of public Tweets from a five-month period from December 2014 to April 2015.
Twitter has also made the policy decision to off-board advertising from all accounts owned and operated by Cambridge Analytica. This decision is based on our determination that Cambridge Analytica operates using a business model that inherently conflicts with acceptable Twitter Ads business practices. Cambridge Analytica may remain an organic user on our platform, in accordance with the Twitter Rules.