- Firm called Datasift has bought access to two years' worth of Tweets
- Users' history - including GPS information - will be sold on to advertisers
- Sparks storm over privacy and security
Twitter has sold billions of archived tweets believed to have vanished forever. Twitter sold the information published by two advertising brokers, who will resell the data packages. A privacy row has erupted as hundreds of companies queue up to purchase users’ personal information from the new database.
Twitter users are about to become major marketing fodder, as two research companies get set to release information to clients who will pay for the privilege of mining the data.
Boulder, Colorado-based Gnip Inc. and DataSift Inc., based in the U.K. and San Francisco, are licensed by Twitter to analyze archived tweets and basic information about users, like geographic location. DataSift announced this week that it will release Twitter data in packages that will encompass the last two years of activity for its customers to mine, while Gnip can go back only 30 days.
Privacy campaigners condemned Twitter yesterday for allowing businesses to buy access to its archive of millions of tweets.
About seven million people in Britain use the social networking website to post short messages to ‘followers’.
Most believe their tweets are unavailable to those outside their chosen network after a week because that is when they can no longer be searched for on the site.
But Twitter has archived every tweet – there are about 250million a day – and has agreed a deal allowing the UK-based company Datasift to trawl through all those posted since January 2010.
The company will use the information to help firms with marketing campaigns and target influential users.
The licensing deal is part of Twitter’s plan to generate revenue from its service, which is free to its estimated 300million users worldwide.
Twitter opted not to comment on the sale and deferred questions to DataSift. In 2010, Twitter agreed to share all of its tweets with the U.S. Library of Congress. Details of how that information will be shared publicly are still in development, but there are some stated restrictions, including a six-month delay and a prohibition against using the information for commercial purposes.
That’s where DataSift comes in.
Datasift says that almost a thousand companies have already signed up to access the Twitter Historics data, which they'll use for marketing purposes.
"The sheer volume of data being produced by Twitter represents a huge challenge for companies trying to extract insights from past events," says DataSift CEO Rob Bailey.
"Historics solves this problem, providing businesses with a platform to intelligently filter and extract meaning from two years' Twitter data."
Those who buy the data will be able to see tweets on specific topics and even isolate those views based on geography. Mr. Bailey, who is based in San Francisco, said the effect is something like holding a huge number of sporadic focus groups on brands or products.
Every tweet, says Datasift, is 'enriched' with details including sentiment, topics, web-links, location and social media influence. Those who buy the data, it says, can analyze trends in customer conversations and identify market influencers.
"With Historics we've democratized and simplified how businesses can unlock insights from billions of social conversations," says Datasift founder and CTO Nick Halstead.
Tim Barker, Datasift’s marketing manager, told The Telegraph that the service, which costs £635 a month for an entry level package, will help businesses “understand their customers better”.
“We now live in an era where brands are shaped by what customers say and by accessing these tweets, companies can listen to their customers at scale,” he said.
Datasift pays Twitter a syndication fee each time it licenses a tweet to a company. The relationship is not exclusive however, and other companies are expected to follow suit and offer increased access to users’ tweets. Datasift charges companies up to £10,000 a month to analyse tweets posted each day for anything said about their products and services.
Barker said that Datasift had decided to go back two years as that was when Twitter “really became mainstream”. The site processes around 250 million tweets a day.
He thinks the insights will help brands understand consumers better – but any company which then aggressively markets or targets its customers on social media, will not be received warmly as that is not how to treat users of such sites at Twitter.
Twitter is a public social network, as there is no privacy option. Barker said he had no idea whether the company will allow consumers to access their own tweets going back more than seven days anytime soon.
“It is incredibly difficult to store and serve that amount of data over long periods of time,” he explained.
Datasift's obviously very pleased with the deal, and for Twitter it means one more source of cash. But the move has alarmed privacy campaigners, with the online rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation describing it as ‘creepy’.
“It’s frustrating, and telling, that now marketers have greater access to my old tweets than I do,” said Rebecca Jeschke, digital rights analyst and spokeswoman for the non-profit Electronic Frontier Foundation. “However, this is perfectly legal, if creepy. If you publish your tweets publicly, that allows all sorts of folks to do all sorts of things with them.”
Nick Pickles, director of the Big Brother Watch campaign group, said: "People may consider tweets to be personal property but this deal makes clear they are not. Our personal posts on social media are yet another way for advertisements to be better targeted and that’s a very lucrative industry.
"It’s clear that if you’re not paying for a service, you are not the customer – you’re the product."
Gus Hosein, of the watchdog group Privacy International, said: "People have used Twitter to communicate with friends and networks in the belief that their tweets will quickly disappear into the ether.
"The fact that two years’ worth of tweets can now be mined for information and the resulting 'insights' sold to businesses is a radical shift in the wrong direction.
"Twitter has turned a social network that was meant to promote global conversation into a vast market-research enterprise with unwilling, unpaid participants."
Justin Basini, of the data privacy company Allow, said: "Marketers will stop at nothing to get hold of your data. This move shows all those throwaway tweets have suddenly become a rich new revenue stream for Twitter.
"It has taken a stream of consciousness, analysed it, bottled it and sold it for a profit. And the worst thing is, you never knew it was going to happen."
The row comes amid privacy concerns on other social networks.
Facebook has been criticised after admitting it can read the text messages of those who use the service on their mobile phones.
And the web giant Google has also come under fire for collecting data about internet users.
Datasift is one of two companies granted access to Twitter's 'firehose' - the full amount of data streaming through the site.
"DataSift goes beyond what many social media monitoring companies do," says founder Nick Halstead.
"Instead of just searching on keywords such as 'Nike', DataSift can search on all the people, products, and links associated with the company, then slice and dice the data for different departments such as marketing, product and the like."
For instance, Coca-Cola Co. could look at what people in Massachusetts are saying about its Coke Zero, or Starbucks Corp could find out what people in Florida are saying about caramel lattes. Companies can also look at how they have responded to consumer complaints.
Gnip, which offers the short-term data package, said the information collected – which involves real-time viewing – can also be used during natural disasters to help rescuers, to monitor illnesses such as a flu outbreak and to analyze stock market sentiment.
Graham Cluley from security firm Sophos said, "The news will surprise some. Twitter has found another way to monetise its service, having partnered with a firm which will make it simple for market researchers working for big companies to search and analyse the last two years of your Twitter updates.
"You thought that tweets you posted months ago had vanished, or were simply hidden away so deeply and awkwardly on the Twitter website that they would be too difficult to uncover? Think again."
1, 2, 3, delete your twitter feed
uh, i didn't know where to tag this, so i just put it under nerd alert. how come facebook gets a tag and twitter doesn't?