Twitter faces lawsuit for eavesdropping on Direct Messages

Social network Twitter is facing a potential lawsuit after allegedly spying on users' Direct Messages, a popular feature where people can talk privately without anyone else seeing.

A court case has been filed in San Francisco by Wilford Raney, in which it accuses Twitter of using algorithms to "surreptitiously eavesdropping" on users.

The secret surveillance supposedly takes place whenever a user includes a hyerlink in his or her message. The lawsuit claims that Twitter's algorithms replace any hyperlinks with its own custom links, meaning the person clicking on the link has to go through Twitter's servers to get to the website.

Using the New York Times as an example, the lawsuit says: "For example, Twitter changes links like “www.nytimes.com” to links like “http:/t.co/CL2SKBxr1s” (while still displaying the text “www.nytimes.com” to its users). Should someone click on this new link (http:/t.co/CL2SKBxr1s), they would first be taken to Twitter’s “t.co” website and then forwarded to the original “www.nytimes.com” website."

According to the lawsuit, this allows Twitter to track links for advertisers and be be identifies as a source of traffic for potential partners, thereby allowing the social network to negotiate improved advertising rates.

The company does admit to tracking user links in its Privacy Policy, saying: "We do this to help improve our Services, to provide more relevant advertising, and to be able to share aggregate click statistics such as how many times a particular link was clicked on"

The Direct Message feature recently received an update, allowing users to use up to 10,000 characters and removing the original 140-character limit.