A Texas resident has sued Twitter for allegedly scanning the private messages that users send each other through the microblogging platform.
The lawsuit, filed this week by Wilford Raney, centers on direct messages that contain links to outside articles. Raney alleges that Twitter "surreptitiously eavesdrops" on those messages by scanning them for links to outside publications, and then automatically using its link-shortening service to replace the original links.
"This link replacement happens instantaneously during transit and is hidden from both the sender and recipient," Raney alleges in a potential class-action lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.
Raney alleges that Twitter does so in order to garner credit for the referral from outside publishers -- who will see that the traffic is coming to their site through Twitter -- and to compile extra data about consumers.
"Twitter’s replacement of hyperlinks in private Direct Messages demonstrates that Twitter intercepts and reads the contents of every Direct Message, and it receives several benefits from this practice -- including the ability to track users based on information they would not reveal publicly through default tweets," the lawsuit alleges.
Twitter acknowledges in its terms of service that it shortens links that appear in users' public streams.
But Raney says the company doesn't disclose that it also uses a link-shortener for direct messages. He accuses Twitter of violating federal and California privacy laws by intercepting private communications without users' consent.
A Twitter spokesperson called the claims "meritless" and said the company intends to fight them.
Twitter isn't the only Silicon Valley company facing suit for allegedly intercepting messages. Facebook, Google and Yahoo also are defending themselves in similar lawsuits.
Facebook is embroiled in litigation in federal court in California for allegedly scanning the private messages that users send to each other through the platform. That lawsuit involves claims that Facebook interprets links within users' messages to each other as “Likes,” and then includes them in the total number of “Likes” that appear on the publishers' pages via social plug-ins. (Facebook has said it stopped that practice in 2012.)
Google and Yahoo are facing separate lawsuits alleging that they violate privacy laws by scanning email messages of people in order to surround them with ads. The lawsuit against those Google was brought on behalf of non-Gmail account holders, while the one against Yahoo is on behalf of people who don't have Yahoo email accounts. An earlier action alleging that Google wrongly scanned Gmail messages resulted in a settlement.