Twitter Battles With Users Over Ad-Targeting Snafu

A Twitter user is pressing to proceed with a class-action complaint alleging that the company asked users to provide contact information for security purposes, but then used that information for ad targeting.

In papers filed Monday, Maryland resident Lauren Price argues that her allegations, if proven true, would allow her to recover whatever profit Twitter may have garnered from serving her with targeted ads.

“Because California law recognizes a legal interest in unjustly earned profits, plaintiff has adequately pleaded an entitlement to Twitter’s profits from targeted advertising using contact information that was provided under the guise of account security,” her lawyers argue in papers filed with U.S. District Court Judge Sallie Kim in the Northern District of California.

Price filed suit shortly after the Federal Trade Commission said it had fined Twitter $150 million for allegedly misleading users by asking for their phone numbers and email addresses for security purposes, but then drawing on the information for ad targeting.



The FTC said Twitter's alleged misrepresentations violated a 2011 consent decree that prohibited the company from misstating its privacy practices.

Twitter disclosed in 2019 that it inadvertently allowed marketers to target people based on contact information provided by users for authentication. The company said at the time that the data was mistakenly incorporated into an ad platform that allows companies to use their own marketing lists -- which include customers' email addresses and phone numbers -- to target ads on Twitter.

Price alleged in a class-action complaint that Twitter violated its contract with users, and unfairly profited from their data, among other claims.

Last month, Twitter urged Kim to throw out the case at an early stage for several reasons. Among others, Twitter argued that even if Price's allegations were proven true, they wouldn't show that Price had suffered the kind of injury that warrants a lawsuit.

Price “lacks any concrete injury sufficient to recover damages,” Twitter argued.

“To the extent she is concerned that her contact information may be used for interest-based advertising in the future, she may opt out of such advertising,” the company continued.

Price's lawyers countered that even in cases where people aren't financially harmed by a breach of contract, California law allows people to receive “nominal” damages.

They add that California law also allows her to proceed with an effort to seek “disgorgement of the profits Twitter unjustly earned from targeted advertising and marketing using information that was provided to Twitter on the pretext of improving account security.”

At least two other Twitter users also filed class-action complaints over the same allegations. Those complaints were recently referred to Kim, who could order the cases consolidated.

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