Twitter Pushes Judge To Toss Complaint Over Ad-Targeting Blunder

Twitter is pressing a federal judge to throw out a class-action complaint over claims that the company sought users' contact information for security purposes, but then harnessed the data for ad targeting.

In court papers filed late last week, Twitter argues that its internal use of people's contact information was consistent with statements in its privacy policy. The company also says that Maryland user Lauren Price, who brought the case, can't establish that she was injured by Twitter's alleged use of her contact information.

“Twitter did not sell -- or even disclose -- her information to advertisers, and there is no allegation in plaintiff’s complaint ... that Twitter sold account holder information to anyone. Nor could there be,” the company writes in documents filed with U.S. District Court Judge Sallie Kim in the Northern District of California. "The complaint should be dismissed."

The company's papers come in a lawsuit filed by Price this May, shortly after the Federal Trade Commission said it fined Twitter $150 million for allegedly misleading users by asking for their phone numbers and email addresses for security, but then drawing on the information for ad targeting. The FTC said Twitter's alleged misrepresentations violated a 2011 consent decree barring the company from misstating its privacy practices.

The lawsuit, like the FTC action, stemmed from Twitter's 2019 disclosure that it inadvertently allowed marketers to target people based on contact information provided by users for authentication. The company said the contact data was mistakenly incorporated into an ad platform that allows companies to use their own marketing lists (which can include customers' email addresses and phone numbers) to target ads on Twitter.

Price raised several claims in a class-action complaint -- including that Twitter violated its contract with users, and unfairly profited from their data.

Twitter argued in papers filed in August that the case should be dismissed at an early stage for several reasons, including that Price wasn't injured by the alleged use of her data.

Her lawyers recently responded that regardless of whether Price was injured, she should be allowed to proceed with an effort to seek disgorgement of profits Twitter earned from the allegedly incorporating her contact information into its ad platform.

Twitter counters in its most recent filing that Price isn't entitled to any profits -- in part, because she hasn't alleged there is a market for individual pieces of contact data.

The company also argues to Kim that the 2018 privacy policy (in effect during the time covered by Price's complaint) contains “repeated disclosures” that the company will use contact information for advertising.

“The only conduct actually alleged in the complaint is that Twitter used account holder contact information provided for security purposes for advertising as well. But plaintiff does not point to any promise not to use contact information for advertising,” the company argues.

Kim is expected to hold a hearing on that matter on November 14.

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