Judge Throws Out Lawsuit Against Twitter Over Ad-Targeting Slip-Up

Handing a victory to Twitter, a federal judge has dismissed a class-action complaint alleging that the company asked users to provide contact information in order to safeguard their accounts, then drew on that information for ad targeting.

In a decision issued Tuesday, U.S. District Court Magistrate Sallie Kim in the Northern District of California ruled that the allegations in the complaint, even if proven true, wouldn't establish that Twitter injured users financially.

The decision stemmed from a lawsuit brought by Maryland resident Lauren Price in May, soon after the Federal Trade Commission fined Twitter $150 million for allegedly misleading users by asking for their phone numbers and email addresses for security, then feeding that data into an ad-targeting platform. The FTC said Twitter's alleged misrepresentations violated a 2011 consent decree barring the company from misstating its privacy practices.

Price's lawsuit, like the FTC's complaint, 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 her class-action complaint -- including that Twitter violated its contract with users, and unfairly profited from their data.

Twitter urged Kim to dismiss the case at an early stage, arguing that Price's allegations, even if proven true, wouldn't show she experienced the kind of harm 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.

Kim agreed with Twitter. “Plaintiff has not alleged that she could sell her phone number and email address or that it otherwise has economic value to her, as opposed to the value that Twitter gained by aggregating that data,” the judge wrote. “Plaintiff fails to allege any concrete injury to show an injury in fact due to Twitter’s use of her phone number and/or email address.”

The ruling allows Price to revise her allegations and bring them again by December 29.

At least two other Twitter users also filed class-action complaints over the same allegations as Price. Those complaints are currently on hold, pending further activity in Price's lawsuit.

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