A class action suit has been filed against mega social media site Twitter. The suit alleges that Twitter misused its direct messaging platform for advertising benefits. According to the lawsuit, Twitter intercepted supposedly private messages between users, read those messages, and in many cases, altered the messages. For example, if a direct message contained a link to a particular news story, Twitter would alter the link to go through Twitter, thereby boosting their hits. This, in essence, gave them the upper hand in negotiations for ad dollars. The suit seeks damages for every American who sent or received a direct message through Twitter — up to $100 per person.
Whether Twitter is or is not guilty, the situation should cause pause among app developers. What lessons can you take away from this lawsuit, whether it is successful or not?
1. Be Careful What You Promise (Directly or By Implication)
If you promise privacy, you better be prepared to deliver it.
One of the main sources of leverage the plaintiff(s) have against Twitter is the fact that Twitter advertises its direct message service as a private way to communicate between users. After all, why send a direct message if the content won’t be kept private? When developing an app, be careful when making promises either directly or by implication, especially in regards to a user’s privacy. There are numerous privacy laws that mobile apps must adhere to.
2. Don’t Be a Predatory Advertiser
What Twitter is facing could have likely been avoided if Twitter hadn’t been so greedy for ad dollars. Are you squeezing your users for every conceivable way to get their money out of them? If so, you’re likely a predatory advertiser, and you could be lined up after Twitter in court. Be content to earn your fair share of money without becoming overly greedy and aggressive.
3. Know (and Abide By) All Privacy Laws
Privacy laws are just now catching up with technology. Expect these to get much more strict with more severe penalties. Know the laws you’re operating under with your user base, and develop your apps with privacy in mind from conceptualization to distribution. In fact, get a jump start on privacy laws. If you reasonably expect a certain piece of legislation to eventually become law, have your app developers build it into your app from the beginning. This prevents you from becoming afoul of the law down the road.
4. Follow Similar Lawsuits to Determine the Flavor of the Rulings
By following similar suits against tech companies, app developers, etc. you can get a good idea how privacy laws are being interpreted by the courts.
Though the U.S., UK, and other world governments are each trying to find their way in the age of technology, there is a common thread: all first world governments realize the importance of privacy as technology ever encroaches on our lives. Google, for example, just narrowly avoided a similar lawsuit alleging reading of users’ Gmail emails in an attempt to gain an advertising advantage. Similarly, Facebook’s facial recognition software is putting them under the legal microscope. Staying on top of court rulings will help you understand how the various privacy laws are being interpreted.
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