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Twitter admits to ‘harvesting’ user contacts

By TAMARA COHEN Time of article published Feb 17, 2012

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London - Twitter has admitted harvesting contact lists from its customers’ mobile phone address books without telling them.

The website said it copied lists of email addresses and phone numbers from those who used its smartphone application, amid claims it kept them on its database for 18 months.

Its management on Thursday agreed to change guidance to users about what it does with their personal information, after a storm of protest from privacy campaigners in the US.

The breach occurs when users of the micro-blogging site click the “Find Friends” option to see if any of their contacts are also on it.

Many of them did not know this meant the site then uploaded their entire address book and stored it afterwards.

Twitter spokesman Carolyn Penner said it would now offer users the option to “upload your address book” or “import your contacts” to make it clearer.

She said: “We want to be clear and transparent in our communications with users. Along those lines, in our next app updates, which are coming soon, we are updating the language associated with Find Friends – to be more explicit.”

The practice by a giant such as Twitter raises more concerns about the privacy implications posed by social networking sites which are used by an estimated 37 million Britons.

There is no suggestion the San Francisco-based firm was using the data – which it said was securely encrypted – for anything other than finding contacts for its customers.

But critics say the lack of “informed consent” raises questions about other less reputable sites which could harvest details to sell on, or potentially leave customers open to identity fraud. The admission also raises difficult questions for Apple, makers of the iPhone, as to why it had been allowed to happen, after the firm said such harvesting was a violation of its policy.

Two American congressman wrote to Apple about the practice, prompting it to toughen measures to make sure applications did not harvest data without “explicit user approval”.

Twitter is the latest social networking site to face a scandal over harvesting contact details, after Facebook came under fire for “synchronising” users’ email address books to its site. This has since been changed. - Daily Mail

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