Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal: Twitter gets involved, confirms selling data access
The Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal started with Cambridge University researcher Aleksandr Kogan. He created a personality quiz called "thisisyourdigitallife" on Facebook that harvested personal information of 87 million users without consent. This was sold to political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica and was allegedly used to manipulate voters ahead of the 2016 US Presidential elections. Now reports suggest that Kogan collected information from Twitter as well.
Twitter has confirmed it sold public data access to Kogan's commercial enterprise Global Science Research (GSR). GSR paid for one day of access in 2015 during which it accessed random public tweets published between December 2014-April 2015. Twitter hasn't revealed the number of user accounts or tweets accessed. However, it conducted an internal audit and found that users' private data had not been accessed.
Twitter often sells public data access to organizations through its application programming interfaces (APIs). This data is usually used to analyze events, sentiment, and customer service. Twitter does not sell private data like Direct Messages and users can opt out of including location in their tweets. As of now, the company has removed Cambridge Analytica and other affiliated entities as its advertisers.
As part of this service, enterprise customers can access last 30 days of tweets or tweets from as far back as 2006. However, paying for data access on such a scale requires organizations to explain how they intend to use the data.
Given the short access window and the random collection of tweets, reports suggest that this could have been done to study the general sentiment of voters in 2015 and not for a targeted campaign per se. However, GSR could have correlated Facebook and Twitter data, which shows just how comprehensive the data collection drive was.
Please note that this is not like Facebook's scandal. Twitter profiles anyway don't share much about you personally, outside of what you wrote. Further, Twitter has removed over 142,000 Twitter API applications responsible for over 130 million "low-quality" tweets during the 2016 elections.