Privacy fears as Twitter allows data mining

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Datasift to make two years of data available to companies for research

Companies can now access two years of Twitter data after UK company Datasift launched a service called Historics to tap into trends.

The company said it set up the system to make better use of Twitter's trove of data, allowing it to be mined for brand management, financial trends, or for social and political data to gauge public opinion.

“To create insights from social data, we enrich every Tweet with details including sentiment, topics, web links, location and social media influence – giving companies an unprecedented capability to filter social data, extract meaning and create insights,” the company claims on its website introducing the system.

Twitter has turned a social network that was meant to promote real-time global conversation into a vast market-research enterprise with unwilling, unpaid participants

The company told PC Pro the move was the first time such a long-term slab of data was being made available, with previous data tools restricted to 30 days.

"Twitter lets you go back a week with public search, and there are tools through partnerships that extend to 30 days, but this is the first time this much data is being made available," a spokesperson told PC Pro.

Users of the service would have access to data from all 250 million tweets a day going back two years.

Privacy concerns

However, the move drew criticism from privacy campaigners who were concrerned Twitter users would not expect to have their thoughts scrutinised two years later.

"People have historically used Twitter to communicate with friends and networks in the belief that their tweets will quickly disappear into the ether," Gus Hosein, executive director of Privacy International, told the BBC.

"The fact that two years' worth of tweets can now be mined for information and the resulting 'insights' sold to businesses is a radical shift in the wrong direction," he said.

"Twitter has turned a social network that was meant to promote real-time global conversation into a vast market-research enterprise with unwilling, unpaid participants."

Datasift, on the other hand, points out that Twitter is a public forum, with posts available to anyone on the service.

"This is meant for macro-level analysis, not looking at individuals," the company said, adding that private profiles or deleted tweets would not be included in results.

"Twitter is not like Facebook where much more is private - it's a public forum."

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