Internet advertising is a mysterious animal. One minute you’re shopping for Three Wolf Moon shirts or Horse Head Masks on Amazon, and the next minute your Facebook is covered in links to websites where you can buy other weird meme garbage. So how does Facebook know you like to buy weird meme garbage? It has something to do with the NSA, we assume, but a new lawsuit is accusing Twitter of using a pretty underhanded way to decide what kind of ads to show you.
That’s according to Mashable, which is reporting that a San Francisco man has filed a class action suit against Twitter alleging that it “surreptitiously eavesdrops” on the direct messages that people send to each other outside of the normal Twitter feed and then gives the information it gathers to advertisers. As Mashable explains, this all supposedly happens when a normal link (its example is “www.nytimes.com,” though “www.avclub.com” would also work) is pasted into a direct message. Twitter will then automatically alter the link so it passes through its “t.co” domain before going to the intended destination, which apparently allows the link to be traced by Twitter so it can see who clicked on the link and how many times they clicked on the link. The lawsuit claims that this also lets other sites know when their hits come from Twitter, which Twitter can then use to negotiate for better advertising rates, meaning the service is directly benefitting from “intercepting, reading, and altering” private messages like this.
Of course, these are all just unproven allegations at this point, but we think there’s a pretty easy way to test if Twitter is actually scanning your DMs and pushing ads based on the links you send. Just go on Twitter and send the following private message to as many people as you can: “I’m a good consumer who buys many things. You should click on these links. www.draftkings.com www.gameofwarapp.com.” If you suddenly start seeing ads for Draft Kings and Game Of War, we’ll know it worked. Also, Mashable points out that Google got in trouble for doing pretty much this exact thing last year, so yeah, Twitter is probably scanning your DMs.