Thursday, 17 October, 2019

Twitter recycled 2FA phone numbers to tailor ads

Cartoon image of a sperm whale being held aloft by balloons EnlargeTwitter
Russell Knight | 09 October, 2019, 08:40

Tailored Audiences and Partner Audiences are Twitter's advertising systems, which allow business to match their marketing lists with specific user accounts using the provided email addresses and phone numbers.

Twitter says it mistakenly used the phone numbers and email addresses people provided for security purposes to show advertisements to its users.

This language, in which Twitter calls the error, "the issue that allowed this to occur", is way too passive.

"We're very sorry this happened and are taking steps to make sure we don't make a mistake like this again", Twitter said.

The company said it had decided to "make everyone aware" of the issue given it was unable to narrow down exactly which accounts may have been impacted.

"No personal data was ever shared externally with our partners or any other third parties", added Twitter.

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When users and companies promote sponsored tweets on Twitter, they can filter an ad's audience based on a series of criteria.

"This was an error and we apologise", the company said in a blog post.

Facebook also agreed not to use phone numbers given for security purposes to advertise to people. It is not clear what this incident could mean for Twitter legally, if anything.

Gizmodo Australia has reached out to Twitter Australia to determine how many Australians were affected and how Targeted Audiences will differentiate email addresses and phone numbers which have been provided for security purposes as opposed to advertising purposes.

Something similar happened previous year when, as Gizmodo's Kashmir Hill discovered, Facebook built complex advertising profiles for all its users containing everything from their two-factor authentication phone numbers to info harvested from their friends' profiles.

Social media companies, including Twitter and Facebook, have faced heat from users and regulators globally on how their platforms handle user data.

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