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Twitter is blocking Cambridge Analytica from buying ads because of business ‘conflicts’

Cambridge Analytica can stay on Twitter, just not as an advertiser.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey onstage
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey
The Verge

The latest revelation in Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica data scandal has nothing to do with Facebook: This time, it’s Twitter. Twitter has suspended Cambridge Analytica from advertising on its platform because it has a “business model that inherently conflicts with acceptable Twitter Ads business practices.”

It helps to rewind a little bit: It turns out Aleksandr Kogan, the researcher who obtained Facebook data and sold it to Cambridge Analytica without user consent, had access to some Twitter data as well.

Twitter confirmed over the weekend that Kogan obtained public tweet information in late 2014 and early 2015, but said that no “private” data was accessed. The company defended the data collection by pointing out that “Twitter is public by its nature.”

That’s the key difference here between Twitter’s situation and the one Facebook is in. In Facebook’s case, a lot of the data Kogan collected was private data.

Here’s the company’s statement:

Based on the recent reports, we conducted our own internal review and did not find any access to private data about people who use Twitter. Unlike many other services, Twitter is public by its nature. People come to Twitter to speak publicly, and public Tweets are viewable and searchable by anyone. GSR did have one-time API access to a random sample of public Tweets for a five-month period from December 2014 to April 2015.

That actually makes sense, considering Twitter sells access to public tweets as part of its business. Twitter’s “data licensing and other revenue” totaled $333 million in 2017. It’s not a secret that advertisers can pay for a searchable archive of all tweets.

But Twitter’s Cambridge Analytica situation is also interesting because Twitter has suspended the data firm as an advertiser.

“Twitter has made the policy decision to off-board advertising from all accounts owned and operated by Cambridge Analytica,” a company spokesperson said in a statement. “This decision is based on our determination that Cambridge Analytica operates using a business model that inherently conflicts with acceptable Twitter Ads business practices. Cambridge Analytica may remain an organic user on our platform, in accordance with the Twitter Rules.”

It’s not entirely clear how Cambridge Analytica violated Twitter’s rules, and we’ve asked a spokesperson to clarify.

But Twitter’s developer terms prohibit people from using Twitter data to “derive or infer potentially sensitive characteristics about Twitter users” like their political affiliation or religious beliefs. It also forbids developers from using information they collect from Twitter to match it with other data about that user collected off Twitter. Given Cambridge Analytica’s efforts to create targeted voting profiles, this may be where the violation occurred.

Cambridge Analytica, for its part, says that it never received any Twitter data from Kogan or his research company, GSR.

“Cambridge Analytica has never received Twitter data from GSR or Aleksandr Kogan, and has never done any work with GSR on Twitter data,” the company tweeted Monday.

It’s not clear where the situation goes from here, and this thread feels like a small sidebar to the much larger Facebook ordeal. Still, this whole Cambridge Analytica scandal has been one surprise after another ...

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