Twitter tarnished by iPhone contact scandal

Filed Under: Apple, Data loss, Featured, iOS, Privacy

twitterbird ooops

Got an iPhone or equivalent? Use Twitter? Maybe you've found it easy peasy to connect up with your friends, family and colleagues using the Twitter app.

Sadly, this isn't a result of your native tech skills. Twitter simply snarfles up information from your address book, according to media reports.

You didn't know this? Twitter didn't ask your express permission beforehand?

This is how it seems to work: you run the Twitter app and tap the 'Find Friends' option. The app then uploads email addresses and phone numbers from all of the contacts in your personal address book, and keeps it on its servers for a full 18 months.

Now is it just me or would most of us like to be explicitly alerted when an app decides to do this? In response, Twitter told the LA Times, "in our next app updates, which are coming soon, we are updating the language associated with Find Friends to be more explicit."

They could simply display a message similar to this one:

Selecting 'Find friends' means you are permitting Twitter to take and store the information about your personal contacts from your address book. Do you want to continue?

Granted, it may mean fewer people give Twitter access to personal data, but the company would certainly gain some love points for being open and honest.

Now, for those of you concerned that your contacts' info might be on Twitter's servers, you can get Twitter to zap the data here. Not ideal that it requires you to act in order for Twitter to delete the information, but better than nothing I suppose.

Sadly, Twitter isn't alone in doing this. Reportedly, iPhone apps including Foursquare, Instagram, Path and Hipster are also up to similar shenanigans.

Following the outcry, Apple is promising to be more vigilant about how explicitly apps request information from users, as reported by my colleague Chet.

twitter manNow I, like most people, have a raging appetite for all things social. But it seems that at every turn, online services are trying to take advantage of the naivety of their users, rather than look after them. It isn't cool, and I expect better.

And please don't tell me that they offer a free service, so I don't have a say. The *only* thing that makes a company like Twitter a success is its users.

Social media sites utterly depend on us to create accounts and use their services to become and stay successful. If the masses ignore them completely, or walk away when they don't meet expectations, then they wither and die.

And that should be food for thought, folks. Collectively, we hold all the flipping cards. Maybe it is time we become a little less blasé with how we expect these companies to treat us.

Twitter man courtesy of Shutterstock
Don't be aveerage courtesy of Shutterstock

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9 Responses to Twitter tarnished by iPhone contact scandal

  1. Nathanael · 792 days ago

    "interestingly" enough, every time I try to delete that data, it tells me that "oops, we can't do that" Presumably it wants to add "Dave" to the end of that message.

  2. Roger · 792 days ago

    Bad thing, but no surprise...

    What's with WhatsApp?

    The only different thing is, they take many more data from the "infected" phones, but nobody cares.

    People pay their messages with personal informations from others.. thats also a shame.

  3. Thomas · 792 days ago

    Honestly, how do people think that these apps find friends? By waving a magic wand? Admittedly, keeping that information, or uploading it without waiting for the user to click a "Find Friends" button, isn't right, but come on folks... There's some personal responsibility the users of those apps need to take!

    • Michael · 792 days ago

      More to the point, how do people think these social networks make revenue? Of course Twitter must keep itself profitable somehow, and that usually involves acquiring and selling data of some kind.

      • Yes, that's the most important point to keep in mind. Also, people should probably start limiting their use of social networks altogether. To think that these services are available on a free basis is quite naive, to say the least. Anyway, making things clear from their side should be required, hence the scandal.

  4. Peter · 791 days ago

    I think that you are all missing a serious point. Because my phone has information held in it, about my friends, does NOT mean that THEY give me permission or even want their details uploaded ANYWHERE.

    Simply advisng the owner of the phone that their details will be uploaded is not sufficient authority for any company to upload the contact's details EVEN IF the phone owner was happy to do so.

    Urgent legislation needs to be introduced to PROTECT contacts details. The bottom line is that it should be made illegal to upload such data period. One reason I do not use either Twitter or Facebook, nor do I recommend that others do so either.

  5. GodKoble · 791 days ago

    You wrote: " Now, for those of you concerned that your contacts' info might be on Twitter's servers, you can get Twitter to zap the data here = https://twitter.com/#!/who_to_follow/import"

    This site does not show how to get twitter to zap the contacts on its server. Where exactly should we go? Regards

  6. GodKoble · 791 days ago

    You wrote: " Now, for those of you concerned that your contacts' info might be on Twitter's servers, you can get Twitter to zap the data here = https://twitter.com/#!/who_to_follow/import"

    There is nothing there to help zap the information. any other link?

  7. Tom · 747 days ago

    Viber app for the iPhone does still your data too and "keep it" in dam server located on the Island of Malta or Cyprus, or something like that. One of the problems with the iTunes store is that you are not being notified in advance if an app can access, retrieve, transfer and store you Address Book data - Before purchasing and installing the app. You usually notice what the app Can do until is Too Late, and usually by a "Read between the lines" phrase. So, people with a low IQ may actually click on "OK - I Accept" My advice is open new installed apps in Airplane Mode to catch any move and if you get suspect the app will Still your data Uninstall it right away. If the app is just a front app for popular websites such as Twitter and Facebook, you may better access their website through a secure web browser for the iPhone, such as Atom (which erases history and cookies on every session) There is also Ghostery for the iPhone. Apple, indeed, shall be more vigilant and Prohibit any app for accessing the iPhone's Address Book - It is Our data, Not Theirs!

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About the author

Hi. I am a social, brand and communications expert with 10 years in senior roles in the tech space. I'm currently Sophos' s Global Director of Social Media and Communities. Proudest work achievement? Creating and launching award-winning Naked Security. Outside work, I am a mean cook, an avid reader, a chronic insomniac, a podcast obsessive and blogger .