Twitter has been fined $150 million by US authorities after collecting users’ email addresses and phone numbers for security purposes and using the data to target them with adverts.

Twitter had told users the information would be used to keep their accounts safe, according to a settlement with the US Department of Justice (DoJ) and the Federal Trade Commission.

“While Twitter represented to users that it collected their telephone numbers and email addresses to secure their accounts, Twitter failed to disclose that it also used user contact information to aid advertisers in reaching their preferred audiences,” said a court complaint filed by the DoJ.

The offences occurred between May 2013 and September 2019, according to the court document, with the information used for purposes including two-factor authentication.

But the social media network would then use this data to allow advertisers to target specific groups of Twitter users, by matching the telephone numbers and email addresses to the advertisers’ own lists of telephone numbers and email addresses.

In addition to the financial settlement, the agreement requires Twitter to improve its compliance practices. The complaint said the misrepresentations violated the FTC Act and a 2011 settlement with the agency.

Twitter’s chief privacy officer, Damien Kieran, said in a statement that the company had “cooperated with the FTC every step of the way”.

“In reaching this settlement, we have paid a $150m penalty, and we have aligned with the agency on operational updates and program enhancements to ensure that people’s personal data remains secure and their privacy protected,” he added.

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Musa Suleiman
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