Everyone suspects -- at one time or another, consciously or subconsciously - that nothing is private online.
Everything they share on the Internet, whether it's the keywords they use in their Google searches, the random status updates they post on Facebook, the food they tweet about, is being used by unknown companies trying to woo unsuspecting consumers into buying things.
Now you can put those suspicions to rest. There are such companies. And, Twitter users have a pretty clear idea about who they are.
Two companies, Gnip, based out of Colorado, and DataSift, located in San Francisco, have been partenered with Twitter to sift through archived tweets in order “to filter and extract insights and trends that relate to brands, businesses, financial markets, news and public opinion.”
In other words, a company like Netflix, for example, can now pay DataSift to see what you have said about them in the past two years.
DataSift said this week that it would be creating a “a cloud-computing platform that enables entrepreneurs and enterprises to extract business insights from Twitter's public Tweets… dating back to January 2010.”
“DataSift enriches every Tweet with details including sentiment, topics, web-links, location and social media influence -- giving companies an unprecedented capability to filter social data, extract meaning and create insights.”
While DataSift is able to go back over two years to mine tweets for information, Gnip is only able to back 30 days, what they are calling 30-Day Replay.
Technology experts are already speaking out against these types of deals, warning about what they might mean for consumers. While tweets are public, and people who use the website should know that anything they write can be seen by anyone, we are living in a time where companies like Google are being accused of breaking the law with their privacy positions. How companies use their consumer’s information is becoming a very big concern.
"People have historically used Twitter to communicate with friends and networks in the belief that their tweets will quickly disappear into the ether," Gus Hosein, executive director of Privacy International, told the BBC.
"The fact that two years' worth of tweets can now be mined for information and the resulting 'insights' sold to businesses is a radical shift in the wrong direction."
Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for British-based Internet security company Sophos Ltd, told Reuters, "Online companies know which websites we click on, which adverts catch our eye, and what we buy ... increasingly, they're also learning what we're thinking. And that's quite a spooky thought.”
Still, not everyone is quite as concerned. Thomas Bosilevac, director of analytics for the digital marketing company Digitaria, who told Reuters, "The only privacy risk is marketers being able to do more with the data, faster."
For those who use Twitter and are uncomfortable with the information that they posted being used in this way, they do have one recourse: these companies cannot use either private messages or deleted tweets.