Twitter is NOT releasing all of your data to every scientist on the planet

Despite what you may have recently heard, Twitter is not releasing all of your data to every scientist on the planet. As cliché as it sounds they’re actually trying to make the world better, without pulling an NSA on your privacy.

In the last couple of days, a story has been floating around that Twitter will soon be releasing all of its data to scientists; that sounds pretty radical. Who knows what those nerds are up to using all of your selfies and late night anger tweets, right?

Well not so fast, because the original story from Scientific American was very misleading. Twitter is actually releasing public data to a handful of respected institutions and scientists for very specific, hand-picked research projects. That sounds a bit different, doesn’t it?

Instead of allowing any undergrad to go through your social media history and steal all of your selfies, Twitter is actually creating a research program to which institutions such as Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital can apply. Once accepted such institutions can work alongside Twitter engineers and access the company’s full archive of PUBLIC tweets, spanning hundreds of billions of tweets over 8 years.

This initiative was announced back in February and is called Twitter DataGrants. A few weeks ago the first projects to be approved were announced. These include research into the effectiveness of Cancer awareness campaigns, the spread of gastro-intestinal diseases in children, emergency information systems, urban happiness and a few others. All in all, six projects out of 1600 were accepted and all of come from highly respected institutions.

Using the power of Twitter, scientists can study all of these problems, such as the spread of disease in a population, and better understand how to mitigate and solve certain issues. We live in an age of big problems and big data so using one to solve the other seems like the logical and decent thing to do.

If all goes well Twitter is looking to expand their DataGrants program, and offer access to more researchers as time goes on. Overall this is a good thing, as it gives scientists a new tool to use in solving some of our most important problems.

Twitter image courtesy of DigitalTrends.com

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Even in it's original form how was this even a problem. I have a problem with companies taking my private data and allowing it to be mined by third parties, but Twitter is a public broadcast platform. All this data is already publicly available, it would just be very difficult to retrieve the data in it's current form. DataGrants simply allows selected partners easy access to the historical data.

Seriously, Twitter is a public broadcast service. If people don't want their tweets harvested, maybe they shouldn't be on Twitter in the first place...

Pretty much.
Makes me laugh how because it's a smaller group of people and they're buying it, it's somehow better ? Haha

Steven P. said,
Why not? Twitter is a privately owned company?

True, however, a company can't sell the concept privacy and, at the same time, sell your information to third parties.

OK, but the point of the article is that Scientific American made it look like ALL data was being released, when it's only publicly available data, big difference.

Steven P. said,
OK, but the point of the article is that Scientific American made it look like ALL data was being released, when it's only publicly available data, big difference.

If it was publicly available data, no-one would buy it, they'd just harvest it themselves. Why pay for something that's free?

Because harvesting is not just a click of the fingers, they're basically paying for twitter to do that for them....thats if they're even paying at all...no where in this or the linked origional article can I see mention of them paying Twitter...in fact quite the opposite, the name DataGRANTS, would imply the data is given for free.

The academic researchers who have been given access through the program are paying nothing. That is the entire point of the data grants, free access to historical data which can be used for academic purposes only.

If you have a lot of money, you can pay one of Twitter's data partners (or, since Twitter's accusation of Gnip, Twitter themselves) large amounts of money and they will give you access to the full firehouse (i.e. 100% of tweets as they are posted in real-time). Microsoft and a number of other organizations current pay for access to this, although it's unclear exactly how much they are paying for access to the data. This has been available for a number of years and is nothing new.

Twitter have a number of measures in place to protect privacy. Organizations who use Twitter data are not allowed to share it, and have an obligation to delete any data they have at the request of either Twitter or the copyright holder. This is all outlined in the Twitter API Terms of Service if anyone is interested in more information.

There is a large body of research which focuses on using social media data to monitor events and make predictions about the future, some of which have had quite a lot of success at predicting as the spread of flu or monitoring the likelihood that a protest will turn into a riot.

Twitter has also shown itself to be particularly useful in emergency situations, and they have been a number of publications on Twitter use during crisis events. A team in Japan were successfully able to detect and predict both the magnitude and direction of earthquakes in Japan. Their system was so quick that it even manages to send alerts to those likely to be hit by an earthquake before it strikes.

The police and fire-brigade also use Twitter to see what is happening in emergency situations. The police often hear about crimes on Twitter before they receive a phonecall (although, having spoke to a number of officers about this, they have great concerns with the accuracy of the information they gather through Twitter) and the fire-brigade are often able to judge the severity of fires and gather useful information through pictures posted on social media before they arrive at the scene.

The fact is, what you post to Twitter is public information. Twitter are not selling your personal information, they're not even selling your public information, they're selling unthrottled and easy access to information which is already freely available. If you don't want others to see what you've posted on Twitter then set your account to private, or simply don't post on Twitter at all.