What you should know about Twitter’s data sales

Twitter users are about to become major marketing fodder, as two research companies get set to release information to clients who will pay for the privilege of mining the data.

Boulder, Colorado-based Gnip Inc and DataSift Inc, based in the U.K. and San Francisco, are licensed by Twitter to analyze archived tweets and basic information about users, like geographic location. DataSift announced this week that it will release Twitter data in packages that will encompass the last two years of activity for its customers to mine, while Gnip can go back only 30 days.

“Harvesting what someone said a year or more ago is game-changing,” said Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy for the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse in San Diego. As details emerge on the kind of information being mined, he and other privacy rights experts are concerned about the implications of user information being released to businesses waiting to pore through it with a fine-tooth comb.

“As we see Twitter grow and social media evolve, this will become a bigger and bigger issue,” said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for British-based Internet security company Sophos Ltd. “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.”

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