Twitter says it mistakenly shared users' phone numbers for advertising

Daniel Fowler
October 9, 2019

Tailored Audiences and Partner Audiences are Twitter's advertising systems, which allow business to match their marketing lists with specific user accounts using the provided email addresses and phone numbers.

Twitter said Tuesday that it may have mishandled an unspecified number of users' email addresses and phone numbers, allowing that data to be used "inadvertently" for advertising purposes.

Twitter said this was a bug, and not something it meant to do. It told users that it may have "inadvertently" collected and shared some location data with an unnamed third-party partner. "This was an error", Twitter said.

You can give Twitter your phone number for protections like two-factor authentication, which is supposed to make it harder for hackers to access your account - even if they steal your username and password, they can't take over your account unless they also have your phone number.

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Twitter is only supposed to use phone numbers for two-factor authentication, but it appears to have been unintentionally used for more.

Those tools let advertisers aim a specific ad at a customer based on their own marketing lists. In that case, the Federal Trade Commission alleged Facebook deceived users because it "did not disclose, or did not adequately disclose" that phone numbers provided through its security tool for the goal of two-factor authentication "also would be used by Facebook to target advertisements to those users". Last month, some 419 million phone numbers were left exposed on an unprotected Facebook server, leaving countless users vulnerable to spam calls, as well as more serious security breaches.

This security mishap was subsequently discovered by a research team after the phone numbers added to test accounts were actively being targeted by advertisers after just a couple of weeks. "You can manage and delete the contact information you've uploaded at any time".

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