Twitter Sued for Privacy Violations Over Use of Telephone Numbers

On Monday in the Western District of Washington, Darlin Gray filed a putative class-action complaint against Twitter for privacy violations alleging that the social media company made false representations about users’ control over Twitter’s use of their telephone numbers, which it purportedly used for advertising purposes.

According to the complaint, “(p)rivacy is a 21st century civil rights issue that affects everyone who interacts on digital platforms. Behemoth providers of ubiquitous digital platforms make promises of privacy when they solicit users. Too often, those promises are not kept.”

The plaintiff described Twitter as a telecommunications company because it “transmits knowledge or intelligence represented by any form of writing, signs, signals, pictures, sounds, or any other symbols by wire, radio, optical cable, electromagnetic, or other similar means.” The plaintiff proffered that “Twitter procured a telephone record which pertains to Gray.” In particular, plaintiff Gray averred that Twitter obtained her telephone number, which was allegedly done “with fraudulent, deceptive, or false means.” Specifically, the plaintiff claimed that the “means included assurances to Gray that Gray could designate the uses to which the telephone number was put, thereby maintaining control over the use of the telephone number by Twitter, through functions made available on Twitter’s user-facing systems.” When the plaintiff provided her telephone number to Twitter, she believed that she would be able to exercise control over its use based on Twitter’s representation. However, according to the plaintiff, this is not true. Therefore, the plaintiff asserted that Twitter “falsely assured Gray that it would honor the privacy choices exercised by her” through these purportedly false representations. The plaintiff claimed that other Twitter users provided their telephone numbers to Twitter under these allegedly false assurances.

The plaintiff averred that Twitter provided the plaintiff and putative class “various screens purportedly for account management that purported to give Gray and other Washington users the ability to control the use to which Twitter put phone numbers it had procured.” However, “Twitter did not honor the privacy choices exercised by Gray or other Washington users.” According to the plaintiff, Twitter concealed this conduct until October 2019, when it “publicly acknowledged that ‘when users provided an email address or phone number for safety or security purposes (for example, two-factor authentication) this data may have inadvertently been used for advertising purposes, specifically in our Tailored Audiences and Partner Audiences advertising system.” Nonetheless, plaintiff Gray asserted that this conduct constituted “fraudulent, deceptive, or false means,” to obtain this information, by for example, “promising users that Twitter would honor the privacy choices exercised by users regarding the use of telephone numbers through user-facing Twitter systems.” The plaintiff alleged that “Twitter did not create, implement, or execute systems that honored users’ designations as to use of those numbers.” Instead, according to the plaintiff, obtaining these telephone numbers increased Twitter’s revenue because it increased the amount advertisers paid Twitter for ads.

The putative class is all Washington residents who provided a telephone number to Twitter before it issued a disclosure in October 2019. The plaintiff has sought to maintain this as a class action, declaratory judgment in its favor, and award for damages, an award for costs and fees, to enjoin the defendants from further infringement and other relief.

Gray is represented by Ard Law Group PLLC.