Tweetbeep Can See Through Twitter Privacy Protection

  • Comments: 5
  • Written on: November 2nd, 2008

Twitter LogoThe other day I was getting my teeth filled at the Dentist and my phone vibrated telling me my Dentist had just tweeted!

It seems like everyone is on Twitter these days. Some people use it for marketing, some people use it as a public diary, and some people elect to password protect their updates so only their friends can see them.

The people who enable Twitter’s password protection feature probably feel comfortable that their nosy parents, ex-boyfriend(s), or their boss at work won’t be able to read their less-than-public tweet thoughts.

The trouble is these tweets are anything but private.

A few weeks ago a colleague at a conference told me about a service called www.tweetbeep.com. This service sends you an email alert when a tweet is posted anywhere on Twitter that contains the words or phrase you specify. It works a lot like a Google Alert.

I signed up for a tweetbeep account and set some alerts on subjects I like to follow. In mere minutes tweets were gathered and emailed to me. Some of the people who posted the tweets seemed interesting, so I went to their Twitter page to follow them.

I was surprised to see that their Twitter page said their updates were protected and I had to submit a request to the user to follow them. I couldn’t see the updates, but somehow tweetbeep was able to?

I am not a programmer or anything, but I know that Twitter has an API, and I am pretty certain that tweetbeep used Twitter’s API to monitor tweets and aggregate them into emails to their subscribers.

That must mean there is a loophole in the Twitter API that allows programmers to read private Twitter time lines. If this is the case, it is only a matter of time before websites start popping up that will allow you to read a Twitter user’s private tweet time line.

Does anyone out there protect their updates on Twitter for privacy? Is there a service out there that allows people to see protected Twitter time lines already?

  1. Michael Jensen said on November 3rd, 2008 at 12:17 am

    TweetBeep can only find anything that is available through:

    http://search.twitter.com

    Which should only include tweets from public accounts. Maybe it was finding tweets from previously public accounts that have now been made private? The first alert you get does get the last 50, even if it goes all the way back to April 2008 when Summize/Twitter started collecting the data…

  2. Thor Schrock said on November 3rd, 2008 at 11:28 am

    I hear what you are saying Michael. These are ongoing though. I suppose it is possible that people are tweeting, then protecting their account, but I think its unlikely that it would happen so often.

    I guess it would be easy enough to test… Create a throw away Twitter account, password protect it, add a tweetbeep alert for a nonsense word, post that nonsense word to the protected time line and see what happens.

    I will try to do that today and let everyone know what I come up with. Lovin tweetbeep though! Let me know if there is ever anything you need that I might be able to hep with!

  3. Twitter Search said on May 26th, 2009 at 8:57 pm

    thats great that you are talking about the twitter api,a good example of searching with the twitter api is on twiogle.com because you can search on twitter and google at the same time.

  4. Hsa
    Hsa said on August 12th, 2009 at 11:28 am

    I don’t know why you’d care enough about what other people are thinking to use tweetbeep.

  5. ├╝berRegenbogen
    ├╝berRegenbogen said on August 16th, 2009 at 1:21 am

    Interresting question, Hsa. The answer is: for the same reason that one would use Twitter in the first place.

    I suspect that the question stems from the common perception that Twitter is nothing but people spewing pointless minutia about even the most of mundane activities. There are people who do that. I generally don’t follow them.

    There IS some worthwhile traffic there. And a watch list is one of the more sensible ways to find it.

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