Twitter suffers fraud, Facebook steels for privacy fight

30 June 2009

SAN FRANCISCO: Never believe what you read in the newspapers, or so goes the old saying. It's advice that might need updating for the social media age following reports that businesses have been the target of fake impersonators on Twitter, the increasingly influential microblogging website.

Elevation Burger, an east-coast-based chain of organic burger joints, has discovered bogus "tweets" - the name for postings on the service - promoting rival Z Burger. Oil giant Exxon Mobile, meanwhile, has uncovered two Twitter accounts under names that closely approximate its own.

It has since come to light that Z Burger owner Peter Tabibian was behind the stunt that was intended "to be creative and fun in promoting Z Burger," according to his spokesman.

And although Exxon did not come across any malicious postings by its tweeting impersonators, the developments echo the early dotcom days of "cybersquatting", whereby unassociated third parties would purchase web domain names of more famous brands and companies, in the hope of selling them to their more natural owners.

Indeed, a spokesmen for American Airlines confirmed the company had "registered every possible Twitter name that could be associated with us" back in April, after staff last year spotted an unofficial Twitter account in the name "AmericanAir".

In a separate development, Facebook, the social networking website now with an estimated 200 million users worldwide, is expanding its lobbying muscle in Europe and the US on issues such as privacy and information sharing – both crucial to the company's ability to sell targeted advertising on its platform. Only last week, it came under pressure from an EU working group over its privacy policy.

Richard Allan is to join the company from Cisco and represent the fuve-year-old start-up to the European Union in Brussels via its first dedicated lobbying team there.

It follows the appointment of former American Civil Liberties Union lawayer Timothy Sparapani as the second member of Facebook's Washington-based team.

Explained Facebook's chief privacy officer Chris Kelly: "There is a concern we've had for some time that – in a well-meaning attempt to protect consumers – legislators or regulators would end up passing laws that would keep people from the beneficial sharing of information."

Data sourced from The Wall Street Journal and The Guardian; additional reporting by WARC staff