Twitter User Trading Game Stirs Legal Trouble


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Twitter Inc. is being sued over a game that critics say violates people’s privacy just as badly as a controversial version that was pulled off the market earlier this year.

At issue is Hey Inc.’s app “Famous: The Celebrity Twitter”, a follow-up to “Stolen!,” the original version that let players “buy” someone’s Twitter profile in exchange for virtual credits.   

Twitter users could have their profiles bought and sold without their permission—or even knowledge. The game sparked immediate criticism and concerns about the potential for harassment.

“While I appreciate that this application was not developed as a tool for Internet harassment, it will be used as one if it continues to receive access to profiles of individuals who have not agreed to participate,” wrote U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) in a letter to Twitter. 

Hey has changed the concept of the game from “owning” other Twitter users to “investing” in them. But Alabama resident Jason Parker says the mobile application company simply “masked the language used in the App to avoid controversy.” Regardless of its language, Hey is displaying the full names and photographs of tens of thousands of Twitter users without their consent on its app, Parker alleged on behalf of himself and other state residents in a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

And Twitter is enabling the wrongful conduct by letting Hey access and import the profile data of its users, even though the majority of people featured in the game didn’t know about or agree to the use of their names and photos, Parker said.

Specifically, Parker is alleging violations of Alabama’s right of publicity law, which prohibits the use of a person's name, image or likeness for commercial gain without his or her consent. He wants the court to order Twitter to stop disclosing users’ profile information to Hey.

Parker said Twitter has the ability to stop Hey from accessing its user profile data but has refused to do so. Hey couldn’t commit this violation without the help of the social networking site, he said.