MICRO-BLOGGING SERVICE Twitter is offering its users' messages to organisations that want to scan them for marketing reasons.
Two years worth of messages, dating back to January 2010 are available, and of course data privacy watchers are concerned.
At Datasift, a UK company that has leaped to offer the Twitter harvesting service, the news is all good though. The firm is offering its customers Historics, a cloud service that lets them mine tweets for mentions of their relevant brands or expressions of business insights.
It is easy to see how this would appeal to marketers, and even easier to see how it could be used by law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
That is not the hook here though, and Datasift said that it expects firms to embrace its service to boost their competitiveness.
"With an estimated 250 million Tweets per day, Twitter is the fastest, simplest and easiest way to communicate what is happening right now," it says in its promotional blurb. "With the launch of DataSift Historics companies can now tap into both real-time and over two years of historical Tweets to filter and extract insights and trends that relate to brands, businesses, financial markets, news and public opinion."
"The sheer volume of data being produced by Twitter represents a huge challenge for companies trying to extract insights from past events," added Datasift CEO Rob Bailey. "Historics solves this problem, providing businesses with a platform to intelligently filter and extract meaning from two years Twitter data."
Any non deleted Tweets or messages sent from open accounts are open to inspection, and of course this has ruffled feathers among security and privacy watchers.
"Is it time to delete your old Tweets?," asks Sophos' Graham Cluley in a blog post on the subject.
"Twitter has found another way to monetise its service, having partnered with a firm which will make it simple for market researchers working for big companies to search and analyse the last two years of your Twitter updates," he said.
"If you aren't comfortable with firms being able to mine your past tweets - and potentially gather information about you - you may wish to delete your old postings and think more carefully about what you share publicly on the internet in future."
Privacy International, an organisation that has already chided Twitter over personal privacy, is concerned at the news, and wondered what reaction it would get if other, larger providers followed suit.
"There would be outrage if Google or Facebook did this with whatever they qualify as 'publicly available info'," it said in a tweet. The group also points readers to the comments it made on the firehose in an interview with the BBC.
"People have historically used Twitter to communicate with friends and networks in the belief that their tweets will quickly disappear into the ether," said Gus Hosein, executive director of Privacy International there.
"The fact that two years' worth of tweets can now be mined for information and the resulting 'insights' sold to businesses is a radical shift in the wrong direction. Twitter has turned a social network that was meant to promote real-time global conversation into a vast market-research enterprise with unwilling, unpaid participants." µ