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Data Access, Ownership and Control in Social Web Services: Issues for Twitter Research


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Held on May 25th 2012 at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association (ICA) in Phoenix. Thanks to Hallvard Moe ( and Anders Larsson ( for organizing an excellent session!

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Data Access, Ownership and Control in Social Web Services: Issues for Twitter Research

  1. 1. Cornelius Puschmann, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin Jean Burgess, Queensland University of Technology Axel Bruns, Queensland University of Technology Merja Mahrt, Heinrich-Heine-Universität DüsseldorfData Access, Ownership and Control in Social Web Services: Issues for Twitter Research ICA 2012 Track: Communication and Technology Session: Researching Social Media: Ethical and Methodological Challenges 26 May 2012, Phoenix
  2. 2. “There are also significant questions of truth, control, andpower in Big Data studies: researchers have the tools and theaccess, while social media users as a whole do not. Their datawere created in highly context-sensitive spaces, and it is entirelypossible that some users would not give permission for theirdata to be used elsewhere.”(boyd & Crawford, 2012, p.12)
  3. 3. #1Access, control, ownership andinterpretation of data are interrelated facetsthat raise questions of power. #2 Market, legislation, social norms and code are dynamic regulatory forces in social web platforms.
  4. 4. Access (technology) Control (ability)TOS API“law” defines Data enables “code” Ownership (law) Interpretation (competence)
  5. 5. • founded in 2006 by Jack Dorsey• 140 mio active users• 340 mio tweets per day• source of real-time information on a breadth of issues from pop culture to politics• increasingly used as a data source among researchers (e.g. on election prediction via Twitter: Tumasjan et al, 2010, Jungherr et al, 2011, Gayo-Avello, 2012)
  6. 6. • Twitter‘s (future) business model is based on advertising• ad revenue of $260 mio in 2012• sources of revenue: • promoted accounts • promoted tweets • promoted trends
  7. 7. Twitter Rules“Don‘t do what gets us into trouble” Terms of Service “What‘s yours is yours (but also ours)” API Rules “..but only if you know how to get it”
  8. 8. The TOS“By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or throughthe Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive,royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use,copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit,display and distribute such Content in any and all media ordistribution methods (now known or later developed).” “You agree that this license includes the right for Twitter to make such Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals who partner with Twitter for the syndication, broadcast, distribution or publication of such Content on other media and services, subject to our terms and conditions for such Content use.”“We encourage and permit broad re-use ofContent. The Twitter API exists to enable this.”
  9. 9. API Rules“You will not attempt or encourage others to: sell, rent,lease, sublicense, redistribute, or syndicate access to theTwitter API or Twitter Content to any third party withoutprior written approval from Twitter. If you provide an APIthat returns Twitter data, you may only return IDs (includingtweet IDs and user IDs).You may export or extract non-programmatic, GUI-driven Twitter Content as a PDF orspreadsheet by using "save as" or similar functionality.Exporting Twitter Content to a datastore as a service orother cloud based service, however, is not permitted.” “Except as permitted through the Services (or these Terms), you have to use the Twitter API if you want to reproduce, modify, create derivative works, distribute, sell, transfer, publicly display, publicly perform, transmit, or otherwise use the Content or Services.”
  10. 10. The APIs Search API REST API Streaming API• similar to site • allows interaction • real-time access to search functionality with Twitter similar information moving• originally a third- to an individual through Twitter party product user (“core” data) • for developers with• rate-limited • rate-limited “data-intensive• use of Streaming • whitelisting was needs” API for high previously velocity queries is possible, now recommended discontinued
  11. 11. Intermediaries of Data• Twitter doesn‘t look to analytics as a source of revenue• providing data is costly in terms of computing resources• analytics are left to companies like Gnip and Datasift• these data resellers have little to gain by catering to the scientific community or Twitter‘s users
  12. 12. Actors and Options Data reseller Large data Small data Individual Twitter (Gnip, interpreter interpreter user Datasift) (orga.) (individual)Log dataHistorical dataReal-timedata (all)Real-time data(sample)
  13. 13. Conclusions• the exact sample size and quality of any data from Twitter is unknown (see e.g. Gnip‘s Power Track)• TOS and API regulate access to Twitter data for different actors (users, researchers) on different levels (access, control, ownership, interpretation)• for users, the API is the only point of access to “their” data apart from the web interface• the implicit audience for virtually all services built on Twitter data are companies• both users and scholars lacking access to high- performance computing infrastructure are likely to be sidelined by the trend towards Big Twitter Data
  14. 14. images retrieved from Twitter 1% random sample Thank you for your attention!Contact: Cornelius / @coffee001