Elon Musk’s Twitter files data-scraping lawsuit against unknown defendants

Twitter CEO Elon Musk attends the Viva Technology conference dedicated to innovation and startups at the Porte de Versailles exhibition centre in Paris, June 16, 2023.

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Elon Musk’s X Corp., the parent company of Twitter, filed a lawsuit against four unknown entities last week over data scraping on Twitter.

Data scraping is when automated programs scour publicly accessible websites to collect data, which can later be used for a wide range of purposes, including training artificial intelligence large language models, targeting online advertisements and much more.

X Corp. seeks more than $1 million in damages over “unlawfully scraping data associated with Texas residents,” according to the case, which was filed in the district court of Dallas County, Texas. The filing also states the defendants allegedly contracted with operators of data-processing facilities in Dallas County, Texas.

The company has been “unable to ascertain the identity” of the individuals, according to the filing, but attorneys for X Corp. list four IP addresses in lieu of names.

Data scraping is generally legal in the U.S. when it involves scraping publicly accessible data, according to a landmark ruling in 2022 by the U.S. Ninth Circuit of Appeals, which capped off a years-long legal battle by LinkedIn concerning the practice. The ruling reaffirmed the appeals court’s decision, finding that scraping public data does not violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

X Corp.’s petition directly follows the rate limits Musk instated on Twitter earlier this month, when he decided users would only be able to read a certain number of posts per day due to “extreme levels of data scraping” and “system manipulation” on the platform.

“In response to massive demands on Corp.’s servers from extremely aggressive data-scrapers, Corp. has instituted limits on how many Tweets each user could View in given day,” the filing states. “Corp. has also limited access to Tweets for users who are not signed in to registered Twitter account.”

It was not immediately clear whether Twitter attempted to block the offending IP addresses when they were found to have engaged in what the company characterized as improper data scraping.

“By unlawfully scaping data, Defendants flagrantly ignore not only Corp.’s Terms of Service, but also the privacy preferences of Twitter users,” the filing stated.

A Twitter spokesperson did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment. An email to the company’s press email address returned an automated response with a poop emoji.

— CNBC’s Lora Kolodny contributed to this report.

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