Twitter logo is displayed at the entrance of Twitter headquarters in San Francisco on March 11, 2011 in California / KIMIHIRO HOSHINO/AFP/Getty Images

The site redirects links sent in private messages — which one man claims is violating his privacy

Twitter is invading the privacy of its users by reading their private messages, according to a new lawsuit.

The tools the site uses to redirect links mean that it is effectively reading and altering messages sent by its users, according to a lawsuit brought by Californian Wilford Raney.

When a user sends a message in a direct message, Twitter automatically recognises it and redirects it into a short link. Even though that link will appear as if it is going to the actual website (shortening a link for this website to, for instance) it will first redirect a users’ browser to go to its own website, and then sends them on to the requested page.

"Before Twitter delivers the message to the intended recipient, Twitter intercepts and accesses the contents of the message. The moment the consumer clicks Send, Twitter's service will open, scan, and potentially alter the contents of the message," Raney argues in his filing.

That helps Twitter gather information on what links people are sharing and where they are going, according to the suit.

“Twitter benefits immensely from replacing user hyperlinks with its own,” Raney writes in his suit. “For instance, Twitter increases its perceived value to third-party websites and would-be advertisers” since they will know what addresses users are heading to. “The end result is that Twitter can negotiate better advertising rates.”

The shortening tool thus reads through messages but “never obtains (or seeks) its users’ consent”, the suit says. It is for that reason that Raney is bringing the case, he says, encouraging others to join in with the proceedings.

Twitter said in a statement that the claims “are meritless” and that it intends to “fight them”.