Twitter's Terms of Service now bans AI data scraping but does that protect you?

A phone screen showing a Twitter cartoon made by Twitterific
(Image credit: Twitterific)

X’s (formerly known as Twitter) new privacy policy, which is set to take effect on September 29, 2023, will allow for AI training on user data. And now the social media site updated its Terms of Service – but this time in opposition to AI scraping.

According to a new update to the Terms of Service that will also take effect on September 29, 2023, “crawling or scraping the Services in any form, for any purpose without our prior written consent is expressly prohibited.” 

screenshot of TOS

(Image credit: Future)

For context, the previous TOS allowed for crawling “in accordance with” instructions found in X's robots.txt file. This should be good, right? It should mean that X is now protecting its users’ data and posts from AI training. But unfortunately, things aren’t so simple.

Twitter/X owner Elon Musk has been vocally opposed to the practice in general, even going so far as to enact temporary rate limits back in July in order “to address extreme levels of data scraping & system manipulation.” He also temporarily blocked non-logged-in X users from seeing posts due to a similar reason. He claimed that X was getting “data pillaged” and it was “degrading service for normal users.” Preventing this seems like an honorable if not misguided goal, except for one issue.

Despite all the posturing from Musk, it didn’t stop him from adding to the site’s new privacy policy that data collected from Twitter may be used to “train our machine learning or artificial intelligence models.” So “data pillaging” and AI training are perfectly fine as long as Twitter is doing it, it seems. And yes, even after the TOS update, the privacy policy still states that AI training is permitted.

screenshot of privacy policy

(Image credit: Future)

That AI training, by the way, will be used for Musk’s latest venture, the mysterious company xAI. Currently, it states that “The goal of xAI is to understand the true nature of the universe,” with promises to share more information later in 2023. xAI’s website also suggests that it will work closely with Musk’s other companies, including X and Tesla, which was also confirmed by Musk during a Twitter Spaces audio chat, according to a report from Yahoo! Finance. This all tracks with the updated privacy policy giving X carte blanche to AI scrap and train user data.

What does this all mean? According to X, other sites can no longer use AI to scrap data from X without permission. Generally, that would stop this practice except if X gives its consent. But, and this is the most important point, X itself has the sole right to store and use data for its own purposes, and this explicitly includes Musk’s other company xAI. 

Looking at all of this evidence, we can probably answer the question of whether this TOS update will protect users. Sadly, it looks like the answer is no.

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Allisa James
Computing Staff Writer

Named by the CTA as a CES 2023 Media Trailblazer, Allisa is a Computing Staff Writer who covers breaking news and rumors in the computing industry, as well as reviews, hands-on previews, featured articles, and the latest deals and trends. In her spare time you can find her chatting it up on her two podcasts, Megaten Marathon and Combo Chain, as well as playing any JRPGs she can get her hands on.