The New Twitter Hole That Probably Isn't

Earlier this evening the LA Times Tech Blog ran a post claming that Google has unrestricted access to Twitter’s protected tweets, or, as the Times put it, the “key to the city”. And you can apparently search those tweets with a not-too-difficult advanced Google search. As supporting evidence, the post includes snippits of supposedly protected tweets from Bill Clinton’s Twitter account, with messages like, “John Edwards…why did you,” “NY Gov got caught with a,” “Oh Hillary, 3rd place in,” and “I have been too depressed…”

What, you say? Those sound like some bizarre things for a seasoned politician to be tweeting about? Yeah, I had the same thought. So I did a bit more digging, and as it turns out those tweets didn’t come from Bill Clinton at all, at least not the real one. Instead, they came from someone who was masquerading as Bill Clinton at some time in the past, when they were cached by Google. But now they can all be found under the Twitter account NotBillClinton.

Here’s the full text of those tweets:

John Edwards…why did you cheat on your wife that has cancer, you’re a dog! If Hillary gets sick, that’s it, no more Hoochies! FAMILY FIRST

NY Gov gets caught with a Hooker. At least it’s a 5000k/hour quality hooker and not those FREE ones that keep a blue dress.I’m still pissed!

Oh Hillary, 3rd place in IOWA sucks! What happened to all the “GIRL” power you keep on telling me about!

Not so damning after all. As for the other accounts mentioned in the Times article, I suspect that Google is displaying tweets from them, but only messages that were sent before they were made private. For some more evidence, I reached out to Brightkite Jonathon Linner (who is mentioned in the LA Times post), who says that he did in fact change his account to private only in the last month or so. The fact that these messages are all cached still poses a problem — make the mistake of setting your account public for a while and you may have no way to ever pull that data back in — but it doesn’t look like Google has special access to these tweets.

We’ve reached out to Twitter to confirm that Google does not actually have these so-called keys to the city.