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Twitter Will Release All Tweets For Research Purposes

Update Date: May 27, 2014 10:11 AM EDT

Twitter has more than 200 million active users who send five hundred million tweets every day. Through users sharing mundane details like what they had for breakfast to critical events like earthquakes, the site has become a data trove especially for scientists who are looking to find patterns in human behavior. 

Recently, researchers at Microsoft devised an algorithm that analyzed emotional cues found in tweets of pregnant women to predict risk for postpartum depression. 

U.S. Geological Survey uses Twitter to track the location of earthquakes as people tweet about tremors. 

However up until now, interested scientists were working with a limited number of tweets. In spite of tweets being public, for searching them it is required to use Twitter's application programming interface (API) that currently scours only 1 percent of the archive. 

The company announced in February that it will make all its tweets, dating back to 2006, freely available to researchers. 

Now that everything is up for grabs, the use of Twitter as a research tool is likely to skyrocket. With more data points to mine, scientists can ask more complex and specific questions, wrote Scientific American. 

The announcement is certainly exciting but there are some debatable concerns. Will Twitter retain any legal rights to scientific findings? Is the use of Twitter as a research tool ethical, given that its users do not intend to contribute to research?

Another important concern will be users' privacy. In a guidelines published for ethical use of Twitter, Caitlin Rivers and Bryan Lewis, computational epidemiologists at Virginia Tech said  it is crucial for scientists to consider and protect users' privacy as Twitter-based research projects multiply. In the guidelines they also suggested that scientists never reveal screen names and make research objectives publicly available.

Certainly, with great data comes greater responsibility. 

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