Twitter experimenting with targeted ads and tracking

While this will immediately raise concerns among privacy activists, Twitter's proposals have earned the praise of the Electronic Frontier Foundation: "Twitter shows the way forward," it blogged yesterday. Key to the EFF's support is Twitter's openness, ease of opting out, and support for Do Not Track – which, says EFF's Adi Kamdar, is treated 'as a 'do not collect' signal.' "This is in stark contrast to many other advertising and tracking firms, who continue to argue that 'do not track' should mean 'pretend not to track'," said Kamdar.

Twitter, like most free cloud services, relies on advertising for its revenue. Users will continue to receive adverts even if they opt out of 'targeted advertising'. If they do so, Twitter will try to base its advertising on what it already knows about the user such as who the user follows. If users do not opt out of the new service, targeting will be based on cookies used on other sites by Twitter's three advertising partners: media6degrees (m6d), Chango, and Adara; that is, Twitter will receive data from its partners and use that to match adverts to users' internet interests.

Twitter's announcement uses a florist as an example. The florist may wish to target a special deal advert to those Twitter users who have visited its site. To achieve this, "the shop may share with us a scrambled, unreadable email address (a hash) or browser-related information (a browser cookie ID). We can then match that information to accounts in order to show them a Promoted Tweet with the Valentine’s Day deal."

For users, the issue becomes a choice between more personally relevant adverts, or rejecting internet tracking. Unlike some service providers ("unlike Facebook when they started doing the same thing," says LifeHacker), Twitter is being very clear about what it is doing, and making it very easy for users to opt-out of the new 'promoted content.'

"Simply uncheck the box next to 'Promoted content' in your account settings, and Twitter will not match your account to information shared by our ad partners for tailoring ads. This is the only place you’ll need to disable this feature on Twitter," writes Twitter's Kevin Weil, senior director of product revenue."

"We commend Twitter for making this process as simple as possible for its users and for respecting the Do Not Track browser setting," says EFF's Kamdar; pointing out that Twitter is one of just two companies (the other being to receive all six stars in its 'Who has your back' pre-PRISM report on companies protecting user data from the government.

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