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Twitter intends to use cookies to track users online and display targeted ads – a practice that usually has privacy professionals concerned. However, its new plans have garnered high praise from privacy advocates for having a clear opt-out system and respecting Do-Not-Track settings.

The idea behind this was to better tailor ads to its users through cookie tracking. On its blog post on the topic, Twitter wrote:

“While we want to make our ads more useful, we also want to give users simple and meaningful privacy options. Simply uncheck the box net 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.”

The best part is that Twitter is easing the opt-out process. All users need to do is go into their account settings and uncheck the box. It comes pre-ticked by default, of course, for “promoted content.”

Furthermore,

“Because Twitter supports Do Not Track (DNT), Twitter will not receive browser-related information from our ad partners for tailoring ads if users have DNT enabled in their browser.”

Twitter’s Other Privacy-Friendly Decisions

The social media company has been making some pretty great privacy design decisions. This latest announcement honor browsers’ Do Not Track settings by considering it a “Do Not Collect” signal. This means that once DNT is enabled, Twitter will not collect browsing information in order to show targeted ads on Twitter.

More than that, Twitter is working on incorporating a setting to allow users to completely opt out of targeted ads. This prevents Twitter from collecting information about users, for instance, their browsing habits through ad firms as well as encrypted email addresses from partners. It’s important to note, however, that this does not equate an opt-out of all Twitter advertising.

Twitter is also linking to each ad firm’s opt-out pages. Most people who practice good privacy hygiene clear their cookies on a regular basis, however this means losing the record of your opt-out to pages like m6d, Chango and Adara, ad targeting services. Opting out also doesn’t mean that your data is removed from these companies’ databases – it just means that they will stop tracking you if your browser has their opt-out cookie.

Perhaps in the future, Twitter and other social networking sites will use their leverage with their ad partners to ensure that they also avoid tracking people who have explicitly denied consent to be tracked.

Follow Twitter’s Lead

Twitter’s actions were praised by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which even said that the company’s respect for DNT reflects “the way forward.” EFF activist Adi Kamdar said:

“We think Twitter is setting an important example for the internet. It is possible to exist in an ecosystem of tailored advertisements and online tracking while also giving users an easy and meaningful opt-out choice. 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.’

“More and more online companies – many of which already have millions of active users – are turning to third parties to manage their advertising schemes. We believe they should follow Twitter’s lead in empowering their users and respecting their use of the Do-Not-Track setting.”

Summary

Although Twitter’s ad targeting program is similar to Facebook’s and other social networking websites, it has some unique privacy-friendly initiatives built-in. This article looks at how Twitter respects Do-Not-Track (DNT) settings of internet browsers and how it is allowing users to completely opt out of targeted ads. Privacy advocates are recommending that other sites follow Twitter’s lead in these initiatives.

CIPP Exam Preparation

In preparation for the Certified Information Privacy Professional/Information Technology (CIPP/IT) a privacy professional should be comfortable with topics related to this post, including:

  • Data processing – relationships with third parties (I.F.b.)
  • Privacy and system design – security safeguards (I.I.a.v.)
  • Business intelligence and analytics (VI.E.)
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