Twitter experiments with targeted ads

The social media platform announced an experimental program to have ads target users based on their interests and browser history.

Twitter becomes the latest social media platform to use our personal information for the benefit of its advertisers. It was only a matter of time, but the company is treading softly, addressing privacy concerns and very clearly telling users how they can opt out of the service. 

From the Twitter blog post on the move:

Users won’t see more ads on Twitter, but they may see better ones.

How does this work? Let’s say a local florist wants to advertise a Valentine’s Day special on Twitter. They’d prefer to show their ad to flower enthusiasts who frequent their website or subscribe to their newsletter. To get the special offer to those people who are also on Twitter, 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. This is how most other companies handle this practice, and we don’t give advertisers any additional user information.

In a nutshell, the websites you frequent and buy things from will retain that information and use Twitter to keep you coming back. Not a bad proposition, considering they are already doing the same with email advertising. However, as this study shows, Twitter is still the worst place to acquire and keep customers, maybe these new ads can help change that.

To address privacy concerns, here’s what Twitter says:

While we want to make our ads more useful, we also want to give users simple and meaningful privacy options. 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.

And 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.

Given how sensitive everyone is these days about tech companies helping the government spy on us, it’s probably not the best time to roll out a program that monitors your behavior to personalize your ads. But if anything, Twitter has been upfront and honest about what it is trying to do. It has clearly indicated how people can block the service while also communicating the advantage of not doing so. Overall, Twitter somehow manages to escape the “evil” label that sometimes gets tagged on to the advertising tactics of Facebook and Google, and its clear communications go a long way in achieving that.

 

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