Twitter's ad tracking opt-out shows "the way forward"

Twitter looks to behavioural advertising to show more relevant marketing to users

Nicole Kobie
4 Jul 2013

Twitter will use cookies to track users online and show targeted ads - but its plans have won praise from privacy advocates for having a clear opt-out system and respecting Do-Not-Track settings.

The idea, Twitter said, is to show "more useful" ads to users, by tracking them with a cookie to see what they look at online. "Users won't see more ads on Twitter, but they may see better ones," the company said in a blog post.

Twitter is however making it easy to opt out: all you need to do is go into account settings and untick the box - it's pre-ticked, of course - for "promoted content".

"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," the company promised.

We think Twitter is setting an important example for the internet

Such protections were welcomed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which said the respect for DNT shows "the way forward".

"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," said EFF activist Adi Kamdar in a blog post. "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," Kamdar added. "We believe they should follow Twitter's lead in empowering their users and respecting their use of the Do-Not-Track setting."

He added that the EFF hopes Twitter can "leverage" its influence with advertisers to better respect user privacy, and respect Do-Not-Track settings.

How it works

Twitter used a flower shop as an example to explain how its behavioural advertising system works.

The florist may prefer to show Twitter ads only to those who actually visit its website. "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)," Twitter said. "We can then match that information to accounts in order to show them a Promoted Tweet with the Valentine’s Day deal."

Twitter added: "This is how most other companies handle this practice, and we don’t give advertisers any additional user information."

The system will start in the US; it isn't clear when it will roll out globally.

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