Is Twitter About To Get More Invasive Than Facebook?


line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";color:black”>Facebook gets all the bad press, but the bigger threat to your online privacy these days might be your Twitter account. Twitter knows you much better than you may realize. And as it prepares for an IPO, it's taking steps that may allow it to profit from your data in ways that would provoke howls of protest were Mark Zuckerberg to try the same.

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";color:black”>Until now, by design, Twitter has mostly dodged privacy concerns. It's a given that anyone can see your tweets (unlike those beer pong photos you stupidly shared on Facebook). Twitter already analyzes your tweets, retweets, location, and the people you follow to figure out which "Promoted Tweets" (a.k.a. ads) to inject into your timeline. That's the Twitter everybody knows and accepts, but it's not the Twitter that big advertisers and investors really care about.

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";color:black”>Much of the data Twitter collects about you doesn't actually come from Twitter. Consider the little "tweet" buttons embedded on websites all over the net. Those can also function as tracking devices. Any website with a "tweet" button—from Mother Jones to Playboy—automatically informs Twitter that you've arrived. Last year, Twitter announced that it would start using its knowledge of your internet browsing habits  line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";color:black”>"It is certainly true that once a company starts monetizing its data, privacy problems often emerge," says David Jacobs, the consumer protection counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). "If Twitter goes down that road, which it probably will, it will have to deal with the same privacy issues that Facebook and Google have dealt with."

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";color:black”>Like it or not, that's just a small part of how Twitter is rebalancing profits and privacy. In July, the company 
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"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";color:black”>Of course, advertisers with this level of sophistication aren't likely to be local florists. They'll be multinational companies like Toyota or identity brokers such as 
line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";color:black”>But whatever. These moves might seem quaint a year from now, when Twitter ranks as the most sophisticated advertising platform in cyberspace. Earlier this month, the company announced that it was acquiring MoPub, a middleman that places ads within mobile apps. "The MoPub acquisition allows Twitter to fundamentally change how mobile ads are purchased and places them at the forefront of how mobile, Web, and social ads interact," Antonio Garcia, a former Facebook employee and creator of its FBX real-time ad exchange, 
wrote on his blog last week. "This makes Twitter the most interesting company in advertising right now."

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";color:black”>It also makes Twitter the most interesting challenge to online privacy. But before we get into why, you should understand how MoPub works:

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";color:black”>Let's say Amy uses her smartphone to shop for shoes at Zappos.com before taking a break to play Rovio's Angry Birds. Rovio's server instantly recognizes Amy based on her phone's unique device ID (a sort of online fingerprint). It takes this information to the MoPub ad exchange, where it solicits bids for the right to show Amy an advertisement in between her rounds of killing pigs. Zappos, disappointed that Amy recently left its website without buying anything, might pay Rovio a premium for the right to show her its ad in the hope of luring her back with, say, a picture of those metallic gold pumps she'd lingered on.

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";color:black”>While MoPub knows a lot about which websites and apps Amy has used, there's still a lot that it doesn't know. If Amy sets down her phone and buys those gold pumps using her laptop, MoPub (and Rovio and Zappos) won't know that she's the same person who was just playing Angry Birds. That's because MoPub doesn't actually know who Amy is. It knows her device IDs, but not the fact that they're linked to Amy, this person who enjoys playing Angry Birds and shopping for pumps.

 all of their devices—laptops, desktops, smartphones, iPads etc. That means Twitter has what only a handful of other tech titans possess: a digital Rosetta Stone that enables it to know who you are, wherever you are.

 any and all of her devices.

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";color:black”>Twitter spokesman Jim Prosser wouldn't say whether Twitter actually intends to do this, but the cost of not doing it would be huge. As Garcia points out on his blog, Twitter's identity data would transform the typical mobile ad from some bargain basement thing that costs advertisers 20 cents per thousand "impressions" to a premium ad product worth 100 times as much.

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";color:black”>So, will Twitterers care whether the company shares their data with advertisers? Maybe not. Since the site serves as a public platform rather than a private social network, targeted ads next to tweets may feel less invasive than they would next to Facebook posts. And even if Twitter's integration with MoPub raises new privacy issues, they may not be evident to users. Amy, for instance, would have no way of knowing that Twitter enabled the Zappos ad on her Angry Birds screen.

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";color:black”>So far, Twitter has proven highly sensitive to privacy concerns. Having learned from Facebook's mistakes early on, it publishes an easy-to-understand  line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";color:black”>Polls also suggest that most internet users don't mind 
line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";color:black”>The question, of course, is how you define "make money" and how you define "respect privacy."
 

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