I think we can all agree that Twitter’s decision to sent bogus tweets from the accounts of real users to advertise a new product was pretty terrible, especially when its retargeting ad tools are under greater scrutiny for infringe privacy.
But it follows a long line of moves which threaten to tarnish its reputation.
In April, for example, Twitter announced keyword targeting in timelines for markets where Twitter Ads are available: meaning that if a tweeter types in “I am thirsty”, a Starbucks offer complete with directions to your closest outlet may pop up on your newsfeed.
Last month, this offer went even further, where business owners in the US could share users’ email information to the social network so their Promoted Tweets (like the Starbucks example above) can also appear on their front page if they are Twitter users.
In this latest change, Twitter makes it a point that the choice of whether or not to view these ads is within the hands of the users, who can uncheck this option or enable a “Do Not Track” privacy preference on their web browsers.
When Twitter is under enough scrutiny that it feels the need to make its concern for users’ privacy clear, what happened yesterday seems to be a 180-degree change in direction.
Twitter’s urgency to up its offerings to advertisers is understandable, given that it wants to go public by next year.
But whether yesterday’s incident was an honest mistake and whether this exposure of personal information is just the new “norm” of social media, users are yet-again reminded of how ominous this medium can be: not only does it know who you are, what you like and where you are; it can also steal your identity without your knowing.