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Twitter to target ads using your web history

Categories: Science & Technology

Twitter users will now see advertisements tailored to their browsing history, but can opt out of the service. (iStockphoto)

Twitter announced a new advertising strategy on Wednesday that would track data on a user's computer, such as browser history and contacts' information.

The "tailored ads" function allows the social networking service to use third-party data to display ads in your Twitter feed that more closely match what you do on the internet other than use Twitter.

"Users won't see more ads on Twitter, but they may see better ones," Twitter's senior director of product Kevin Weil wrote in a blog post yesterday. He cited an example whereby a local florist's ads would show up as a "Promoted Tweet" on the news feed of a user who had also browsed that same florist's website. Email addresses used to target the ads are gathered in a scrambled, unreadable format known as a hash.

The tailored ads will launch in the United States "soon," wrote Weil. There is no time frame for when the service will be rolled out to other regions, according to the Huffington Post.

Twitter will allow users to opt out of tailored ads by unchecking the box marked "Promoted content" in their account settings page. 

"This means we would not collect browser-related information from our ad partners or match their email hash for tailoring ads," Twitter explained on its Help Center. "This is the only place you'll need to disable this feature on Twitter." The option is checked as positive by default.

The new tailored ads won't bypass Do Not Track, a universal web extension that tells websites that its users do not want any of their browsing activity shared with companies that would otherwise collect it for advertising or other purposes.

A screenshot on Boing Boing shows the Do Not Track option highlighted in Twitter's updated account settings, with the somewhat euphemistic explanation, "While you have Do Not Track turned on, your visits to sites that feature Twitter are not available to personalize your experience."

Twitter isn't the only social network to track users' third-party browsing data. Facebook sends its users ads based on their browser history away from its website, and its users cannot opt out.

The new tailored ads generated buzz on Twitter itself and on technology blogs, many of them pointing out the option to opt-out. While many lauded the relatively painless opt-out option, others were less enthused.

Though widespread, retargeted ads are eerily aware," wrote CNET's Jennifer Van Grove, "and even Twitter's fluffy and sweet florist example, likely meant to assuage user fears, carries the reminder that you're always being watched on the web.

Others sounded off with Tweets of their own, with reactions ranging from anger to ambivalence.

What are your thoughts on Twitter's new tailored ads function?

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