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5/18/2012
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Twitter Adds Do Not Track Capability

FTC and Mozilla applaud as Twitter gives consumers tools to opt out of tracking.

10 Smart Enterprise Uses For Twitter
10 Smart Enterprise Uses For Twitter
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Twitter Thursday announced that it's giving its users the ability to engage "Do Not Track" (DNT) when using the social network.

"When you turn on DNT in your browser, we stop collecting the information that allows us to tailor Twitter based on your recent visits to websites that have integrated our buttons or widgets," according to a new Twitter page detailing how it's implemented Do Not Track. "Specifically, we remove from your browser the unique cookie that links your browser to visits to websites in the Twitter ecosystem. We then cannot provide tailored suggestions for you."

Twitter has further detailed how it provides tailored suggestions via its updated privacy policy as well as revised terms of service. Twitter said that any new user who signs up to Twitter using a browser with the Do Not Track settings enabled will have DNT automatically activated for his Twitter account. Likewise, anyone using a browser with DNT activated before Thursday would likewise see DNT activated by default for her Twitter account.

[ Read about the proposed Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights' Do Not Track provision. See ?itc=edit_in_body_cross">Do Not Track: 7 Key Facts. ]

Long-time Do Not Track proponent Mozilla applauded the move. "We're excited that Twitter now supports Do Not Track and global user adoption rates continue to increase, which signifies a big step forward for Do Not Track and the Web," said Alex Fowler, Mozilla global privacy and policy lead, in a blog post. "Current adoption rates of Do Not Track are 8.6% for desktop users and 19% for mobile users and we see the biggest adoption rates in the Netherlands, France, and the United States."

Twitter's backing of Do Not Track adds a boost to the Obama Administration's February 2012 proposal for a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. Although the White House has called on Congress to turn the proposal into law, and specifically enable the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to enforce it, for now the measure remains voluntary.

The FTC first gave its backing to Do Not Track in December 2010, as part of a proposed framework for consumer privacy. Do Not Track was meant to address FTC-identified deficiencies in how online businesses created their own privacy policies and was meant to notify consumers about how personal information was being collected. "Specifically, the notice-and-choice model, as implemented, has led to long, incomprehensible privacy policies that consumers typically do not read, let alone understand," according to an FTC report released at the time. But the FTC left the details of Do Not Track to the companies who would have to implement it, such as Microsoft, Google, and online advertisers.

Twitter's backing of Do Not Track is further notable because the company has an advertising-driven business model. According to eMarketer, Twitter earned $134 million in 2011 from paid advertising, and is set to earn $260 million in 2012 from paid advertising. Although that doesn't count revenue from paid promotions, and Twitter doesn't break out its revenue, paid advertising likely accounts for the vast majority of what the social network earns.

The advertising industry had been a vocal opponent of Do Not Track--at least initially. But consumer demand for Do Not Track has been intensifying, especially after revelations over so-called supercookies and similar tracking technologies, and some legislators calling for the use of such surreptitious and unstoppable tracking technologies to be outlawed. In the meantime, Mozilla, Microsoft, Apple, and Google were adding some form of Do Not Track capability to their browsers, although in the case of Chrome it's so far only available as a third-party extension.

Also, online advertising associations have come to the table with the likes of Microsoft, Mozilla, Google, Apple, and various privacy groups to create Do Not Track standards, which are due out from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) this summer.

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Deb Donston-Miller
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Deb Donston-Miller,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/21/2012 | 12:50:58 AM
re: Twitter Adds Do Not Track Capability
I'll bet there are a lot of people who have no idea what's being tracked when they start using different social services and especially different apps that leverage their social logins (and other info). It will be interesting to see if the W3C standards call for better clarity around that.

Deb Donston-Miller
Contributing Editor, The BrainYard
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