What’s On

Twitter experiments with browser cookie, email addresses for ‘relevant’ advertising

Twitter announced on June 3, 2013, that it will be experimenting with a way to make ads on Twitter more useful to its users by displaying promoted content from brands and businesses that users have shown interest in. “Users won’t see more ads on Twitter, but they may see better ones,” said a blog posted by Kevin Weil, Senior Director of Product, Revenue, Twitter. For now, Twitter is beginning this with only its users in the United States.

The concept would require Twitter to go a step deeper with the advertiser in tracking consumers who have shown interest in the product in the past.

Quoting an example on how this will work: A local florist wants to advertise a Valentine’s Day special on Twitter. The florist shop would prefer to show the ad to flower enthusiasts who frequented its website or subscribed to its newsletter. The advertiser can share information coming from this, which could be in the form of a scrambled, unreadable email address (a hash) or browser-related information (a browser cookie ID), with Twitter for the micro-blogger to match this information with its accounts in order to show this set of people the Promoted Tweet.

Twitter has put two caveats upfront in the announcement: First, “this is how most other companies handle this practice, and Twitter would not give advertisers any additional user information” and second, “because Twitter supports Do Not Track (DNT), Twitter will not receive browser-related information from its ad partners for tailoring ads if users have DNT enabled in their browser”.

While Twitter has exerted care on how far it is going with this experiment, essentially this means that Twitter is opening up a whole new information-base coming from Third Parties to create advertising that is better targeted, and as Twitter puts it, more relevant to its users.

Twitter has also informed its users that they can opt out from this by “simply uncheck-ing the box next to ‘Promoted content’ in their account settings”. And it has promised that for users who choose to opt out, Twitter would not match the account to information shared by ad partners for tailoring ads. This is in stark contrast to some of the other social platforms such as Facebook that do not allow users to opt out from sponsored posts.

The move is likely to raise questions again on the side of social media that is not very transparent, and that can take advantage of information that a user may not be consciously sharing. Twitter has tried to give some comfort to its users by introducing relevant checks at the same time as the announcement. And if users do accept it, it would be interesting to see whether the social media platform is indeed able to bring relevance in this form of advertising.