Twitter rolls out new privacy tools as it ditches Do Not Track and expands data sharing

Twitter is dumping its support for Do Not Track (DNT), changing how it shares user data with third parties, and holding any web browsing data it collects for a longer duration—all to better aid in ad targeting, of course.

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But at the same time, Twitter is giving users more control over what kind of user data can be used for targeted advertising, as well as more transparency about the information it collects about you.

The privacy features are active now, but the new privacy policies that dump DNT, change data sharing policies, and hold your data longer don’t come into effect until June 18. Here’s a look at what’s going on.

Checking your advertising data

If you go to the “Your Twitter data” section of your account settings, you’ll see there’s a lot of information there about your activity and how you’re being advertised to.

You can see the locations you’ve visited, which Twitter also uses for targeted advertising. There are also lists of the various interest categories that Twitter thinks suit you, and categories that third-party advertisers think you’re interested in. If you see any categories you don’t like in either section Twitter lets you dump them.

You can also request to see a list of advertisers who have categorized you into various groups, as well as see how many groups you’re in. My account, for example, is “part of 17,056 audiences from 4264 advertisers” as of this writing.

Advertising and personalization

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Ian Paul/IDG

Twitter’s personalization and data settings.

In Twitter for the Web, go to Settings > Privacy and safety > Personalization and Data. Here, you can see additional check boxes regarding personalization of ads based on your information. If you like, you can leave them all active, which is the default, or you can uncheck every box and turn it all off.

The settings are fairly self-explanatory, but they include general personalization for ads, information about the apps you use on your smartphone, your location history, and websites you visit that have embedded twitter buttons or tweets.

Do Not Track and web data

Back in 2012, Twitter decided to honor Do Not Track, which is basically an honor system for web tracking. When browser users had a Do Not Track setting enabled, any service that honored DNT wasn’t supposed to track that person. As part of these changes, Twitter will no longer honor Do Not Track settings.

It’s no surprise—DNT has turned out to be a silly system and an unrealistic idea. Anyone who truly wants to stop tracking online should be aggressive about it by using ad blockers and extensions such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Privacy Badger.

The impact on you at home: The real change to pay attention to is the data retention policies for web browsing. Twitter is able to monitor any website you visit when you’re logged in to Twitter and visiting a site with a Twitter button or an embedded tweet. Previously, Twitter saved that data for 10 days, but will now keep it for 30. If you don’t want Twitter to track you at all go to your Personalization and Data settings and uncheck “Track where you see Twitter content across the web.”

While you’re at it, you might as well dump “Share data through select partnerships” too. When active, the setting lets Twitter share “certain private data (which will never include your name, email, or phone number) through select partnerships. Partners have agreed not to link your name, email, or phone number to data shared through these partnerships without first getting your consent.”

Twitter Lite is a faster, smaller Twitter built for the mobile web

Twitter launched Thursday a ‘Lite’ version of its service that runs from the browser on a smartphone, in a bid to attract customers in emerging markets, who have flaky Internet connections or are wary of spending too much on data.

Screen shot of Twitter video on its Lite version

The micro-blogging service said that Lite had been designed as a Progressive Web App in collaboration with Google and is available at mobile.twitter.com, and does not require an app store. It is said to take up less than 1MB on the device.

Lite offers key features of Twitter such as the timeline, tweets, direct messages, trends, profiles, media uploads, notifications. With features like data savings, offline access to loaded content, resilience on flaky networks and fast load times, it is designed for emerging markets where networks are still patchy and data expensive.

While smartphone adoption grew to 3.8 billion connections by the end of 2016, 45 percent of mobile connections are still on slow 2G networks, wrote Patrick Traughber product manager at Twitter in a blog post, citing data from GSMA Intelligence.

The move by Twitter comes a day after Google tried to give a boost to YouTube in India by offering a beta version of YouTube Go, its app that allows users to download and view videos offline to take advantage of low night tariffs, and also lets users choose the resolution for the video download and streaming depending on their data connection.

Lite targets users around the world, supporting 42 languages, but the company appeared to focus on India at the launch of the new service. Six Indian languages – Hindi, Bengali, Kannada, Tamil, Gujarati, and Marathi – will be supported from the start.

The company said it has partnered with Vodafone in India to provide live cricket updates through a specially curated Twitter timeline to the mobile operator’s smartphone customers as a popular cricket season kicks off.

Twitter Lite is a client-side JavaScript application and a Node.js server, which handles user authentication, constructs the initial state of the app, and renders the initial HTML application shell, wrote Twitter engineer Nicolas Gallagher. Once loaded in the browser, the app requests data directly from the Twitter application programming interface, he wrote.

As it is on the mobile web, Twitter Lite is supported from the start on a number of mobile devices. It is currently compatible with devices supporting Chrome – Version 40 and above, Firefox – Version 40 and above, Safari – Version 7 and above, Android Browser – Version 4.4 and above, Microsoft Edge and Opera.

Twitter Lite reduces data use by default by using cached data and serving smaller media files, wrote Gallagher. Images have, for example, been optimized to reduce their impact on data usage by as much as 40 percent as the user scrolls through a timeline, and in a data saver mode, usage can be further reduced by replacing images in tweets and direct messages with a small and blurred preview, which can also be shut off if more data savings is required.