Why Twitter’s ad-tracking system is actually great news for the Do Not Track camp

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In matters of Do Not Track, Twitter is doing things very, very right.

The company unveiled yesterday its new ad retargeting effort, which lets it display advertisements to users based on their browsing activity. Basically, if you search for something like jeans online, you’re going to start a lot more advertisements for jeans in your Twitter feed. As Twitter argues, it’s all about seeing better, more relevant ads (and making more money from advertisers).

“Users won’t see more ads on Twitter, but they may see better ones,” Twitter’s Kevin Weil wrote yesterday.

But while the news is a big deal for Twitter, it’s actually a bigger deal for proponents of Do Not Track (DNT), the browser signal that tells websites when users don’t want their online activity tracked. Twitter says its new system will honor DNT signals, which means users who opt out won’t see targeted ads. (Surprisingly, Twitter actually makes it really easy to opt out.)

Groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation are already applauding the move, which the organization says sets a good example for the rest of the industry.

“It is possible to exist in an ecosystem of tailored advertisements and online tracking while also giving users an easy and meaningful opt-out choice,” EFF activist Adi Kamdar wrote in a blog post yesterday.

And he’s right. One of the biggest problems with Do Not Track is that there’s not much forcing companies to actually respect it. While there are obviously lots of people who don’t have a problem with ad tracking, Twitter’s latest effort at least gives those that do care a chance to opt out.

Twitter’s move is a significant reversal of the status quo, and we can only hope other companies (especially Facebook) follow suit.


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