Twitter sparks new privacy row

28 November 2014

SAN FRANCISCO: Twitter has announced its intention of collecting lists of the apps installed on people's phones in order to better target advertising, a move which has not met with universal approval.

The resulting app graph, which is what the microblogging site is calling the collection of data, is designed to improve 'who to follow' suggestions and show more relevant promoted content, as well as "tweets, accounts or other content" that it thinks users may find interesting.

Twitter stressed that it was not collecting any data within those apps and that users could opt out at any time.

But Javier Ruiz, policy director at Open Rights Group, a UK-based organisation campaigning on digital rights issues, told the Telegraph that apps could reveal sensitive information about a person.

"For example, whether you have Grindr or Tinder can indicate your sexual orientation," he said. "Tracking apps is intrusive not helpful, and if this kind of tracking was used on a laptop, it would be considered spyware."

Techcrunch pointed out, however, that many companies are already doing this sort of thing – they just haven't told users about it. The software development kits used by some analytics providers, for example, "track users across apps where they're installed, giving the app makers a similar data set in order to identify the 'persona' of a user, which in turn allows them to draw broader insights about their own customer base".

That ability to make inferences about customers will also help Twitter in its quest to make the service more friendly for new users by adding tweets and accounts it considers they might be interested in. 


The Guardian also pointed out that this data would enable it to "spot fast-rising apps from smaller start-ups, which may influence its acquisitions strategy".

And, from the newspaper which first published Edward Snowden's revelations, there was also some praise for Twitter for notifying users about app graph before turning it on and for explaining how to turn it off. This was, it said "a welcome break from past app privacy controversies, where people have discovered that certain data was being collected without their knowledge".

Data sourced from Twitter, Daily Telegraph, Techcrunch, Guardian; additional content by Warc staff