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Twitter Says It’s Gathering Information About Your Web Browsing, but in a Good Way

Yesterday, Twitter unveiled its system for suggesting accounts for new and current users to follow. These s0-called “tailored suggestions” are designed to cut through the glut of people, companies, and NASA rovers currently on Twitter. In order to provide those tailored results, Twitter has disclosed that it will use information about your browsing habits culled from sites you and others visit. However, it has also said it’s going to comply with the Federal Trade Commission’s Do Not Track initiative. Here’s how it works, and how to turn it off.

In a blog post describing the new tailored suggestions feature, Twitter’s Growth and International Director Othman Laraki was surprisingly transparent about the site’s goals and operations. The information Twitter uses to suggest accounts, Laraki wrote, comes from website with Twitter buttons — like the one at the top right of this post. Twitter, along with other sites like LinkedIn and Facebook, collects this information in order to recommend the accounts of sites you visit, or just generally popular sites.

Laraki explains it this way, in his blog post:

By recognizing which accounts are frequently followed by people who visit popular sites, we can recommend those accounts to others who have visited those sites within the last ten days.

That sounds a bit creepy, but Twitter has some sweet to wash down the bitter.

Laraki says, and it has been confirmed on other sites that have been critical of Twitter’s information gathering, that information is only kept for ten days. This means that Twitter is not building an enormous user profile of user information that it could, say sell to marketers. In fact, Twitter says it wouldn’t do that anyway. The entire tailored suggestions information scheme is laid out in the site’s privacy policy under “widget data.”

Users who don’t want Twitter collecting this information can opt-out from their “account settings” page on Twitter.com in the “Personalization” section. Because the tailored suggestions feature has not yet rolled for all users, some will not see this section.

If a ten day expiration date and built-in opt-out still isn’t enough, Twitter is also complying with the newly created FTC Do Not Track initiative. DNT basically allows users to have their browsers tell websites not to gather information. It’s currently supported as part of FireFox, Internet Explorer and Safari. It will be integrated into a future version of Google Chrome, but can be activated now with this plugin. More information about DNT is available here.

While it’s always a bit disconcerting to learn that companies have means of gathering user information, it’s surprising that Twitter has been so forthcoming about it. Not only forthcoming, but that they have also provided two means by which users can avoid having their data collected. Perhaps what’s more surprising is that this kind of good behavior is the exception and not the norm.

(Twitter, dcurtis via Techmeme)

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