Twitter Reveals Plans for Ad Retargeting

Twitter wants to eat your cookies and turn them into Promoted Tweets. The site announced plans to move into the ad retargeting space today by using browser-based cookies and email identification with third-party sites.

Users’ browsing behavior and email addresses will be used to match them up with ads from brands or business that are most likely to fall into areas of interest. That’s the idea anyway, and although Twitter slipped the news out on the verge of a national holiday and extended weekend for many, the company is also taking steps to allay concerns from consumer privacy advocates.

Advertisers can now share scrambled email addresses or browser-based cookies with Twitter to retarget and direct Promoted Tweets to users who previously visited their site or joined a newsletter. “This is how most other companies handle this practice, and we don’t give advertisers any additional user information,” Kevin Weil, senior director of product revenue at Twitter, notes in a blog post about the changes.

Facebook introduced its own ad-retargeting platform a little more than a year ago when it launched Facebook Exchange. FBX accumulated more than one billion impressions in the first eight months, according to Adobe, and the company has since doubled down on the effort by bringing third-party ads into the news feed.

Like Facebook, Twitter’s retargeting platform is only available to advertisers in the U.S. and it excludes mobile apps because identifying cookies are not available in that channel. Twitter is embracing the tracking of cookies for new ad revenue just as browsers like Firefox are introducing features that allow users to completely opt out of ad retargeting.

Twitter says it will give users a “Do-Not-Track” option under settings and that it will also adhere to the choices of users that have DNT enabled in their browser. Either step will effectively opt users out of Twitter’s retargeting efforts, according to the company. Weil describes the process in simple terms, further distinguishing Twitter from the multi-step process that’s brought so much criticism to Facebook.

“Simply uncheck the box next to ‘promoted content’ in your account settings, and Twitter will not match your account to information shared by our ad partners for tailoring ads,” he notes. “This is the only place you’ll need to disable this feature on Twitter [emphasis in original].”

For what it’s worth, the Electronic Frontier Foundation praised Twitter for its straightforward design and approach to enabling Do Not Track and honoring users’ existing DNT settings on their browsers.

“We think Twitter is setting an important example for the Internet: 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,” the digital consumer advocacy organization notes in its review of Twitter’s plans.

Twitter also covered its bases with an updated privacy policy that reads in part: “Third-party ad partners may share information with us, like a browser cookie ID or cryptographic hash of a common account identifier (such as an email address), to help us measure ad quality and tailor ads.”

And finally, the company identified three initial online tracking firms that it’s working with - Adara, Chango, and Media6Degrees - and included links to each of those data brokers’ opt-out pages on an FAQ page for good measure.

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