Friday, December 5, 2014

Twitter Is Going To Spy On You Via The Apps You Install, Here's How To Stop It

I’ve been pretty vocal about how Twitter needs to be much more aware of what users want. And as the US celebrates thanksgiving, the company has changed the terms and conditions of its app and launched a support page that explains what it is doing. In summary, Twitter’s official app will now report back to the company every app installed on your Android or iOS device.

Of course, as with all such moves by all companies, the wording is designed to make it sound like this is a benefit to you. The truth, however, is that Twitter wants to know the names of the apps you install so that it can advertise services and apps to you. Clearly, it’s valuable data for Twitter to say that users between the age of 21 and 25 are most likely to install Tinder, while 35-year-old women are the most prolific installers of Uber. Having those details means that Twitter can sell Uber users to Lyft and push ads into those users timelines to encourage them to switch to the less controversial car service.

Twitter, now playing the NSA at its own game
Twitter, now playing the NSA at its own game – image: Ian Morris

Twitter is explicit on the support page. “We are only collecting the list of applications you have installed. “We are not collecting any data within the applications” as if that’s somehow okay. And of course, some people simply won’t care about this in the slightest, but for those of us that object to every single aspect of our smartphone ownership being up for sale, it’s worth understanding how to disable this feature.

The feature is grandly called “App Graph” and as well as the advertising example above, Twitter also wants to use it to better suggest who you should follow. Other users of Spotify liked following Justin Bieber for one especially horrifying example that I’ve dreamed up. The company also wants to push “relevant” tweets into your timeline, as it currently does with the content other people you follow favourite.

The company is also keen to point out that if you have previously limited ad tracking, this feature won’t be enabled. So that’s something anyway, even if I suspect the number of people doing that is fairly small.

In Android, it’s a matter of going to settings>other and deselecting “Tailor Twitter based on my apps” and on Apple devices you simply go to your phone settings>Twitter>privacy and remove the option for “Tailor Twitter based on my apps”. All very simple, but still obnoxious that you have to go to this effort at all. Of course, third-party apps aren’t affected, but as Twitter does its level best to either buy, or shut these out of the API, your options are somewhat limited.

I’m not stupid enough to think that Twitter can offer its service for free. I understand that it needs to monetize its service, but I find its methods wholly objectionable. I would much prefer that it opted for a WhatsApp model, where your first 12 months use is free, and after that you have to cough up a buck a year for the service. And I don’t really object to apps either, and the firm is more than welcome to scan my feed for words I seem interested in, and hashtags.

The problem is, the firm is data greedy. It wants to know absolutely every possible scrap of information about you, and your phone usage. I find that both annoying, and worrying and I’ll fight this sort of thing with every breath in my body.

forbes.com.au 27 Nov 2014

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