For Do-Not-Track Users, Tailored Twitter Won’t Work

Twitter will now acknowledge when users have enabled Do Not Track on Firefox browsers – as well as other browsers that enable DNT. As the news of Twitter’s DNT decision was announced today, the company introduced a refined personalization system for suggesting accounts to follow – a system that’s reliant in part on the type of tracking DNT would disable.

Here’s what Twitter’s recognition of DNT means in practice: When users who have DNT enabled on their browser visit any web page that features the Twitter tweet button (just about every content or e-commerce site has one) Twitter will not track that page visit. Typically, as soon as any page that features a social sharing button loads, such as a Facebook or Twitter button, it is recorded by the social platform associated with it.

In addition to Mozilla’s Firefox, Google’s Chrome, and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browsers also enable DNT mechanisms. Yahoo has also said it plans to implement one soon.

“Current adoption rates of Do Not Track are 8.6% for desktop users of Firefox and 19% for Firefox Mobile users,” noted Alex Fowler, Mozilla global privacy and policy lead, in a blog post today.

To be clear, whether a user has DNT enabled or not, Twitter will still track when a user clicks to a tweet a link through the Twitter buttons on pages across the web.

The Federal Trade Commission’s CTO Ed Felten broke the Twitter news today at an Internet Week event in New York. Twitter later acknowledged its support for DNT in its own tweet. Meanwhile, at least one Washington lawmaker has gone on record supporting it. Massachusetts Congressman Ed Markey, a Democrat who often makes public statements about online and data privacy related issues, called Twitter an “industry leader,” in a tweet and subsequent press statement.

Markey is one of many legislators backing various privacy bills. The co-chair of the Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus, Markey co-sponsored the Do Not Track Kids Act of 2011.

Massachusetts Senator John Kerry also praised Twitter’s DNT decision in a press statement. Twitter’s “announcement proves that exercising respect for people’s choices on how, when, and where to have their information collected is something that responsible, competitive companies can do. I hope others will follow.” Kerry has sponsored his own Privacy Bill of Rights bill.

The FTC currently is working with industry groups and the U.S. Commerce Department to develop a DNT standard. Meanwhile, privacy efforts are arguably more advanced in Europe, where large site publishers are scrambling to ensure compliance, or at least prepare for an EU privacy directive calling for a standardized global do-not-track framework by June.

In other Twitter news, the firm said today it will now customize suggested accounts to follow, but that feature won’t work if users have DNT turned on in their browsers. “If you have DNT enabled in your browser settings, we will not collect the information that enables this feature, so you won’t see any tailored suggestions,” noted the company in a 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,” said Othman Laraki, director, growth and international at Twitter in the post.

This article was originally published on May 17, 2012.