What Does Twitter Know About Me?

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Twitter is one of the biggest social media sites in the world. Around the world, people use the platform to support causes and stay informed. Twitter provides this service free to users by selling targeted advertising, generating billions of dollars in revenue. Twitter collects an astonishing amount of personal information on you even if you never log in.

What Is Your Privacy Worth to You?

Imagine if someone were following you around, reading over your shoulder every time you sent a tweet, visited a new website, or clicked on an ad. The feeling of invasion you would experience would lead you to take steps to lose your rude stalker. Even so, millions of people scroll through their Twitter account unaware that Twitter is taking notes on everything you do. You can tweak your Twitter privacy settings to take back a great deal of control over your data. However, Twitter will still be able to garner a great deal of information on you.

A Megaphone to the World

Information posted on Twitter is public. Unless you protect a post, they are available to anyone in the world. Your posts are searchable online, and what you post reveals a great deal about who you are to advertisers. Tweet about a current event in the news and Twitter and advertisers can begin to form an opinion about your political leanings. Post a humorous observation about your job and Twitter takes note of the type of work you do. Ads may appear for help finding a new job, or targeted to people with your likely yearly income.

By comparing your tweets with others, and noting the people you follow, Twitter can know your gender and even your age. Twitter pieces the information together even if you didn’t provide that information as part of your profile information. If you do not turn off the photo tagging option, Twitter can recognize your picture and compare that with other pictures found of you online. They then learn even more about who you are to customize their profile.

Everything you post to Twitter is available to third parties through programming interfaces according to their privacy policy. This allows businesses to comb through Twitter and analyze your data. Advertisers are looking for users who share an opinion or interest to better target their advertising. They also use the information to do research about how you might respond to an ad. For small scale embedded tweets, this is free. But Twitter charges for large-scale access to your data.

The Hidden Information Behind Your Tweets

When you use Twitter, even if you are simply scrolling through others’ tweets, Twitter is gaining information from you. The type of device you use to connect with is of major importance to advertisers, and so to Twitter. Do you use Twitter on a two-year-old phone? You can bet advertisers would love to know that and sell you a new one.

Are you pulling up Twitter at a bus stop? How useful is it for advertisers to know your route so they can place targeted ads in your view on the way? Twitter accesses location information from your device to improve advertising. Even if you adjust your privacy settings to keep your location hidden on your tweets, it is available to the app.

The IP address of the device you connect with pinpoints exactly where Twitter is sending data too. This gives Twitter information about the neighborhood you live in and where you work. Twitter tracks how much time you spend using Twitter at work, stores you frequent, and more.

Twitter tracks the type of browser you use, the operating system of your device, and your mobile carrier. Your information is valuable to Twitter. It helps advertisers understand who you are and how to present ads better suited to your interests. The better Twitter knows you, the more valuable their advertising platform is. Based on Twitter’s billions of dollars in annual revenue, they know you very well.

You Don’t Have to Even Be a Twitter User

You may think Twitter’s constant snooping doesn’t apply to you because you don’t go on Twitter. But Twitter is collecting information on many who aren’t part of their platform. The company has agreements with other websites who embed tweets and use Twitter in other ways. Through these agreements, Twitter can track activity, even of those who do not use their service.

When you land on a website that has an agreement with Twitter, they receive a treasure trove of information about you. From your IP address, Twitter will gain an accurate idea of where you are located. This may tell them where you live or work depending on your current location. Twitter will also know the website you came from before landing on the referring website. When you leave the site, Twitter will know where you went. If you allow cookies in your browser, your web activity may be tracked well beyond the next website.

Advertising Partnerships

Of course, it is in both Twitter’s and advertisers’ best interest to work together to improve their profile of you. To that end, advertisers on Twitter will often share data you have provided to their company, or they have learned about you in other ways. This may include demographic information such as your age, race, gender, and ethnicity. Advertisers often share hashed email addresses, which can be used to identify you. Partners also share information they own about your interests and activities online.

When you allow a third party to access your information on Twitter, your personal information may be shared to those companies. Their privacy policy may allow them to share that information with other third parties. In some cases, this can be done without your active consent. Agreeing to their “terms and conditions” gives them implicit consent to share information.

What Can I Do to Protect My Privacy on Twitter?

A review of your privacy settings on Twitter can help keep your information secure. By taking a few minutes to walk through your settings, you can restrict the information you provide Twitter. You can also restrict how that data is used and ensure you have more say in what is shared about you.

As we’ve seen, though, Twitter is collecting information even from people who are not Twitter users. A good way to prevent the platform from gaining so much information one you would be to anonymize your online actions.

One of the best steps you can take to prevent the invasion of your privacy by Twitter and other platforms is to subscribe to a quality Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN will help keep your privacy secure by making you more anonymous online. Take a few minutes learn more about how a VPN improves your privacy, and which providers you might want to consider. Different providers work better for different needs. Find one to best suit your needs and safeguard your privacy.

Perhaps more important than possible protection against data collection is awareness. It is important you know what information you are giving away.

Tech journalist
Tove has been working for VPNoverview since 2017 as a journalist covering cybersecurity and privacy developments. Since 2019 she is VPNoverview.com's cybersecurity news coordinator.