Does Twitter Really Need To Pick This Privacy Fight?

It was inevitable that Twitter had to do a Facebook if it wanted to stand a chance of closing the massive gap between the two leading social media services. If you want to make more advertising dollars, it follows that you need to know as much about your audiences as possible. Collecting the names of the apps they use elsewhere on their smartphone and tablet devices would appear to potentially help, but it does mean Twitter will have to get accustomed to defending its privacy.

The real question is, is this a fight that's worth picking?

Facebook is always the first name that engaged social media users will pluck from the sky when talking about privacy infringements and the risk of Big Brother knowing too much about an individual. The vast majority of what it knows about us, however, is garnered through our use of the social site. It already knows our name, gender, and location as well as our marital, work and education status and then our likes, shares, friends and comments tell the giant what our interests are. In short, bit by bit, we've told the site all it needs to know about ourselves.

Twitter should be able to say the same because people generally follow a lot more brands, celebrities, organisations and interest-based outlets on Twitter than they do on Facebook. So does it really need to go a step further and scour our mobile devices to discover our other interests? I can see that games might be of use but the organisations and brands I connect with through an app on my phone, I think I can safely say, I also follow on Twitter. It's classic push and pull. When I want to order a case of Sauvingnon Blanc from Naked Wine, I use their app. When I want to find the afternoon football scores, I go to the Sky or BBC sports app. I've registered my interest in these areas through my Twitter follows, they're simply repeated on my smartphone.

So I'm not going to put my hands into the pile of stinging nettles that is privacy, at least not right now. There are going to be many voices raised in anger at Twitter, which is usually seen as the friendlier side of social media when compared with Facebook. You can see that as investors call for Twitter to post its first profit and with Q4 predictions suggesting that goal may have to wait until next year, the social site has to do all it can to rake in more ad dollars. Just as with Facebook, it's no longer a case of what they'd like to do to be popular, but rather what they have to do to pacify concerned Wall Street investors. 

My rather more basic questions is, again, does Twitter really have to pick this fight? Does it really need to break an assumed privacy agreement that users don't mind it knowing what they actively tell it, through their activity on the site, but they'd assumed the rest of their phone, quite reasonably, was their own affair. 

I'm pretty sure that Twitter can tell I'm a father of primary and secondary-age children, support Chelsea, coach grassroots football and am very partial to beer and a glass of wine. It's pretty much all there in my profile and whom I choose to follow and whose apps I also have on my iPhone and iPad. In fact, I'm wondering whether looking beyond Twitter may be confusing because my tablets, in particular, are packed with kids' games and various versions of The Sims which I have absolutely no interest in but keep the kids quiet when we crawl up the M6 to see the in-laws. 

Time will tell whether the move to scour mobile devices for clues about a user's likes, based on the apps they have downloaded, will pay off. Time will also tell whether some users believe it is a privacy step too far. I don't think the backlash will be as big as some are predicting -- but still, the question remains, is it worth the fuss to find out a little more about users who have presumably already told you a great deal about themselves?

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