There's only one reason Twitter wants to know your birthday, and it's not for balloons

Yesterday Twitter took to its blog to tell its millions of users of a brand new feature.

Brace yourself... because it's a momentous turning point in the history of planet Earth.

If you tell Twitter your date of birth.... #drumroll... it will display balloons on your profile.

Birthday balloons on Twitter

Ta-da!

Pretty awesome, eh?

Well, I'm not so sure...

BalloonsYou see, Twitter hasn't decided to display balloons on your profile page because it's your birthday. No, Twitter's only interest in your date of birth is that it wants to know how old you are.

They've already asked you where you're based in the world, and by analysing your tweets and who you can follow they can tell what you're interested in and what you're feeling about different topics.

Now, if you tell Twitter your date of birth, you'll be able to give them much more reliable data than they have ever had before regarding your age.

Which means they can then take that information to advertisers and allow it to be used for targeted promotions.

Whether you think that's a reasonable trade-off for a few animated balloons is a question only you can answer. Certainly more and more people are becoming concerned about the use of "big data", and just how much technology companies are learning about our private lives.

Twitter admits as much in the small print:

If you choose to add your birthday to your profile, it will be displayed to the audience that you’ve chosen. It will also be used to customize your Twitter experience. For example, we will use your birthday to show you more relevant content, including ads.

And bear in mind that it's not always the wisest thing in the world to publicise your full date of birth on somewhere as easily-accessible as a Twitter profile page.

Fortunately, Twitter hasn't made it mandatory to enter your date of birth, and it cannot - of course - tell if you are fibbing or not.

Birthday options on Twitter

But there's one final thing to note.

If you do decide to enter your date of birth in your Twitter profile, don't be misled by the dialog box. The most private option may say "Only me", but never forget that you are still sharing that information with Twitter - even if it's not going to be visible to its other users.

Now, you may say "Hang on Graham, doesn't Twitter have a right to advertise to us? After all, you're using its service for free".

Which is a fair point. But, if Twitter gave me the option to *pay* them for their service (which I do find tremendously useful) then I would willingly give them more cash than they are ever likely to make out of me from clicking on ads.

And if I was a paying user of Twitter maybe they'd be kind enough to not share my data with advertising companies - that would suit me very well, thank you.

Twitter is the kind of service I would love to be a paying subscriber for. But they simply won't give me that option.

In case you're in any doubt, I'm not adding my date of birth to Twitter. And if they ever make it compulsory, I'll just make one up.

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8 Responses

  1. dutchboy

    July 7, 2015 at 3:07 pm #

    if the advertising per age group is similar enough to that on facebook i know how old i'm going to have to be on twitter to avoid the really annoying ads. no problem there.

  2. Bob

    July 7, 2015 at 3:34 pm #

    It's the old "if you don't pay for the product, you are THE product" at play here.

  3. taxineil

    July 7, 2015 at 6:17 pm #

    I was locked out of my account for a day or so and twitter wanted my mobile number to let me back in which I refused to give,I eventually got back on through emails-I don't give my mobile number to anyone online and I never will,I get enough junk calls as it is.

  4. drsolly

    July 7, 2015 at 9:03 pm #

    No need to make one up – you can use mine, 1 January 1900

  5. Joey Lee

    July 8, 2015 at 11:44 am #

    Very good awareness article.

    Couple of points I'd like to make (apologies for my lack of knowledge but I haven't done my research)
    1. Do Twitter actually hand over data or do they simply filter and provide potential numbers of target demographics? I would be more comfortable with a bigger company handling my data than a marketer or third party e.g. Epsilon breach
    2. I do occasionally use phoney DOBs so that if my details end up in the underground I can figure out where the leak was.
    3. I do like to give a date of birth to restaurants if I'm looking for a quick discount code before any planned reservations.

  6. Doktor Jon

    July 8, 2015 at 1:29 pm #

    If asked, I always tell people that at my age, I often have trouble remembering my date of birth, given I was very young at the time.

  7. spgwqxst

    July 8, 2015 at 2:09 pm #

    Prepare for a harsh truth: If you post your date of birth online, you are clueless about the realities of identity theft. If you are educable, you will take this warning seriously and correct that error immediately, or you eventually will be instructed by a much more painful process.

    This is the truth. Someone once stole my identity using nothing more than my date of birth. I didn't find out how they did it until much later when I was contacted by a postal inspector who reported that they had caught the thief and nailed him for mail fraud. Nevertheless, it took me several years to get the bills for things I had never purchased to stop coming, to get the collection agencies off my back, and to repair the damage to my credit rating.

    If some "free" online service (like Twitter) asks my age within a target range (e.g. "18-24"), I might give it to them (as long as it's not publicly viewable), because I understand that it's not really free at all. Besides, targeted advertising isn't all bad; sometimes I learn about products and services that are actually useful.

    But they CANNOT have my date of birth. If they make that a requirement, I'll either give them a complete fiction, or I won't use their service. My date of birth is none of their business. They don't need to know it, and they don't have my permission to even ask for it, much less get it.

  8. Ahmed Amin

    July 8, 2015 at 8:45 pm #

    I honestly don't have a problem with giving ad agencies my information. I'm fine with getting more targeted ads. Believe it or not, ads can offer services that are useful. Also, if they know your age, wouldn't that force them to not give you certain ads based on your age? Like if you are underage there are laws to stop them from giving you certain ads (although that might be only for children and not people over 13, I don't know much about those laws). And to be honest, I feel like DOB is public information. If you were looking for someone's DOB, I doubt you would have to go very far to find it, even if they don't put it up to the public on their twitter.

    By the way, this is more off topic but I recommend moving the "Leave a Reply" to the top of the comments, so that we don't need to scroll down to get to it. Nothing major, but would be nice.

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