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.
Pretty awesome, eh?
Well, I’m not so sure…
You 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.
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.