Tweets to be used to sell you stuff

Sarkozy Twitter accountBernard Patrick/ABACA/Press Association Images

DataSift, a marketing company based in the UK and US, has announced this week that it has permission from Twitter to harvest tweets and sell them on to commercial companies for marketing purposes.

So how will it work, and what can you do?

How it works

The company is given permission by Twitter to analyse tweets and basic information about users and use it to make money. It is apparently planning to release it in two-year packages to customers, who will be able to plunder if for the specific details they are interested in.

The idea is that they can find out what people have been saying about their products - and what they said when particular changes or improvements were made. They can use this for both development and marketing.

They can also get information as it happens, so they can check up on what you are saying. This may result in them intervening, or collating data about what people are thinking more generally in order to make bigger changes

And they can filter all this by specific information about the person tweeting - such as their location. So, for example, they can work out where a marketing campaign is working best so focus their spend there and change the messages elsewhere. Or they can find out what people on London think about their products versus people in the Highlands.

It all sounds very clever for the companies who buy this data, but what about you?

The implications

On the one hand, you have already published this information to a wide network, so perhaps you shouldn't be surprised that companies are using it. We already know they monitor social networks, and many people have experienced the phenomenon of being contacted by a company after making a specific comment. This is just a further development of how companies can and will use information in the public domain.

On the other hand, this your information being sold on for a profit. Justin Basini, CEO of online privacy experts ALLOW said: "This move shows that all those throwaway tweets have suddenly become a rich new revenue stream for Twitter, much in the same way that Facebook has monetised its offering. It has taken a stream of consciousness, analysed it, bottled it and sold it for a profit."

He adds that for many people, the concern is that this was never made clear to them when they started tweeting: "The worst thing is, you never knew it was going to happen. It just goes to show that online privacy is a rare thing indeed. We think that people should be allowed to have a greater say in who has access to their data and get a share of that data's value."

What can you do?

If you are worried about something you have said in the past, it's not to late to do something about it. Deleted tweets cannot be used and DataSift is required to regularly update its database to delete tweets to reflect the ones you have dumped. Maybe now is time to revisit some of the things you have said and decide whether they were so clever and funny after-all.
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