Ask the Expert: Twitter Opts In to Allowing You to Opt Out


Q: “I recently heard that Twitter was implementing the Do Not Track feature for its users. This sounds good, but I don’t really know much about it. Can you tell me more about Do Not Track?”

A: Twitter should be applauded for putting our privacy before their profits.

While the Do Not Track feature is not the only thing we should be using to protect our online privacy, it’s important that a social media company like Twitter supports robust privacy tools. The Do Not Track feature is one of those tools.

First, let’s take a look at the Do Not Track feature and its pros and cons.

Do Not Track What?

Mozilla, the company that created the Firefox web browser, developed the Do Not Track feature. It’s a privacy setting that any Mozilla user can enable. If you want to turn it on in Firefox, go to Tools > Options > Privacy and select the Tell websites I do not want to be tracked checkbox.

When you turn this setting on, Firefox tells online advertisers and other websites that you want to opt-out of tracking for things like behavioral advertising. It works by transmitting a Do Not Track HTTP header every time your data is requested from websites. So cookies are not placed on your computer to compile information about you.

This is important because third-party advertisers use cookies to track what websites you visit, what you buy online, and what your interests are. Then they turn around and sell this information to the highest bidder.

However, the Do Not Track feature only works if a website agrees to acknowledge it.

And there’s the rub.

Many online advertisers have committed to honoring Do Not Track if it’s enabled by a user, including BlueKai, eXelate, and AdInsight. But many others haven’t, meaning that if you visit websites that use third-party advertising, it’s almost certain that you are being tracked.

Twitter and Do Not Track

But it’s a very big deal that a social media company like Twitter is honoring Do Not Track. Not only are they the first large social media to do so, they seem to be making a strong commitment to their user’s privacy.

In comparison, Facebook aggressively collects user information, and there’s no way to use Facebook and opt out of this data collection. Facebook can even track you when you are not on their website.

It’s obvious why Facebook (and other online giants like Google) do this: they make enormous profits turning around and selling your online behavior information to advertisers.

Facebook has decided that profits are more important than providing you with privacy options. That’s why it’s a step in the right direction when an Internet juggernaut like Twitter decides that it’s more important to put privacy controls back into your hands.

Do Not Track: One Piece of the Privacy Pie

But Do Not Track is only one privacy tool that we should enable if we don’t want websites to track our online behavior.

Other ways that you can protect your online privacy include installing a free software product called Ghostery, which blocks all third-party content. Removing third-party content (such as cookies) prevents online advertisers from tracking your online activity.

SlimCleaner and CClearner clean out any cookies hiding in your computer. SlimCleaner incorporates a feature that allows you to save cookies from trusted sites like your bank while deleting anything else. Both utilities have Mac-compatible versions available.

And of course, using a personal VPN like PRIVATE WiFi encrypts all of your online information, whether you are simply emailing or making any financial transaction using a credit card, paying with something via PayPal, or managing your online banking accounts.


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Kent Lawson

Kent Lawson is the CEO & Chairman of Private Communications Corporation and creator of its flagship software PRIVATE WiFi. He combined his extensive business and technical experience to develop PRIVATE WiFi in 2010. The software is an easy-to-use Virtual Private Network (VPN) that protects your sensitive personal information whenever you’re connected to a public WiFi network. Follow Kent on Twitter: @KentLawson.

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