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Twitter to Unveil Email-Based Ads: Alarmist Reactions in 5 ... 4 ... 3 ...

5/28/13

By Ken Magill

Twitter is planning to release a service that will allow marketers to reach people with whom they already have a relationship who also use Twitter, according to an anonymously sourced report from Bloomberg.

According to the report, the new service will allow marketers to match their customer email lists to Twitter’s user base and have ads served to the Twitter users who are on their lists.

The feature will probably be available by the end of 2013, according to Bloomberg’s sources.

And, of course, what story about a neat new piece of advertising technology would be complete without an alarmist reaction from the privacy camp?

For this week’s alarmist reaction, we turn to Rebecca Greenfield over at the Atlantic Wire.

She starts by misrepresenting what was reported on Bloomberg:

“Twitter's custom ad plan works like this: Companies will share the email address you gave to them — either at check-out or via online shopping — with Twitter, which then plans to share your address with advertisers, who will then use it to send the right ads to the right people back on Twitter,” Greenfield wrote.

If Greenfield’s characterization were true, it would be alarming. But it’s not what Bloomberg reported.

As Bloomberg positions the new service, it will allow marketers to reach their own customers with ads on Twitter.

The report says nothing about handing email addresses to third-party advertisers.

In any case, Greenfield’s privacy concerns start predictably enough:

“First of all, the premise alone is unsettling,” wrote Greenfield. “This kind of targeted advertising can get specific in a way that might make tweeters uncomfortable. Why does Twitter know that Spencer's is my favorite retailer? Do I want Twitter knowing that? Maybe not.”

Let’s give her this one. Maybe I don’t want ads for Nick’s Discount Vodka, Cigars, Whips, Latex and Nylon Rope.

But then Greenfield starts her descent into an illustration of just how absurd the online privacy movement is:

“More worrying, at this point, is that it's unclear how Twitter will deliver this trove email addresses to advertisers. In order to ensure a certain level of anonymity between you and the marketer, for example, Facebook randomizes the letters and numbers in email addresses so that companies don't have direct access to your Facebook profile; in theory, the advertiser doesn't know who is getting the ad — just that the right person got it. If Twitter doesn't want a headache from users and privacy advocates, it will likely do some version of that process, known as hashing.”

According to a report on TechCrunch from last August, Facebook hashes the email addresses on both ends of the match so neither Facebook nor the advertiser have access to the other’s file.

That any type of so-called hashing is considered even necessary in these processes—beyond protecting email addresses from being intercepted by third parties during the uploading process—shows just how ridiculous the privacy movement has become.

It’s two companies comparing their own lists for matches, for Pete’s sake.

But this doesn’t stop Greenfield from offering a predictably ridiculous privacy what-if scenario.

“But even that [hashing] won't placate all the skeptics,” Greenfield wrote. "’Hashing an email address in general is not very privacy protective,’ the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Dan Auerbach told The Atlantic Wire. Because most people use only letters in their e-mail addresses, turns out it's pretty easy to do what's called a ‘dictionary attack’ to recreate the original address.”

Uh, yeah. Twitter, Facebook and their advertisers are going to launch dictionary attacks to get the email addresses of people they already have.

Owe. My head hurts.

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