Twitter is keen to avoid Facebook’s privacy nightmare

19 May 2011

Twitter’s decision to give consumers more control over what information they share with third-party applications is a prudent step that could help the microblogging site avoid some of the security and privacy issues that have dogged social networking site Facebook.

While Twitter, with its 200m or so users is dwarfed by Facebook, which has more than 600m users, it’s one of the most compelling pieces of technology to emerge in the past few years in terms of communications and the speedy and efficient spread of news and knowledge.

However, Twitter is working hard to create a compelling business plan and ensure it can be attractive to big advertisers. There has been talk of Facebook-style pages to create landing zones for big brands, for example.

In recent months, Twitter has been tightening its control over how third-party apps use its ecosystem and in recent weeks swished past UberMedia to acquire TweetDeck.

Clearly, Twitter wants to a lot more work around usability and stickiness and in doing so it seems it wants to avoid the privacy and security issues, such as spam and malware, that are becoming all the more prevalent on Facebook.

New permission process for third-party applications

Today, Twitter updated its permission process for the thousands of third-party applications that use the microblogging site.

The new permissions process will give users the right to decide whether these third-party applications can access users’ direct messages.

It will also make it clearer to users what that third-party app can do, such as reading tweets, seeing who a user is following, updating profiles and updating tweets on a user’s behalf.

“If you’re not comfortable with the level of access an application requests, simply say ‘no thanks’,” Twitter’s Jodi Olsen explained.

She said Twitter had been preparing these changes in response to requests from users and developers who asked for a greater level of clarity and control.

The move comes just a week after it emerged that some applications on Facebook were in danger of leaking user account data to third parties, including advertisers, such as profiles, chats and photos, and some also had the ability to post messages and mine personal information. It is believed as many as 100,000 applications were enabling this kind of leakage, Symantec researcher Nishant Doshi said.

Twitter seems to be grasping the nettle before it becomes a bigger issue potentially within its ecosystem and it finds itself dogged by negative press driven by privacy and advertiser issues.

Like Facebook, Twitter, too, has been hit by scams and viruses, in particular ad-spreading worms. In its move to a more viable future, Twitter understands its credibility rests in the hands of both its users and its third-party applications communities.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years