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Twitter's new privacy policy: Here's what we do with your data

In a new policy, the social media site lays out how it uses your data. As EU regulations loom, expect more privacy updates from the services you use.

A security camera attached to the building that houses Twitter headquarters in San Francisco, with the Twitter logo in the background.

Twitter released a new privacy policy Tuesday that will go into effect on May 25, 2018. 

James Martin / CNET

With lots of focus on Facebook lately, it's easy to forget about all the other tech companies that collect your data. 

Twitter is one of them, and if you're wondering how it collects, uses and shares your data, you're in luck; the company revealed its new privacy policy Tuesday. 

The policy comes amid a massive wave of privacy updates from the tech sector, all in response to a new set of regulations from the European Union. Companies all over the globe are updating their policies to comply with the General Data Protection Regulation, or the GDPR. That regulation, which gives people Europe new rights to access and delete data that companies like Twitter have collected about them, goes into effect on May 25. As it happens, that's when Twitter's new privacy policy goes into effect.

The policy has lots of information for users regardless of where you live, but at 4,900 words, it might be a bit much to digest. We've broken down the major issues for you here.

Twitter is public, so why are we talking about privacy?

Sure, using Twitter is a bit like standing on a street corner with a megaphone. So it might be a bit confusing to bring up privacy when we're talking about a service that publicly disseminates your opinions, musings and silly memes.

But Twitter the company knows a lot more about you than what you broadcast publicly on its website.

Much like Facebook, the company collects information from your device that can track you from your phone to your laptop to your other laptop. It also collects information from websites you visit that include content from Twitter, regardless of whether you're logged into the service. 

What's more, it collects your contact information from your friends, family, acquaintances, business contacts, or anyone else who might have your email address or phone number in their contacts. That happens when those people upload their contacts to Twitter. (Facebook does this as well.) 

That all gives Twitter a rich picture of your web browsing habits, location and interests. 

How does Twitter use my information?

Twitter uses that information to show you ads it thinks will appeal to your interests. 

"We use the information described in this Privacy Policy to help make our advertising more relevant to you," Twitter says in its new policy, "to measure its effectiveness, and to help recognize your devices to serve you ads on and off of Twitter."

It's part of making Twitter useful and personalized to you. The policy goes on to use the word "relevant" six times total, in reference to ads as well as the tweets you might want to see in your timeline or the people you might want to follow on Twitter.

To really make those ads effective, Twitter says it infers certain things about you based on the data it collects, including your age, language and gender.

Twitter also uses it to detect fraud and stop other kinds of abuse on its platform and to show you tweets it thinks you'll find relevant.

Do I have any say in this?

Screen shot of Twitter's personalization and data settings

Twitter lets you opt out of many of the ways it uses your information to personalize ads.

CNET

Twitter is up front about this: you're bound by the privacy policy. "By continuing to use our services after May 25th, you agree to the new Privacy Policy," the policy says in a bolded banner at the top of the page. 

You're allowed to change various privacy settings in your account, letting you opt out of many of the ways Twitter uses your data. That includes interest-based advertisements, as well as letting Twitter track you across devices and use your location to tailor ads.

To control those settings, go to your account settings and select "Privacy and Safety" on the left menu. Then scroll down to "Personalization and Data" and select edit. Twitter will show you a page where you can decide which, if any, of these personalization techniques you want it to use.

Will Twitter give GDPR protections to users everywhere?

The privacy policy gives everyone similar rights, according to Twitter. 

"Our Privacy Policy is a singular document to explain our privacy practices to all users, irrespective of location," a Twitter spokeswoman said in an email.

That appears to include new rights afforded by the GDPR, including the idea of data portability and erasure. Data portability is the ability to request all of your data from a company, and data erasure lets you request that a company delete your data. 

The new policy includes instructions for doing both. Even though the old policy, which went into effect in July, doesn't mention the terms data portability or data erasure, it does already offer ways to download your data and request it be modified or deleted.

While you'll continue to be able to make these requests when GDPR comes into effect, only EU residents will have the force of law behind the regulations, said Forrester business analyst Fatemeh Khatibloo.

"They don't have jurisdiction in the US," Khatibloo said.

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