Twitter Reveals Users’ Phone Numbers used for Advertising Purposes

What’s going on? Twitter revealed this past Tuesday October 8, that users’ phone numbers and email addresses provided for security features were “inadvertently” used for targeted advertising purposes. A lot of Twitter users provide their phone number or email address for two-factor authentication, making it harder for users’ accounts to be hacked. Twitter states the data was used for advertising specifically through their Tailored Audience and Partner Audience Systems.

What does that mean? In Twitter’s own words:

Tailored Audiences is a version of an industry-standard product that allows advertisers to target ads to customers based on the advertiser’s own marketing lists (e.g., email addresses or phone numbers they have compiled). Partner Audiences allows advertisers to use the same Tailored Audiences features to target ads to audiences provided by third-party partners.

There is nothing inherently wrong or evil with either of these two advertising systems described by Twitter, targeted advertising is efficient and a general positive experience when regulated correctly or when consent is given. The problem is when an advertiser uploaded their marketing list, Twitter matched people to their list based on the email or phone number the Twitter account holder provided for safety and security purposes. 

Twitter’s Response: As of September 17, Twitter “are no longer using phone numbers or email addresses collected for safety or security purposes for advertising”. Twitter admitted to their error and officially apologized saying they are taking steps to ensure an issue like this never occurs again.

Tech expert’s reaction: Security Editor at TechCrunch, Zack Whittaker, voices skepticism over Twitter’s apology in a related article. Whittaker shows in the last year alone Twitter has had at least four major security issues. Even their Chief Executive Jack Dorsey had his personal twitter account hacked back in August. As a consumer always remember the info you are giving to companies is used in more ways than you realize.