Twitter, like its more visually-inclined microblogging cousin Tumblr, has struggled to make money. It has value, thanks to an estimated 56 million active accounts, but its format doesn’t allow for advertising placement in the same way that Facebook does. With an IPO coming out later this year and some analysts scratching their heads over how many billions of dollars the company is worth, Twitter needs to show that its recent moves towards monetization–mostly through what are known as Twitter cards, or expanded tweets–have momentum and room to generate revenue.
Enter the Lead Generation card. Announced yesterday, it provides Twitter users a way to effectively opt-in to a marketing tweet without having to re-enter personal information like their name, Twitter handle and email address–all just by clicking the link in the ad. This removes the step of having to fill out a form, which prevents many people from opting in to advertisements. A form is one extra step in a fast-paced mobile world, and quite clearly asks for information that you may not want to share. Now, it’s automatic. The Lead Generation card auto-fills your information. It’s not clear how or where this information is stored, or if there are any restrictions on how marketers can use your information once you’ve clicked their tweet. Regardless, it’s a sneaky move, further blurring the line for users on when they are seeing an advertisement and when they are seeing a tweet. If you’re even a semi-regular Twitter user, you’ve probably already encountered Twitter cards without realizing it.
As it happens, one day prior to this announcement from Twitter came the release of a massive study by the Pew Research Center and the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. It shows that while most teens are active on Facebook, they long for an online space that is more free of ‘drama’, rules and restrictions. This has led to a boom for both Twitter and Instagram, which teens report as being more positive spaces for creativity and expression. In 2011, 16% of online teens used Twitter, but when the study was conducted in December of 2012, that figure rose to 24%. Of the younger teens internet users in the survey, those between the ages of 12-13, 13% used Twitter. That’s problematic for Twitter, given that the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA) prohibits the collection of personal information from youth under the age of 13. With the Lead Generation card, even a tech-savvy, COPPA-aware twelve-year-old could give marketers her personal information and not know it. (Never mind the fact that she shouldn’t be on Twitter anyway, since she’s under thirteen.) The Pew/Berkman study also shows that teen social media users generally don’t care about sharing their information with third parties anyway; 22% are “not at all concerned” and just 9% are “very concerned.”
The onus for enforcing age restrictions falls on Twitter, and perhaps now they need to be more vigilant so as to be responsible to the companies who buy Lead Generation cards. But the millions of parents who sign their underage children up for social media accounts also need to know about exactly what their kid could be getting into. The Lead Generation card represents yet another move by another big media away from transparency and responsibility (seen the latest Facebook controversy?), and there’s no sign that this trend is likely to stop or plateau any time soon. As social media engagers, it’s one more reason we need to understand the platforms we use to communicate, and how they in turn use us.