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Your Tweets are Twitter’s Most Lucrative Product

The social media giant is putting your tweets up for sale.

Photo by Flickr user Maryland GovPics.

Do you ever feel used and exploited by a post-capitalist society in which everything, even your identity, is packaged and sold for distribution in a globalized market? You’re not wrong. Who you are is nothing but an accumulation of data: the photos you’ve pinned on Pinterest. The links you’ve clicked on Facebook. The subjects you talk about on Twitter. Some companies—travel agencies, retail stores, service businesses, national security agencies—are dying to have this data. Other companies already have it. And they’re willing to sell it to the highest bidder.


Last year, Twitter acquired Gnip, a social media aggregation company, for $130 million, for this very purpose. Gnip mines the unfathomable volume of social media posts on Tumblr, Twitter, Foursquare, and Disqus, among others, cataloging your public social media declarations of loyalty to @Starbucks and the Instagram photos of what you had for lunch at @Dennys yesterday. And from this vast quantity of data, they’re capable of building data-driven profiles of each individual user.

Using Gnip, Twitter will now be able to offer companies the data extracted from user-generated content: your favorite foods, the people you call your friends, the sports teams you root for, what TV shows you watch when you’re sad and lonely at night. Your identity, rendered in a series of ones and zeroes. Companies can then use these profiles to market their products and services more successfully to you or even provide you with a customized customer experience. The Guardian offers up a possible scenario:

“You are travelling by plane to see your newborn grandchild. As you board the aircraft, the cabin crew address you by name and congratulate you on the arrival of a bouncing baby boy. On your seat, you find a gift-wrapped blue rattle with a note from the airline.”

Creepy! And yet: not very different from what we experience today. Already, the ads on the margins of your Facebook and Gmail accounts are specifically targetted to you, using data on where you went to school, what job you work, what kind of links you post and send. These companies are already process your information and using it to make you a softer target for advertising and promotions. Most people signal their compliance to data-mining by virtue of their persistent usage of social media. And studies show that more than half of Americans responded to the revelations of NSA surveillance with a collective ‘meh’.. In a world where even your children’s toys are bugged, does it really matter? Are we just willing participants in an Oceania-esque dystopia?

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