Twitter Japan has begun collecting information about the apps on its users' smartphones, the Japanese arm of the US-based social media company Twitter Inc. said.
Begun early Thursday, the move is aimed at distributing tailored advertisements to users. Twitter Japan says people can refuse to have their information sent to the company, but the move will likely prompt controversy over privacy issues.
For people using official Twitter applications for iPhones, iPads, Android smartphones or other devices, a list of the other apps installed on their smartphones will be sent to the company on a regular basis. Before the information is sent to the company for the first time, a notice from Twitter Japan appears on the centre of the smartphone screen saying, "Twitter will use apps installed on your portable terminal."
However, the notice does not require consent from users, and once users close the notice window, relevant data will start being sent automatically.
As the notice does not include such words as "collecting" or "sending" information, some experts have said it is difficult to understand even for users who are familiar with Twitter services.
Twitter Japan will analyse things like users' hobbies and consumption tendencies based on the names of the apps it collects, and will display advertisements tailored to different users' tastes on Twitter. For example, users who installed apps about dieting will soon see advertisements for low-calorie foods on Twitter.
It is the first time for Twitter to obtain information contained in the smartphones of Twitter users.
After receiving the notification from Twitter that it is taking information, users can stop the flow of information by unchecking an option in their account settings that customizes Twitter.
"Some people may think tailored ads are useful, but others don't want to let people know what kind of applications they're using," said Hisashi Sonoda, a professor at Konan University who is familiar with issues concerning the Internet. "From the standpoint of privacy protection, it's important to allow users to refuse it and to only collect information from people who give prior consent."
"We're making the notice evident, and allowing users to change their settings at any time. So we think we can obtain the understanding of users," a spokesperson for Twitter Japan said.
While the number of Twitter users in Japan has not been officially announced, there are about 280 million Twitter users around the world.
A series of problems
As the use of smartphones increases, problems involving the information they contain are occurring more often.
A free smartphone app developed by a software company and used by about 2,000 people in 2011 was found to be collecting information such as the names of other apps and dates when users ran the applications, all without users' consent. The company stopped collecting the information and subsequently dissolved itself.
In 2012, an app was found to be collecting personal information such as names and phone numbers on contact lists. In December last year, it was discovered that all the text data typed using a Japanese-language input software systems for smartphones was sent to Baidu Inc., China's largest search engine company with about 7 million users. Baidu developed the software.Speech