So while Twitter will serve advertisers (it has to) instead of delivering identity or demographic information, says Costolo, it will deliver information-driven engagement. Twitter’s going to target ads based on your interests—who you follow, and what you tweet about. It will look at the data you consume and produce. And because Twitter’s ads appear in the timeline itself (hence the annoying term “promoted tweets”) and as a part of that information flow, people actually seem to click on them.
This lets Twitter bill advertisers based on actions, rather than impressions. Rather than charging based on how many times an ad is shown, it will charge when someone actually does something interactive with the ad. When they click on it and follow through, or reply to it, or retweet it. And it means it can deliver value to advertisers without as much reliance on demographics. It can still sell contextual ads, without having to sell you.
I disagree that there’s much of a distinction here. This is still targeted advertising. (Action-based pricing as an alternative to impression-based pricing is also not new.)
Your name is only a small part of your relevant ad-targeting data. And much of the other demographic information can be inferred fairly accurately from what they do have. Your Twitter activity can tell advertisers more about you than most ad companies could dream of knowing.
Advertising is absolutely about selling you. Twitter’s is no different. The more information they have on you, the more they can target the ads, and the more money they can make from them. That’s the ad business, and that’s the business Twitter has chosen to enter. They’re absolutely in the same business as Google and Facebook, performing the same actions with the same incentives.
Like most other free online services, we are users, not customers. We were never given the chance, and probably never will be, to become Twitter’s customers. As usual, we are the product being sold.