Twitter Plans New Privacy Tools to Get More People Tweeting

(Bloomberg) — Twitter Inc. is planning to test new privacy-related features aimed at giving users greater control over their follower lists and who can see their posts and likes, an effort to make people more comfortable interacting and sharing on the social network.

The tools are related to what Twitter executives call “social privacy,” or how users manage their reputations and identities on the service. This includes information like a person’s list of followers, the tweets they like, and whether their accounts are public or private.

Among features being considered is the ability to edit follower lists, and a tool to archive old tweets so that they’re no longer visible to others after a specific amount of time designated by the user. Hiding past tweets could be a popular feature with people who don’t want their posts to exist online forever, offering an easier solution than manually deleting posts or combing through years-old messages to find those you wish you hadn’t sent.

Internal research found that many of Twitter’s users don’t understand the privacy basics, like whether their account is publicly visible, said Svetlana Pimkina, a staff researcher at the San Francisco-based company. Those users engage less on Twitter because they don’t know what other people will be able to see about them.

“When social privacy needs are not met, people limit their self-expression,” Pimkina said. “They withdraw from the conversation.” Twitter will start prompting people to review whether their accounts are public or private beginning in September.

The company’s privacy team is working on several products to assuage this user uncertainty. Some of them will be tested soon, and others are just in the concept stage right now, according to interviews with members of the team.

Included in the list of potential products:

• Archived tweets — Twitter may let users hide old tweets after a set amount of time. Tweets would be visible to the account holder, but not to anyone else. The company is considering a range of time options, including hiding posts after 30, 60, and 90 days, or hiding tweets after a full year. This product doesn’t have a launch date, and is still in the concept phase.

• Removing followers — Users will soon be able to remove followers. This is currently only possible by blocking someone. Twitter plans to test this feature starting this month.

• Hiding tweets you’ve liked — Users will soon be able to set who —  everyone, just their followers, or select groups – can see which tweets they’ve liked. There is no timeline for testing this feature.

• Leaving conversations –- Users will be given the option to remove themselves from a public conversation on Twitter. Today, only the person sending a tweet can choose who to mention. Twitter plans to test this before the end of the year.

Part of Twitter’s motivation is that employees often see users do creative workarounds because these features don’t exist, like blocking and then unblocking someone to remove them as a follower. Lots of other users manually delete old tweets, or toggle back and forth between public and private accounts depending on what they’re posting.

Archiving tweets, in particular, could help alleviate fears for people who worry their old posts will come back to haunt them in some way down the road, such as while looking for a new job, applying for college or running for political office. Rival companies like Snap Inc. and Instagram have had success with disappearing Stories products — a signal that users are drawn to apps where their posts won’t exist forever. Twitter’s own Stories feature didn’t catch on with users, but a feature that does the same with tweets would likely be popular among users.

Twitter has long been open about its product road map, and often tests features that aren’t fully launched. But the company also talks a lot about ideas in concept, some of which fail to materialize, or take much longer than expected.

Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey said in March that Twitter has moved too slowly in recent years to launch new products. He said that rolling out new tools more quickly was now a companywide goal, naming it alongside revenue and user growth targets. Specifically, Dorsey said he wanted to “double the number of features per employee that directly drive” either user growth or revenue. A company spokeswoman declined to share the company’s progress on that goal.

This public expectation has created a new mindset and culture internally, employees say. “We are becoming more metrics-driven in how we think about these things,” said Damien Kieran, Twitter’s chief privacy officer. “I think that’s helping us iterate and move quicker.”

Twitter shares were little changed at the start of trading in New York Thursday.

(Updates with shares in final paragraph.)

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