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Twitter Has Been Guessing Your Gender And People Are Pissed

Its new privacy settings reveal what it assumed and allow you to change it to whatever you want.

Posted on May 19, 2017, at 3:29 p.m. ET

On Wednesday, Twitter debuted new tools that make it easier to see the kinds of information the company is collecting about you and using to tailor your advertisements. As part of the update, you can now download a list of all the accounts that are serving you ads (and if you're inclined, someone made instructions for how to automatically block all those advertiser accounts, lol).

Want to find out what Twitter knows about you? Go to "Settings and privacy," and then close to the bottom of the lefthand side, go to "Twitter data":

Here's the basic profile info that Twitter has about you:

It turns out that Twitter has been inferring your gender. Some people were pissed about this.

Users: Will you ever fix your site's harassment issues? Twitter: Congrats! Now we'll assign you a gender if you did…

Seems like if you hadn't told Twitter your gender it's randomly assigned you one. You can go in and edit it in My T…

twitter lets you type in a gender of your choosing but "why haven't you banned the nazis yet" doesn't fit

Hey @Twitter @Support ? Can we please not have an algorithm decide which gender we are based on tweets? We aren't all M or F.

It feels pretty creepy to find out that Twitter has been using people's data to assign them gender identities. But this isn't unusual. It's entirely common for websites to infer their visitors' and users' genders for advertising purposes. Google does this for you too (and you can check what assumptions Google's made about you here).

The fact that Twitter allows you to edit your assumed gender or write in how you identify is actually a step up from what some other tech companies offer users. Google only allows you to indicate that you are male, female, or "rather not say." Facebook has allowed you to write in your own gender field since 2015 (though gender has always been part of your Facebook profile, unlike Twitter, which has never asked you to specify). And overall, transparency about how these platforms use our data is good! Yay transparency!

We all know that companies like Twitter and Facebook are using our data to allow advertisers to find and target specific people — that's social media companies' business model. In additional to the gender and age that they infer, there's a whole list of things they think you're interested in that advertisers can use. Twitter thinks I'm interested in "investing" and "men's pants" even though I'm not, but that's low-stakes and more funny than anything else.

But for trans and gender-nonconforming people, seeing that a platform for free expression like Twitter has been making gender assumptions for them — whether it's right or wrong — can be jarring and upsetting.

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    Katie Notopoulos is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Notopoulos writes about tech and internet culture and is cohost of the Internet Explorer podcast.

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