A new application created by computer science graduate students and professors at the University of California allows Twitter users to control who can view their tweets.
Indrajeet Singh and Michael Butkiewicz, PhD students in computer science and engineering, created Twitsper, a name based on a combination of Twitter and whisper. Srikanth Krishnamurthy, a professor of computer science and engineering, and Harsha Madhyastha, an assistant professor of computer science and engineering, assisted the students.
Once downloaded, Twitsper enables users to create lists comprising subsets of their followers. After a list is created, the creator and others on the list can send tweets back and forth that only they can see. To ensure the privacy of users, a tweet sent by any user on the list is only received by other members of the list who follow the user.
If no list is selected, the user’s tweet behaves just like a normal public tweet broadcast to all of the user’s followers, or, if an account is public, to the entire world.
Since user privacy is the primary objective of Twitspers’ creators, all personal information is exchanged between the user’s mobile phone and Twitter’s servers. Twitsper’s servers only see the unique name of the list and identifiers for messages sent to the list.
Before the development of Twitsper there was no way for Twitter users to limit which of their followers could see any of their tweets, even if they set their account to be private.
The researchers focused on Twitter because of its lack of privacy controls. Their implementation of Twitsper attempts to hit the right balance between user privacy and Twitter’s commercial interests.
They hope their work will eventually be incorporated into Twitter. They also want to use the same model to add similar privacy controls on other social networks, such as Facebook and blogs.
Android mobile phone operating system users can download Twitsper for free from http://twitsper.cs.ucr.edu or from the Android Market.