Twitter users' privacy concerns: What do their accounts' first names tell us?

Daniela Fernandez Espinosa, Lu Xiao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Purpose: In this paper, we describe how gender recognition on Twitter can be used as an intelligent business tool to determine the privacy concerns among users, and ultimately offer a more personalized service for customers who are more likely to respond positively to targeted advertisements. Design/methodology/approach: We worked with two different data sets to examine whether Twitter users' gender, inferred from the first name of the account and the profile description, correlates with the privacy setting of the account. We also used a set of features including the inferred gender of Twitter users to develop classifiers that predict user privacy settings. Findings: We found that the inferred gender of Twitter users correlates with the account's privacy setting. Specifically, females tend to be more privacy concerned than males. Users whose gender cannot be inferred from their provided first names tend to be more privacy concerned. In addition, our classification performance suggests that inferred gender can be used as an indicator of the user's privacy preference. Research limitations: It is known that not all twitter accounts are real user accounts, and social bots tweet as well. A major limitation of our study is the lack of consideration of social bots in the data. In our study, this implies that at least some percentage of the undefined accounts, that is, accounts that had names non-existent in the name dictionary, are social bots. It will be interesting to explore the privacy setting of social bots in the Twitter space. Practical implications: Companies are investing large amounts of money in business intelligence tools that allow them to know the preferences of their consumers. Due to the large number of consumers around the world, it is very difficult for companies to have direct communication with each customer to anticipate market changes. For this reason, the social network Twitter has gained relevance as one ideal tool for information extraction. On the other hand, users' privacy preference needs to be considered when companies consider leveraging their publicly available data. This paper suggests that gender recognition of Twitter users, based on Twitter users' provided first names and their profile descriptions, can be used to infer the users' privacy preference. Originality/value: This study explored a new way of inferring Twitter user's gender, that is, to recognize the user's gender based on the provided first name and the user's profile description. The potential of this information for predicting the user's privacy preference is explored.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)40-53
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Data and Information Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2018


  • Gender recognition
  • Privacy preferences
  • Social media
  • Twitter

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Administration
  • Library and Information Sciences
  • Information Systems and Management


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