Despite an advertising pause, researcher says brands could be letting Twitter have access to some types of consumer data

Researcher says advertisers including Jeep, Verizon, and Citigroup appear to be running Twitter’s pixel—a tool used by marketers to track campaigns—even though they seem to have stopped running ads.
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Hannah Minn

6 min read

Brands are leaving Twitter, but the data they’re sharing with the platform could still be flowing.

Following Elon Musk’s takeover, brands including Pfizer, Chipotle, and Volkswagen have all publicly said they’re pausing ads on the platform. However, those same brands appeared to still be sharing data with Twitter as of late November through the use of what’s called a tracking pixel, according to ad-tech researcher and founder of Adalytics, Krzysztof Franaszek, who crawled more than 70,000 sites to see which brands still had Twitter’s tracking pixel installed.

Other companies, including a who’s who of advertisers like Spotify, Amazon, and Disney, also appeared to still use Twitter’s pixel, per Franaszek’s research, though they have not paused advertising on the platform, according to ad spend data collected by advertising analytics company Pathmatics.

Though the advertising industry’s concerns about Twitter’s new ownership have focused largely on brand safety and content moderation on the platform, the widespread continued use of Twitter’s pixel and the data it collects could raise data and security concerns after several senior privacy and security employees recently left the company.

Though pixels are ubiquitous—advertisers use them to measure the success of online ads—they can also collect a ton of data, like what someone clicks on, their payment information, and their IP address.

“Twitter is able to gather data about not only its own users, but also about consumers who have never had any direct relationship with the Twitter platform” via its pixel, Franaszek wrote in a blog post. He also noted that third-party code, when vulnerable, can leave advertisers open to “rogue actors.”

“At this point, the data concerns are the unknown,” Heidi Saas, an attorney who focuses primarily on data privacy, said. “If businesses do decide to leave Twitter, they need to actually make sure they did in fact leave Twitter.”


Major advertising agencies quickly raised concerns about Elon Musk’s “Twitter 2.0” and encouraged clients to pause ad spend. Advertising accounted for 92% of Twitter’s revenue last quarter.

The company has made some efforts to court the industry, including a Twitter Space in early November between Musk, company execs, and IAB president David Cohen, but many of what were previously Twitter’s top advertisers, including Coca-Cola, Citigroup, and Kellogg, were not running ads on the platform as of late November, according to Pathmatics.

Marketing Brew cross-referenced Franaszek’s research on companies that appeared to have Twitter’s tracking pixel installed with Pathmatics data on brands that stopped running advertising on Twitter between October 24 and November 14. They include Jeep, Verizon, Citigroup, Wingstop, PNC, Cisco, Mazda, Kohl’s, Chipotle, Pfizer, Volkswagen, Chevrolet, and Hyundai.

Chipotle and Chevrolet returned to the platform the following week, according to Pathmatics data.

We reached out to those 13 brands that Adalytics research indicated had the pixel installed while not running ads on Twitter. Only Hyundai, Stellantis, and Volkswagen replied. William Gock, a Volkswagen spokesperson, confirmed that it has a “conversion pixel” on its US-based site and that “if and when we resume ads on Twitter, we would continue to have the pixel on to track shopping tools, so long as that’s an objective.”

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Meanwhile, Twitter has laid off, fired, or lost more than half of its head count, including employees across its moderation, sales, and compliance teams. The company’s data protection officer—a role that the EU’s privacy law, the GDPR, mandates certain companies, like Twitter, have—resigned alongside its chief compliance officer and chief information security officer last month. (It named an acting chief data protection officer in mid-November.)

Marketing Brew reached out to Twitter and has not received a response as of publication, though the company no longer has a communications department.

“Unpredictable outcomes”

When there is significant change at a platform, that is “a good opportunity for any marketer to reappraise” and ask questions like “Is user data protected?” and “Do I feel like that the new leadership team is concerned about these issues in a way that gives me comfort?” Lou Paskalis, the former president and COO of the industry trade group MMA Global and former global head of media at Bank of America, said. The rapid turnover at Twitter has “created an environment of unpredictable outcomes right now, which is something no marketer wants to find themselves in,” he said.

“Unless and until you know that the company is really walking the walk,” in terms of its data security practices, advertisers “will need to really consider things like whether or not you want to continue to use that tracking pixel,” he said. “Data security, consent, and compliance are as important, if not more important, than brand safety and suitability.”

Though Twitter offers a Restricted Data Use feature that “enables an advertiser to limit Twitter’s use of individual-level conversion events for specific business purposes only” and can be applied to its pixel, Franaszek found that 99% of the websites examined in his research “did not appear to use [it].”

A media buyer at a large advertising agency told Marketing Brew that in a risk assessment of Twitter, data leakage concerns have been centered around first-party data that advertisers could be sharing with the platform, not its pixel. Currently, the buyer noted their agency is recommending clients still active on Twitter not share information like customer emails or phone numbers with Twitter.

Brands using pixels often “don’t think about them,” Avi Ben-Zvi, VP of paid social at performance marketing agency Tinuiti, said. If an advertiser stops working with a platform, it could easily forget to remove something as small as a pixel. Advertising departments and engineering teams “aren’t necessarily perfectly in sync,” Ben-Zvi said.

Paskalis agreed. “I would imagine nine in 10 of those that paused [ads] have not thought about their tracking pixel,” he said.

Or, they’ll reactivate.

Correction 12/8/22: Lou Paskalis left MMA in November. The story has been updated.

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