San Francisco-based social media company Twitter announced that it was going public via a tweet on Thursday afternoon (4 p.m. PST). The tweet said that the company had confidentially filed forms with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to go public in the near future. Analysts surveyed by media say the company will do a $15 billion IPO on $500 million of revenue.
A Twitter IPO will mean big changes for users will as the company that has been sort-of monetizing the user experience gears up to sell itself to investors. It also means that Twitter needs to step up its game. Facebook, for example, generated $5 billion in 2012 revenue with just over a billion monthly active users: 10 times as much as Twitter, although its user base is only about twice the size of Twitter’s.
To do this stepping-up, Twitter might have to remove some features beloved by users. The Do Not Track option, which allows users to prevent advertisers from collecting information about them to customize ads they view, will be the first to go. And Twitter’s policy of issuing transparency reports might go by the wayside as well. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has ranked Twitter as the company that “has the back” of users more than any other internet company. The rankings were based on how the internet companies dealt with government requests for user data. Factors taken into consideration were how frequently they published transparency reports (Twitter publishes them semi-annually; Facebook published its first one in August 2013), if they required a warrant before handing data to government, if they fought for user privacy in court and congress, and if they told users about governments about data censorship requests. Not that divulging censorship requests and privacy breaches will necessarily lead to social change; Twitter, for example, complied with Brazil’s requests (made between February and July) to remove 39 defamatory tweets. As the social media company executes its plans to expand abroad, it has much less of an incentive to get into spats with foreign governments over user data.
Does that mean Twitter will lose its reputation as the birthplace of modern political revolutions? Probably not. But it might have to become something else in addition to that– namely a data mine enriched by its user’s info — if it wants to be a serious ad-revenue generator.