New York CNN Business  — 

The number of users who check Twitter at least once a month shrank throughout most of 2018. That concerning decline could continue well into this year too, but Twitter is done talking about it.

On Thursday, Twitter (TWTR) announced that it lost millions more monthly users in the final three months of 2018 – and then said it plans to stop disclosing the closely-watched figure entirely after the first quarter of 2019.

The move makes Twitter just the latest tech company to rethink the numbers it shares with the public at a time of slowing or declining growth. In November, Apple (AAPL) said it would stop disclosing the number of iPhones sold each quarter as the era of rapid iPhone sales growth comes to an end. Facebook, which has seen user numbers flatline in developed markets like North America and Europe, followed Apple (AAPL)’s lead last month. The company’s CFO said it would “eventually” stop disclosing the number of people who use its flagship app.

“It’s clearly not a positive trend,” says Daniel Ives, an analyst who tracks these tech companies for Wedbush. “Companies don’t stop giving metrics when things are on the up and up.”

Each company said they are ditching these metrics because they are no longer the best or most relevant ways to assess the health of their businesses anymore. Apple, for example, has shifted to charging more the iPhones it does sell. Therefore it believes iPhone revenue is what really matters, not the vanity metric of how many iPhone units are actually sold each quarter

As Apple CEO Tim Cook put it on a conference call with analysts in November, “This is a little bit like if you go to the market and you push your cart up to the cashier and she says, or he says, ‘How many units you have in there?’” What really matters, he says, is “the overall value of what’s in the cart.”

Investors disagreed. Apple stock fell after the announcement as analysts raised alarms about the lack of transparency.

For all three companies, these aren’t simply throwaway numbers, buried in crowded earnings releases. These are the headline figures by which investors and even the general public often judge them.

“It’s no different than a Five Guys restaurant saying, ‘Don’t focus on the hamburgers, focus on the french fries and peanuts,” Ives says.

In place of these key metrics, tech companies are touting new figures that sound more flattering and at the same time can be harder to parse.

Facebook plans to shift to a broader “family” of services figure, encompassing everyone who uses Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger or Facebook proper. The number is impressive – 2.7 billion people in the holiday quarter – but in the future it could also make it harder to determine the growth, or lack thereof, for any one of these social media platforms.

On Thursday, Twitter said it’s shifting to a new metric it calls “monetized daily active users.” Unlike Twitter’s monthly active user count, this one is actually growing modestly. But Twitter also deliberately chose only to count daily users who are seeing ads. For that reason, it says in a filing that the metric is “not comparable to current disclosures from other companies.”

In short: New numbers, more confusion.

Some analysts see these moves as an attempt to force investors to focus on new narratives for the companies. Apple, for example, may no longer report the number of iPhones sold from one quarter to the next, but it will periodically announce the total number of iPhones actively in use worldwide. The staggering figure – approaching the one billion mark – is part of a broader pitch that Apple can keep growing by selling more services like Apple Pay and Apple Music to customers it already has.

But there’s another effect in the short-term: By ditching the disappointing headline numbers in their earnings reports, tech companies may also kill some of the bad headlines in the press.

In the absence of official numbers from the company, what’s left are best guess estimates from analysts. And top publicans may choose “not to report these numbers,” says Dan Morgan, senior portfolio manager at Synovus Trust Company, “as they are ‘off the cuff’ estimates buried in an analyst report.”