How is your Twitter data affected now that Elon is in charge?

Elon Musk owns your DMs, but he may not be Twitter’s biggest privacy risk.

The purchase of Twitter by Elon Musk is finalized. He owns what he previously described as a “de facto town square” for under $44 billion. He also appears to be the owner of all Twitter user data.

This might not be good news if you use Twitter and value your online privacy. Twitter has struggled with privacy and security issues for years, and it has been slow to put any potential fixes into action. As a result, it’s possible that everything you’ve ever done or said on Twitter, whether it was in public or private, including your direct messages, now belongs to one of the wealthiest individuals on earth—a man infamous for being erratic, foolish, and even spiteful.

Additionally, Twitter is owned by a man who apparently intends to fire 75% of the company’s employees, thus eroding Twitter’s security. Oops!

We still have a lot to learn, and it might take a while before it does. A request for response from Alex Spiro, Musk’s lawyer, went unanswered, and Twitter isn’t doing anything to reassure users. When asked how long it maintained user data or how long it would take for a person’s data to be totally removed from Twitter should that user delete their account, the firm informed Recode before the deal concluded that it had “nothing to offer here at this time.” After the company’s ownership changed, a request for comment was not quickly answered.

According to Twitter, a person can request to have their account totally deleted, but it takes at least 30 days for that to happen. Even after you think you’ve erased them, your direct messages (DMs) may continue to exist on Twitter’s servers for years. If you’re truly concerned, you can cancel your account, but there’s no guarantee it will also destroy all of your data.

What is known is that Twitter’s direct communications are not end-to-end encrypted, despite demands for this from everyone from US legislators to Musk himself. That implies that Twitter has access to the information in your direct messages (DMs), which many users probably see as the most private or sensitive information the firm possesses on them. The firm “may share, sell, or transfer information about you in connection with a merger, acquisition, sale of assets, or bankruptcy,” according to Twitter’s privacy policy. That’s what just occurred.

Controls over user data have been a need for regulatory approval in other instances, such as Google’s acquisition of Fitbit. On the condition that Fitbit’s user data be properly isolated from any Google data used for advertising for at least 10 years, the European Union approved that transaction. But those conditions, which were made public before the merger, were intended to allay concerns about possible competition. The Twitter-Musk agreement does not have that problem, and no such announcements have been made as of yet.

Now, is Musk going to stroll into Twitter’s offices on his first full day (possibly holding a sink once more), turn on his computer, and start reading all of your direct messages, snooping around private accounts’ tweets, and gathering user phone numbers right away? According to Andy Wu, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, the likelihood that this occurs at all is dependent on a number of variables.

The management of Twitter would first need to be accommodating to Musk’s demands. In that case, he must replace them. He would need to go via the board of directors in order to do that. But convincing them to accede to Musk’s requests shouldn’t be too difficult. He reportedly let go a number of Twitter’s top officials, including the CEO Parag Agrawal and the director of trust and safety Vijaya Gadde. According to Bloomberg, Musk is the new CEO. According to the preliminary proxy statement submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Musk intends to immediately appoint his own board.

Additionally, any internal controls Twitter may have, including those it is required to have in place in accordance with consent decrees with organizations like the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), could stand in Musk’s way. To obtain that information, Musk would have to interact with Twitter staff, who might not be eager to assist him in reading direct messages. Musk making such a request and it not being somehow disclosed to the media is difficult to fathom. And that would undoubtedly be a catastrophe for a business that Musk spent a lot of money buying.

This is particularly important in light of Musk’s stated goal of turning Twitter into “the most renowned advertising platform in the world” by utilizing “advertising that is as appropriate as feasible to [users’] requirements.” To achieve that, you need data. Spying on people openly is a wonderful way to convince them to quit giving it — and to get governments to impose strict privacy rules on your business.

But in the end, if Twitter has the information and Musk wants to view it, then…

We concluded, “I think the message is, I think he could achieve that. “Doing that wouldn’t make sense. But Musk also does actions that are absurd.

Twitter users may want to worry more about their data spilling to everyone than about it leaking to Musk. Although Musk has apparently stated that he doesn’t intend to lay off that many people or anytime soon, Twitter’s track record when it comes to security is already not great, and Musk may be firing workers who are crucial to preserving the safeguards the company now has that actually work.

The top Twitter accounts, including Musk’s, as well as some of those accounts’ direct messages (DMs), were all compromised by a teenager in July 2020. Following the incident, Twitter hired renowned hacker Peiter “Mudge” Zatko to lead its security section starting in November 2020.

In January 2022, Zatko quit the business. By September, he was appearing before Congress to testify that Twitter had serious security flaws and vulnerabilities and had frequently failed to adequately protect the data of its users. Zatko asserted that around half of Twitter’s 7,500 employees have access to any user’s personal information in a whistleblower complaint that was leaked. Although there were regulations prohibiting it, according to Zatko, they weren’t upheld. Additionally, he alleged that Twitter was not abiding by security procedures stipulated in its 2011 settlement agreement with the FTC.

Zatko’s claims have been largely refuted by Twitter, which described them as a “false narrative” with errors and a lack of context in a statement. According to a Zatko representative, he doesn’t make Twitter comments.

On Wednesday night, Jason Goldman, the original head of product at Twitter and a former board member, tweeted that “a non trivial number of people who worked on this site” were downloading their archives and had ceased DMing anything they wouldn’t want to have somehow come to light. He told Recode that he does not anticipate any “nefarious leaks or deletions,” but he does anticipate a great deal of turbulence due to the rumored chaos that Twitter is about to experience.

Goldman wrote in a message on the Signal app, “With it comes the increased chance of some significant blunders.”

There is one potential saving grace, though: Musk has stated interest in end-to-end DM encryption. And Musk would not be able to see them outside of the sender and receiver. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who has been pleading with Twitter to encrypt direct messages for years, told Recode that he believes encryption of direct messages ought to be the first thing Musk implements with his new business.

Musk has the right to control Twitter as he sees fit, but he should also be aware that users and advertisers may not want to engage with a space that platforms despise and spreads false information, the expert continued.

Advertisers and users will go if Musk chooses to attract liars and propagandists, said Wyden. The internet is strewn with failed MAGA sites, demonstrating that the vast majority of internet users are not interested in wading through the mud on a platform that doesn’t prioritize appropriate moderating.

Soon, everyone will be able to see what kind of town square Musk envisions for Twitter. The Twitter-Musk agreement should serve as a useful reminder that the level of privacy for your data depends on the firm you give it to. And that ownership can alter, as we are more aware of now than ever.


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