Twitter Abandons Encrypting Direct Messages?


In a report from The Verge today, the website cites sources close to the decision claiming that Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR) has put the encryption of private messages, one of the few private aspects of the microblogging service, on hold. Private messages are essentially (up to) 140 character emails sent between users.

Putting it on the shelf

Apparently, the decision to shelve the project for now surprised those working on it when it was shut down earlier this year. To date, Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR) has failed to comment on or explain its actions on the project. Multiple sources are suggesting today that the project is not a reversal of Twitter’s beliefs but rather simply a matter of priorities now that it is a publicly traded company. A Verge source told the website that Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR) will not be rolling out the planned encryption in the coming two quarters. Whether that means three quarters down the road is also uncertain.

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This is quite the announcement from a company that has never shied from criticism of government spying. It refused to cooperate with the NSA’s PRISM program which required Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR)’s consent, and has repeatedly challenged government bullying in the form of subpoenas and gag orders. Or, as the New York Times said, “Twitter declined to make it easier for the government.” Much of this is believed to be owing to the credo of former head legal council and present adviser Alex Macgillivray who has essentially told the government to “come over here and make me.”

“Encrypt everything”

Google’s chairman, Eric Schmidt, whose company was subjected to unknown and unauthorized snooping by the government outside of the PRISM program recently said in a speech, “The solution to government surveillance is to encrypt everything.” Consequently it’s a bit strange to see this reversal from such a staunch anti-snooping crusader like Twitter who once posted on its blog, “Encryption is seen as increasingly crucial in the fallout from the NSA revelations.”

Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR) recently received a perfect rating in the 2013 Electronic Frontier Foundation’s “Who Has Your Back?” security report and also encrypts the emails it sends users so Twitter hasn’t backtracked on its core values by any means.

However, Chris Soghoian, a senior policy analyst for the American Civil Liberties Union, might argue with that . He argues that Twitter shouldn’t allow for the reading of DMs even with a court order. “Direct messages are probably the most private category of user information held by Twitter, and the company should be encrypting DMs end-to-end.” It’s anyone’s guess what Mr. Soghoian would do if his name was on the court order.