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Elon Musk’s Twitter purchase reveals a private minefield

The social network’s user data and more will soon belong to the richest man in the world. Who’s worried?

ELON MUSK secured a deal on Monday to buy Twitter for about $44 billion and make the company private. In his initial comments on the move, Musk discussed a range of goals ranging from “making algorithms open source to increasing reliability” to tackling spam bots and “authenticating all humans.” There’s no word yet on how Musk will run Twitter, but privacy and security advocates say the initial remarks paint a mixed picture of where the social media giant could come out on top under his new leadership — and reveal the risks of trusted platforms to protect them. protect our personal information.

Unlike Facebook and other platforms that have implemented a “real name” policy, Twitter largely allows people to use pseudonyms or anonymity, an approach that could change under Musk. In addition, Musk will soon be able to access all Twitter user data, including IP addresses and the content of direct messages. Twitter’s DMs are notably end-to-end encrypted, meaning that whoever controls the platform can access them. Proponents of end-to-end encryption have long emphasized that protecting not only protects users’ data from prying eyes, but also gives users long-term power, regardless of who owns the service when

“Elon Musk is now the king of Twitter. There’s nothing stopping him from accessing your direct messages or handing them over to a government — probably one of the countries tesla is trying to do business in,” said Evan Greer, deputy director of digital rights group Fight for the Future.

For example, the Chinese government is notorious for controlling both public exchanges and personal communications, requiring tech companies to keep records of their users’ identities even if people are allowed to post using handles. As billionaire’s rival Jeff Bezos emphasized in a tweet on Monday, one of Musk’s other companies, Tesla, has big business interests in China. Meanwhile, Twitter remains a thorn in Beijing’s side.

Like other tech giants, Twitter has spent years building systems that report things like the number of government requests for information it receives or legal requests to remove content. Musk has indicated that transparency will be his priority at Twitter, but it’s not yet known what area he wants to focus on and what areas he wants to focus on and his stance on issues like the government’s request for user data.

Overall, advocates of digital rights point out that open standards protect speech more effectively than closed ecosystems, because they allow many organizations to offer versions of interoperability services that users can choose from. (Think of SMS and email as two examples of these types of services.) In fact, however, users have flocked to the relative simplicity and ease of use that platforms like Twitter offer. In recent years, the company has even launched its own discovery program, Project Blue Sky, to look at ways to open Twitter as a standard, interactive platform instead of a closed service.

When Musk talks about “all-human authentication,” he’s probably referring to plans to reduce spam bots by asking users to fill out authentic images before posting tweets to prove that they’re human. It is not yet clear how feasible a system like this is, but in theory,

Privacy and security advocates argue that this is the best-case scenario and can actually be helpful. However, the worst-case scenario is that Musk is advocating a situation in which Twitter will collect information about each user to internally confirm that they are an individual or worse, requiring users to have only a Twitter account under their legal identity. .

“I don’t know what Musk means, but what worries me the most is if people have to authenticate their identities using Twitter,” said Jeff Kosseff, an associate professor of cybersecurity law at the U.S. Naval Academy. There are so many voices on Twitter that can’t be heard on platforms with real-name policies like Facebook. And platforms like Facebook are nonetheless not bastions of politeness because of real-name policies. Any minor requests to provide identifying information, even if you don’t ask you to post under your real name, it will really change the ability of many people to talk online, especially outside the United States. ”

Musk will probably soon share more details and details about his plans for Twitter. Meanwhile, this situation is considered a cautionary tale of the uncertain and unpredictable path that all private platforms eventually take on.

“The extreme centralization and privatization of online spaces harms those who don’t have access to traditional media,” Fight for the Future’s Greer said. “For human rights activists, small business owners, independent musicians and people from marginalized communities. having a platform that is separated from you, or even just an algorithm that is changed without warning, can have a profound impact on your ability to be heard, earn a living, or even survive. ”

As Meta continues to push its stance on implementing end-to-end encryption for Facebook Messenger and Instagram DMs, it remains to be seen what Musk-led Twitter will do with users’ private communications.

“It’s scary. Twitter is relatively good with privacy content, and this takeover could be a serious issue for people who use the platform and be protected by the company,” said Matthew Green, a cryptographer at Johns Hopkins. I guess just use Twitter DM to provide your Signal number. And then Elon can signal to text you. “

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