Twitter might not encrypt messages after all, new safety chief says

Online security experts are still eagerly waiting for Elon Musk to introduce end-to-end encryption on Twitter. But now the platform’s new safety chief says the expected feature might not be launched for quite some time, if ever – why?

Already back in April, Musk said that Twitter should have end-to-end encryption to reduce the risk of spying on users.

And soon after he acquired the platform in October, researchers spotted signs that encrypted messages might be introduced and that the Signal protocol, used by the eponymous app and WhatsApp, would be activated.

However, Ella Irwin, Twitter’s new trust and safety lead, claimed in an interview with Forbes there were no immediate plans to roll out end-to-end encryption on Twitter. In fact, this may never be introduced.

Irwin’s reasoning is sound: thanks to the current ability to see into users’ direct messages, it’s easier for Twitter to scan the content for things like child exploitation material. Encrypted messages would make this work more difficult.

Indeed, experts have been talking about the unpleasant consequences of end-to-end encryption. It does add another layer of privacy, but it also opens opportunities for criminal misuse of the platforms.

End-to-end encryption means that the message is scrambled from when it leaves your phone to when it gets to the recipient. No one along the way can access it, not even government agencies.

Irwin didn’t mention government oversight in her interview, but a recent case involving Apple is certainly related to the problem, as the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBKI) was reportedly upset with the company’s plans to let users encrypt additional data categories.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the FBI was not fond of Apple’s move, as it views end-to-end encryption as a threat and prefers encryption that providers can decrypt when served with a legal order.

It’s not clear whether Twitter’s reservations have anything to do with an alleged wish not to upset the government. But earlier this week, fresh concerns were raised over how Musk himself might leverage users’ private messages.

Questions arose about how Matt Taibbi, a right-wing reporter, who released the so-called Twitter files that include numerous screenshots and internal email exchanges at Twitter, was able to access content, including direct messages.

Soon enough, the very same Irwin, the new head of trust at safety, admitted that, for security purposes, she provided – it’s not clear whom – the “screenshots requested.”

Irwin denied reporters were given access to users’ messages, but Abigail Shrier, one of the journalists behind the Twitter Files, earlier boasted that “our team was given extensive, unfiltered access to Twitter’s internal communication and systems.”

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