Twitter has stopped a project that would have encrypted direct messages between users, according to anonymous sources speaking to The Verge.
“In November, news leaked that Twitter had started work on encrypting direct messages in order to prevent unauthorized snooping by hackers or the state,” wrote the publication’s Adrianne Jeffries. “But the project was dropped earlier this year without explanation, to the confusion of employees who were working on it and those in the internet security community who were aware of it.”
While much of Twitter’s content is visible to anyone with a Web browser, users can also send private information to one another; in addition, some accounts are “locked down” and unavailable for public viewing. Twitter didn’t officially comment about the project to The Verge, but Jeffries suggested that the company is also wrestling with some design changes behind the scenes, which in turn could impact its ability to implement new features and products.
If it’s true that Twitter’s shelved an encryption project, it comes at an auspicious time for the company and the tech industry as a whole. In the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations about the National Security Agency (NSA) and other government entities spying on IT infrastructure, tech companies such as Yahoo, Google, and Facebook have rushed to encrypt user data in movement and at rest; at the same time, the heads of those companies have issued aggressive statements decrying government intrusion and pledging to keep data safe at all costs.
While Twitter wasn’t mentioned in Snowden’s leaked documents with the same frequency as other tech companies, it shares the same concerns as Facebook and Google when it comes to possible surveillance: if users don’t trust that their Direct Messages will remain safe from prying eyes, they’ll likely turn to alternative messaging apps in order to communicate. In the cutthroat world of messaging, a loss of trust could spell the eventual end of any firm—which makes Twitter’s decision (if confirmed) to abandon an encryption project all the more confusing.
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