Twitter has announced the introduction of an encrypted messaging service, joining the ranks of other social media platforms offering enhanced privacy for direct messages. This new feature ensures that private messages sent on Twitter can only be accessed by the sender and recipient, even in the face of external pressures. CEO Elon Musk emphasized the importance of this encryption, stating that he would be unable to read users’ messages “even if there was a gun to my head.” However, Musk also cautioned users to exercise caution, noting that this is an early version and should not be fully trusted yet.
At present, the encrypted messaging service is limited to Twitter Blue subscribers and verified Twitter accounts, with access not yet available to all users. Additionally, the feature only supports text and links, and media sharing is not yet possible. Twitter acknowledged that while the messages themselves are encrypted, metadata (such as recipient and creation time) and linked content remain unencrypted. This means that if a compromise were to occur, neither the sender nor the receiver would be aware of it.
Elon Musk’s vision for Twitter as a “super-app” has been evident since his acquisition of the platform in 2022. With this move towards encrypted messaging, Musk aims to provide a comprehensive experience similar to China’s WeChat, which combines social media, food ordering, payments, and messaging functionalities. Musk has implemented several significant changes to Twitter, including the introduction of a subscription service and the removal of old blue tick badges that were previously used to combat disinformation.
The demand for improved security in Twitter’s private messaging has been a long-standing request from users. However, the timing of this announcement raises concerns in the UK, where the government’s Online Safety Bill is nearing the end of its legislative journey. This bill aims to establish new requirements for social media companies to protect children from abuse. WhatsApp and Signal, two prominent messaging platforms, have criticized the bill, expressing concerns about potential threats to end-to-end encryption, which privacy advocates consider vital. Several heads of messaging services signed a letter urging a reconsideration of the bill due to its potential for widespread and indiscriminate surveillance of personal messages.
Meta, the parent company of Facebook, has already implemented encryption in its Messenger platform, with some exceptions for Marketplace chats. Elon Musk expressed his expectation that encrypted messaging on Twitter will rapidly advance in sophistication.
Cybersecurity expert Jake Moore highlighted the demand for enhanced privacy and noted the risks associated with messaging platforms lacking end-to-end encryption. Without this protection, Twitter and its staff could potentially access users’ messages, enabling micro-targeting by advertisers. While this benefits the platform, it poses significant security risks for individuals communicating without such privacy safeguards.
In response to the encryption developments, a spokesperson from the UK’s Home Office stated that the Online Safety Bill applies to all platforms, including those with end-to-end encryption. The government expects companies to fulfill their duty of care to users while implementing encryption measures. Collaborative efforts with the tech industry continue to seek mutually agreeable solutions that balance public safety and security.