Aside from Elon Musk’s bot-baiting, Twitter has called for many changes to the way it identifies accounts and what can be done to indicate which are more legit than others. Now engineer Jane Manchun Wong has: unearthed a Twitter label that would leave a mark on accounts with a verified phone number. They also noted another testing feature that shows the number of views for tweets, which some users already have access to for their own tweets under the label ‘analysis’. However, she said it’s unclear whether this would be restricted to the author or visible to everyone.
Linking an account to a song is a way of highlighting that it was created with more effort than the simplest macro and can be used to filter out which tweets appear most prominently or to get through the various quality filters. Twitter also allows people to associate the same phone number with up to ten different accountswhile developers can tag automated accounts to let people know that there is no human behind every post.
Verified “blue check” accounts are already required to include a verified phone number or email address. When then-CEO Jack Dorsey spoke of plans to allow verification for everyone, he said people should verify facts about themselves, which could be similar to how services like Airbnb and Tinder use phone numbers as part of their account verification processes.
However, encouraging users to associate phone numbers with their accounts and display the status means securing that data becomes an issue. On August 5, Twitter released details of an incident in which an attacker was able to discover 5.4 million account names associated with certain phone numbers and email addresses. By the company own accountthe privacy flaw was introduced in a June 2021 update, was not reported to Twitter until Januaryand Twitter was unaware that the information had been stolen until July, when media reports circulated that someone was trying to sell the database.
The 2020 hack that allowed attackers to tweet about Bitcoin from Jack Dorsey and Joe Biden’s accounts came about after the attackers found their way into using Twitter’s internal tools. Another report from Bloomberg noted that some contractors had used Twitter’s tools to spy on celebrity accounts, and earlier this month a former employee was convicted of spying charges after using his position to “access email addresses, phone numbers and birthdates of users who were critical of the Saudi government.”
In May, Twitter agreed to a $150 million settlement for the misuse of phone numbers and email addresses collected for two-factor authentication in its ad targeting, demonstrating how leaky the data can be.
With the midterm elections approaching, there is pressure to ensure that the information on social media is coming from real people or at least someone who is actually in the country they are claiming. The phone number label may play a role in assessing the trustworthiness of an account, but it’s unclear if and when Twitter could roll it out on a large scale.