Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk, has been public about his desire to improve how the social network’s direct messages work. In a meeting with employees today, he spelled out exactly what that looks like.
Framed by presentation slides titled “Twitter 2.0” at Twitter’s San Fransisco headquarters on Monday, Musk told employees that the company would encrypt DMs and work to add encrypted video and voice calling between accounts, according to a recording of the meeting obtained by The Verge.
“We want to enable users to be able to communicate without being concerned about their privacy, [or] without being concerned about a data breach at Twitter causing all of their DMs to hit the web, or think that maybe someone at Twitter could be spying on their DMs,” Musk said. “That’s obviously not going to be cool and it has happened a few times before.”
Musk is right about DMs being exposed before. In 2018, Twitter warned that an undisclosed number of DMs between businesses and their customers had been accessible by outsiders for over a year. And earlier this year, the US government charged an ex-employee with improperly accessing user data on behalf of Saudi Arabia, though it’s unclear how DMs were or weren’t used.
“It should be the case that I can’t look at anyone’s DMs if somebody has put a gun to my head.”
Over the years, Twitter has kickstarted and then paused building encrypted DMs several times. But now Musk is set on rolling out encryption as a top priority for the vision he is calling Twitter 2.0. “It should be the case that I can’t look at anyone’s DMs if somebody has put a gun to my head,” he told employees Monday.
He went on to praise Signal, the encrypted chat app that is run as a non-profit. He said he had spoken with its creator, Moxie Marlinspike, who is now “potentially willing to help out” with encrypting Twitter DMs.
“Ironically, Moxie Marlinspike worked at Twitter and actually wanted to do encrypted DMs several years ago, [but] was denied that and then went and created Signal,” Musk said. (For those curious, The Wall Street Journal has a writeup from 2015 detailing Marlinspike’s time at Twitter.)
Musk went on to say that “we also want to have the ability to do voice and video chat via DMs.” He acknowledged that Signal requires the sharing of a phone number to start a thread and that, thanks to its account system, Twitter can facilitate secure calling “so that you don’t have to give someone your phone number.” Signal has said since 2020 that it also is working to move away from relying on phone numbers, though it has yet to roll out that ability.
I would ask Twitter for comment on what Musk said about encrypting DMs but the company doesn’t have a communications department anymore.