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Former Twitter Security Chief Accuses the Company of Misleading Behavior Around Bots, Data Security and More

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What to Make of Elon Musk's Buy-Up of Twitter Shares

Twitter’s nightmare 2022 continues to get worse, with former security advisor Peter Zatko, also known as ‘Mudge’, leveling a range of allegations against his former employer, including the suggestion that Twitter executives deceived federal regulators, deliberately mislead the company’s own board, and in a more immediately pressing element, lied about the presence of bots and spam on the service.

Which, of course, is the core of Elon Musk’s complaint against Twitter, and why he’s now seeking to exit his $44 billion Twitter takeover deal. Will Mudge’s testimony on this element sway the balance more in Musk’s favor in this respect?

This is just one of the key considerations of Mudge’s complaint, which has been filed with the SEC, the Department of Justice, and the FTC for further action.

Mudge, a well-respected web security expert, who was employed by Twitter between late 2020 and early this year, was initially brought into the company by former CEO Jack Dorsey, in the wake of the platform’s biggest ever hack, which saw the accounts of Barrack Obama, Joe Biden, and more taken over by a group of teenage fraudsters.

Dorsey, who respected Mudge’s history and experience, reached out to him, and asked him to ‘help the world’ by fixing Twitter’s security, and improving the public conversation.

But Mudge says that his work was constantly hampered by Twitter’s executives, who were more driven by public perception than actually serving the platform and its users.

Among Mudge’s accusations:

  • Twitter failed to prioritize the protection of sensitive user data, leaving many public figures, as well as dissidents, at personal risk, even after the 2020 hack
  • The company prioritized user growth over reducing spam, with executives incentivized by significant individual bonuses if the mDAU count kept going up
  • Mudge says that he warned colleagues that the company’s servers were running out-of-date and vulnerable software, but nothing was done to address this
  • Twitter executives withheld data about the number of breaches and lack of protection for user data, ‘instead presenting directors with rosy charts measuring unimportant changes’.
  • Mudge believes that the Indian government had forced Twitter to put one of its agents on the payroll, providing them with direct access to user data at a time of intense protests in the country
  • Twitter’s repeatedly failed to erase data on users who’ve explicitly requested such, due to flawed processes which meant that no central database could control such
  • Mudge says that around half of Twitter’s 7,000 full-time employees had wide access to the company’s internal software and that access was not closely monitored

In response, Twitter has said that Mudge’s testimony is ‘riddled with inaccuracies’, while accusing Mudge of ‘seeking to inflict harm on Twitter, its customers, and its shareholders’ due to his being fired from the company, which, Twitter says, related to poor performance and leadership.

But it’ll be impossible for Twitter to dismiss the accusations completely, and again, with Elon Musk looking to exit his Twitter deal based on the company’s misleading statements on bots and spam, this can only help to support his case.

Musk tweeted this in response to the whistleblower release:

The FTC, meanwhile, says that it’s now reviewing the new allegations, while the Senate Intelligence Committee is seeking to meet with Mudge further discuss his accusations.

It continues a horror run for Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal, who, since taking over the top job from Dorsey, has had to deal with one high-profile controversy after another, while also trying to re-shape the company into the one that he wants to lead.

Thus far, Agrawal has not exactly received glowing reviews from former staff, and it’ll be interesting to see if Dorsey and former product chief Kayvon Beykpour, who was also dismissed my Agrawal earlier this year, are questioned about Agrawal’s leadership as part of the upcoming Musk/Twitter court trial.

That could end up forming a key part of Musk’s case against the app. If Musk and Co. can establish that Twitter has a culture of secrecy, and is willing to mislead everyone, including its own board, about the extent of its problems, then it could well be viable that Twitter has indeed deliberately misled the market about the presence of bots on the platform.

As a reminder, Twitter says that bot accounts make up only 5% of its active 238 million ‘monetizable daily active users’, which is a custom metric that Twitter introduced in 2019 to more accurately represent its actual ad reach.

As explained by Twitter at the time:

"Monetizable DAU are Twitter users who log in and access Twitter on any given day through twitter.com or our Twitter applications that are able to show ads.”

The intent of mDAU is to represent potential ad reach, not just users in general, which then gives the market a more accurate perspective on the company’s potential financial performance.

But Twitter’s method for measuring bots only sees the company sample 100 active accounts per day, amounting to 9k accounts examined every quarter. That’s the equivalent of 0.0038% of Twitter’s mDAU figure.

Which seems like a fractional amount, and if Musk and Co. can embed the idea that Twitter has only used this measure as a means to placate the market, and indeed its own board, in alignment with these broader disclosure trends, that could be a significant blow in Twitter’s defense.

Or worse, Twitter could also face penalties ‘in the hundreds of millions of dollars’ if these accusations are proven accurate. That may well constitute Material Adverse Effect, which is the very clause that Musk’s team is seeking to use to exit the deal.

Which then raises the question – was Mudge prompted by Musk’s team to release his statements at this time?

Mudge has stated that he has had no contact with Musk or his team, but Musk had since requested a briefing from Mudge on his experience.

Either way, it’s a major blow for Twitter, in general terms, given the potential penalties that could follow, but also with respect to the Musk deal, and the billions of dollars on the line for the app.

If nothing else, it paints a clear picture of dysfunction at the app, which is another element of Musk’s concerns with the company.

Again, 2022 has not been great for Twitter, and it looks set to get much worse yet.



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These Guys Are Stupid, And I'm Being Charitable

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These Guys Are Stupid, And I'm Being Charitable

Why do some organizations still solicit funds the way they did in the 1960s? You need to take a smarter marketing approach, or you’ll waste money like they do. I’m still getting about two bucks a month in cash from stupid, misguided charities that insist on sending me actual money in the mail. I get …

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Internal Documents Reveal That the New Twitter Blue Has Fewer Than 300k Subscribers at Present

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Internal Documents Reveal That the New Twitter Blue Has Fewer Than 300k Subscribers at Present

Look, I know people have strong opinions about Elon Musk, and I realize that any criticism is going to be viewed as political commentary, even if it’s not (because I’m not American, I can’t vote, I don’t care about Hunter Biden, etc.). But Elon’s paid verification program is dumb, the dumbest move that he’s made at Twitter to date.

And I understand the logic – Elon says that when he came on, the company was losing $4 million per day, which lead to mass lay-offs, and a scramble for revenue generation options.

Paid verification, then, makes sense, while Elon also extrapolated the need for immediate cash into a pathway to combat bots, by using verification as a means to ‘verify all the real humans’ – i.e. bots won’t pay, and bot peddlers won’t be able to afford such at scale.

I get all the moving parts, and optimistically, they may sense.

But realistically, which is the more important ‘ally’ of the two, it just doesn’t.

Because most people won’t pay, especially when you’re offering nothing much in return, other than a graphic of a tick next to their username, while the very act of selling verification ticks erases their only perceptual value, that being exclusivity.

Now, everyone can buy one, so the tick is meaningless, at least as a status marker of some form.

My perspective on this been vindicated, at this early stage at least, by a new report from The Information, which says that, according to internal documents:

"Around 180,000 people in the US were paying for subscriptions to Twitter, including Twitter Blue, as of mid-January, or less than 0.2% of monthly active users […] The U.S. number is about 62% of Twitter’s global subscriber total, the document says, which implies Twitter has 290,000 global subscribers.”

That’s consistent with the findings of researcher Travis Brown, who’s been posting regular updates on Twitter Blue subscriber numbers, based on searches of users that show up as ‘blue_verified’ in the back-end.

At present, based on Brown’s figures, the new Twitter Blue program looks to have around 300,000 subscribers, very close to the data The Information has seen.

That would mean that Twitter’s currently bringing in an extra $2.4 million per month via the program, or $7.2 million per quarter. Which is pretty good, that’s extra income at a time when Twitter desperately needs it. But it’s still way, way off from where Twitter wants its subscription revenue intake to be.

To reiterate, when initially outlining his Twitter 2.0 reformation plans, Elon said that he wants to make subscription revenue around 50% of Twitter’s overall intake. That would align somewhat with the aforementioned revenue and bot-battling potential – but in order to do this, Twitter needs to increase Twitter Blue take-up 81x its current state.

300k sign-ups is also only 0.12% of Twitter’s active user base – so to reiterate, revenue-wise, it’s not close to meeting goals, and as a bot disincentive, it’s nowhere near meeting its aims. And while Twitter has just this weekend rolled out Twitter Blue to more regions, there’s just no way that it’s ever going to reach the levels required to make it a viable consideration in either respect.

Which means that all the mucking around, all the impersonation issues, all the gold checks and gray ticks and square profile images and brand logos. All of this has, on balance, been a waste of time.

It’s not nothing – again, Twitter needs all the extra money it can get right now, and a $29 million annual boost in intake will help. But functionally, it’s been a series of blunders and missteps, one after the other.

And now, Twitter wants brands to pay $1,000 a month for a gold tick?

Yeah, safe to say that’s not going to be a roaring success either. And while Twitter will likely get a few more Twitter Blue sign-ups when it removes legacy blue checks sometime in future, that’s still only 420k extra subscribers, max.

The churn rate will also be high – because again, a blue tick isn’t valuable anymore if everyone can buy one – and unless Elon and Co. have some magic updates to build into Twitter Blue in future, beyond Blue-only polls eller paying to qualify for monetization, I don’t see how this becomes a significant element of Twitter’s overall intake or process.

But maybe I’m missing something. Maybe, because it’s Elon Musk, we’ve missed the point, or the process, and there is actually another pathway to winning on this front that’s not been revealed as yet.

I don’t see it, but I can’t imagine the logistics of flying to Mars either, so maybe there’s more to come.

But I doubt it.



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Housebound Jordanian football fan a social media star

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Amer Abu Nawas was born with osteogenesis, or brittle bone disease, a genetic condition hindering normal bone growth that has meant he rarely leaves his home

Amer Abu Nawas was born with osteogenesis, or brittle bone disease, a genetic condition hindering normal bone growth that has meant he rarely leaves his home – Copyright AFP Khalil MAZRAAWI

Kamal Taha

Having spent most of his life housebound due to a medical condition, Jordanian Amer Abu Nawas’s love of football has propelled him to social media stardom.

Offering analysis of matches from the leading European football leagues to almost a quarter of a million followers, his Facebook page — “HouseAnalyzer” in Arabic — has grown into what he describes as a “big family”.

The 27-year-old was born with osteogenesis, or brittle bone disease, a genetic condition hindering normal bone growth that has meant he rarely leaves his home in Zarqa, 30 kilometres (18 miles) from Jordan’s capital Amman.

“It is true that I have never played football in my life, and have never attended any match, but for me football is everything,” Abu Nawas told AFP.

With no schools in the country catering to his needs, Abu Nawas grew up spending much of his time watching football matches, analysing the teams and playing football video games.

“This always made me feel like it is taking me from this world to a different one,” he said.

His relatives noticed his passion and encouraged him to publish his match analyses online.

In 2017, he launched his Facebook account, which now counts more than 243,000 followers.

– ‘Reach people’ –

Filmed on a phone in his bedroom, Abu Nawas’s videos usually feature him wearing a football jersey, excitedly commenting on matches and news from the world of football.

Discussing leagues from England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, he sometimes uses a football pitch-shaped board to explain tactical nuances.

One of Abu Nawas’s latest videos reached more than 1.4 million viewers and he has started posting on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram and Twitter.

He said he was grateful for modern technology allowing him to connect with so many people.

“From this room, from this small place isolated from the world, I was able to cross these walls, reach people, communicate with them, create content, and become what I am today,” he said.

He expressed sadness at sometimes seeing people attack each other in comments to his posts, and said his relationship with his followers was “like a family”.

“This family is growing day by day, and I hope it will reach as many followers as possible,” he added.

Abu Nawas’s own family do their best to provide him with a comfortable life.

He is the youngest of three brothers and his father is a doctor and his mother a pharmacist.

Inside his room are shelves with a PlayStation, a computer and plastic baskets keeping items he might need.

On his bed are phones, remote controls, headphones and a long stick used to reach distant items.

– ‘Not an obstacle’ –

“He has his own world, in a room with a temperature of 27 degrees to avoid cold and pneumonia. He can operate anything using the remote control,” his father Yussef told AFP.

He said his son has friends who occasionally visit.

“When he feels bad, they take him out for a tour in a minibus,” he said.

Abu Nawas lamented that in Jordan “nobody cares” about people with diseases like his, and said he wished he had had the opportunity to attend school.

“The conditions for people with special needs are catastrophic,” he said.

“I could not learn because there are no special schools for people like me.”

Last year, the organisers of the football World Cup invited him to attend the tournament in Qatar.

But due to travel difficulties linked to his condition, he arrived late and missed the matches he was scheduled to attend.

Even so, Abu Nawas said it was “the best 10 days of my life”.

“I know my condition, I learned to be content, and I will remain so,” he said.

“Disability need not be an obstacle to success.”

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