Elon Musk’s bot-baiting aside, Twitter has had many people call for changes to how it identifies accounts and what can be done to call out which ones are more legit than others. Now engineer Jane Manchun Wong has dug up a Twitter label that would put a mark on accounts with a verified phone number. She also noted another test feature showing view counts for tweets, which some users already have access to for their own tweets under the label of “analytics.” However, she said it’s unclear if this would be limited to the author or visible to everyone.
Linking an account to a number is one way to highlight that it was created with more effort than the simplest macro and could be used to filter out which tweets appear the most prominently or make it through the various levels of quality filters. Twitter also allows people to have the same phone number associated with up to ten different accounts, while developers can label automated accounts to let people know there isn’t a human behind each post.
Verified “blue check” accounts are already required to have a verified phone number or email address attached. When then-CEO Jack Dorsey talked about plans to allow verification for everyone, he mentioned having people verify facts about themselves, which could’ve been similar to how services like Airbnb and Tinder use phone numbers as part of their account verification processes.
However, encouraging users to link phone numbers to their accounts and display the status means securing that data becomes an issue. On August 5th, Twitter announced the details of an incident that allowed an attacker to discover 5.4 million account names associated with particular phone numbers and email addresses. By the company’s own account, the privacy flaw was introduced in a June 2021 update, wasn’t reported to Twitter until January, and Twitter was not aware 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 from Jack Dorsey and Joe Biden’s accounts about Bitcoin came about after the attackers social-engineered their way to using Twitter’s internal tools. Another report by Bloomberg noted that some contractors had used Twitter’s tools to spy on celebrity accounts, and earlier this month, a former employee was convicted on charges of spying after he used his position to “access the email addresses, phone numbers, and birth dates of users who were critical of the Saudi government.”
In May, Twitter agreed to a $150 million settlement for improperly using phone numbers and email addresses collected for two-factor authentication in its ad targeting, showing how leaky the data can be.
With midterm elections around the corner, there is pressure to make sure information posted on social media comes from real people or at least someone actually in the country they claim. The phone number tag could play a part in judging an account’s trustworthiness, but it’s unclear if or when Twitter could roll it out widely.