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Twitter’s Ransom Racket

Twitter CEO and co-founder Jack Dorsey gestures while interacting with students at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in New Delhi on November 12, 2018. – Dorsey hosted a town hall meeting with university students on his visit to the Indian capital New Delhi. (Photo by Prakash SINGH / AFP) (Photo credit should read PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images)

Twitter has from 16th March 2020 increased the number of times it asks one to verify if they are ‘a robot or human’.

Many accounts have been locked and Twitter apart from asking only for the google captcha of images to distinguish between a robot and human, it is also asking strictly for phone numbers.

This was not the case in the past.

“Twitter has asked me to verify my account with a Google Image captcha (which is normal) and my phone number”, said a blogger

Normally, people that open numerous Twitter accounts for business are not spared. Twitter Inc has not even taken into consideration that one might only have one phone number.

Ideally emails should be the only source of account verification.

On March 17th 2020, Twitter Safety released a justification for its illegal data collection and tracking

It wrote:

As the world faces an unprecedented public health emergency, we want to be open about the steps we’re taking to keep people safe. To support social distancing and working from home, we need to work differently and rely more on automated systems to help enforce our rules.

What this means for you: – We’re working to improve our tech so it can make more enforcement calls — this might result in some mistakes. – We’re meeting daily to see what changes we need to make. – We’re staying engaged with partners around the world.

This is why many accounts will be locked because the twitter bot that ‘automate systems to help enforce rules’, will be asking users to verify if they are not robot.

Looking at how Israel and Iran are using phone app data to track COVID-19 potential patients, it is clear what Twitter might be doing.

“Twitter is trying to track real accounts so that it can share that information with governments in the fight against COVID -19. Though this is illegal and an affront against civil liberties”.

It should be remembered that Twitter ordered its staff to work from home.

The act of locking accounts and forcing users to provide their phone numbers to get it back is quite unproductive, annoying and illegal as blogger Bob Leggitt of Twirzp explains below


Okay, so it may already look as if the locked account concept is merely a means of holding users to ransom for mobile phone data – guilty or innocent. But let’s give Twitter the benefit of the doubt for a moment. Maybe the algorithm locking accounts is doing its best to target real violators, and is, in a very small number of cases, simply failing to recognise when an account is genuine?…

Hmmm. Been there before. Locked accounts first hit the news in 2015, when Tech Crunch reported on an explosion in the phenomenon. At the time, Twitter claimed the problem was a bug, which they were fixing. Sounds fair enough. In instances where there’s a technical oversight, and genuine users are getting caught up in a trap designed to target bots, one would expect the algorithm to be improved, reducing the incidence of complaints. We should have seen a fairly rapid and then more steady reduction in account locking complaints over the two and a half year interim.

But between 2015 and 2017, the number of tweets from real people, complaining about being locked out of Twitter for apparent use of automation, unusual/suspicous activity, etc, did not diminish. It noticeably increased. What does this suggest? Well, a cynic might say it suggests that far from being keen to correct a ‘flawed’ system, Twitter has in fact re-engineered the trap to catch more genuine users. To hold more real users to ransom.


In denying real users access to their accounts, Twitter is effectively seizing those users’ content. Content which Twitter’s own Terms of Service state the site does not own…

“You retain your rights to any Content you submit, post or display on or through the Services. What’s yours is yours — you own your Content (and your photos and videos are part of the Content).”

Er, not if Twitter has seized control of that content, I don’t. If I can’t access my account to remove content from the Internet, Twitter has taken ownership of that content. Another line in the ToS states…

“Twitter respects the intellectual property rights of others”

Seizing control of those property rights is not what I’d call respect.


Obviously not. ALL automation is implemented by humans. A human can thus enter a phone number into a website, verify that phone number, and still proceed to run a fully-automated Twitter account.

This is not the case with something like Google’s image-based Captcha. A multi-stage Captcha check, served at a point where use of automation is suspected, is an incredibly reliable way to incapacitate bots. If you really want to stop bots from using your website, a sophisticated Captcha is the way to do it.

Except, of course, Twitter doesn’t want to stop bots from using its website. It SUPPORTS the use of automated processes. Let’s look, in summary, at what Twitter is actually saying. Words are mine; sentiments are Twitter’s…

“We condone the use of automation. We use automation ourselves. We authorise apps that enable automation. But we locked you out of your account because we think you MIGHT have used automation. Despite the fact that a multi-step Captcha process is the best and most obvious way to incapacitate automation, we instead demand your phone number (which actually WON’T stop you using automation) as a means of solving this problem… A problem which may not exist, because we’re not sure you ARE using automation, and which isn’t a problem anyway, because we support and authorise the use of automation.

By the way, until you pay our ransom of a mobile phone number, we have seized control of your content, which we do not own, and have no right to seize. We have also automatically unfollowed the accounts you took the time to follow, creating the impression that YOU deliberately unfollowed them, and alienating you in the process. Oh, and wasting a lot of your time. Have a nice day.”

In Twitter’s blog post about safety on 17th March 2020, it lies about privacy, that it is “Building systems that enable our team to continue to enforce our rules remotely around the world. We’re also increasing our employee assistance and wellness support for everyone involved in this critical work, and ensuring people’s privacy and security stay a top priority”.

Recently, research posted by the Wall Street Journal showed that Twitter’s attempt at cleaning up after it emerged that bots control trending topics stalled.

The solution to these, if you love your privacy is, unfortunately, to stop using Twitter.

Would you like to get published on this Popular Blog? You can now email Cyprian Nyakundi any breaking news, Exposes, story ideas, human interest articles or interesting videos on: [email protected] Videos and pictures can be sent to +254 710 280 973 on WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram.



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