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Musk Twitter leak raises concern about outside data access

Elon Musk is giving outside writers unprecedented access to internal Twitter Inc. information, instructing the current head of trust and safety to provide screenshots of users’ accounts.

Screenshots showing internal systems restricted to a relatively small number of people in charge of moderating content were shared by journalist Bari Weiss on Thursday. The images carry a watermark — a translucent label — indicating they were taken from the employee view of Twitter’s trust and safety head, Ella Irwin.

The watermarked screenshots, taken since December 7, 2022, raised concerns about whether Weiss had access to Irwin’s internal account, which would also mean access to sensitive information like a user’s private messages, according to people with knowledge of Twitter’s systems.

Irwin later clarified that she took the screenshots herself to prevent such a scenario. “For security purposes, the screenshots requested came from me so we could ensure no PII,” or personally identifiable information, “was exposed,” Irwin said on Twitter. “We did not give this access to reporters and no, reporters were not accessing user DMs,” or direct messages.

The watermarks were added to employee accounts after Twitter was hacked in 2020, the people said, a move intended to make it easier for Twitter to know where screenshots of internal systems were coming from.

The screenshots were shared as part of the “Twitter Files,” a collection of internal documents and emails from former Twitter employees that Musk handed over to outside reporters who are now publishing them.

Musk said earlier this month that Weiss and another writer, Matt Taibbi, have unfettered access to the Twitter Files. People with knowledge of Twitter’s systems are concerned that such broad access could leave Twitter in violation of its 2022 privacy agreement with the Federal Trade Commission.

“Feels like Weiss’ thread should be enough for the FTC to open an investigation into a violation of the consent decree and perhaps get a subpoena for Twitter’s internal access logs,” tweeted Alex Stamos, who formerly ran security at Meta Platforms Inc. and is now at the Stanford Internet Observatory.

Part of Twitter’s FTC agreement stipulates that employee access to sensitive user account data is only granted to people with a valid business justification for accessing said data. The executives who would have approved that access, or would have investigated its misuse, have left the company.

“The authors have broad and expanding access to Twitter’s files,” Weiss tweeted Thursday. “The only condition we agreed to was that the material would first be published on Twitter.” Bloomberg

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