Twitter reportedly drops plan to encrypt direct messages

Twitter's been working on improvements to direct messages, but encryption fell by the wayside.

Twitter's been working on improvements to direct messages, but encryption fell by the wayside.

End-to-end encryption is widely considered the best defense against a surveillance dragnet, but the tech companies that many of us interact with on a daily basis--Facebook, Google, Twitter--have been slow to offer protections for users. The Verge reported Wednesday that Twitter, which had reportedly planned to encrypt direct messages, has dropped the project to focus on more pressing matters.

It isn't that Twitter doesn't believe in encryption, according to The Verge. It's just that the 7-year-old micro-blogging site has a lot more to accomplish in the near-term: like satisfying shareholders, who are slightly concerned that Twitter's growth has stagnated. As The Verge notes, Twitter has a reputation for bucking the establishment. It was one of the few tech companies that declined to participate in the National Security Agency's PRISM surveillance program, and regularly fights government requests for user data. Twitter may still roll out encryption for DMs when it's done simplifying its own product to entice new users.

But the news will come as a disappointment to security watchdogs pushing companies like Twitter, Facebook, and Google to step up their privacy protection efforts.

Why social networks shy away from encryption

End-to-end encryption is one of those tech buzz phrases that the average Internet user hasn't pondered too deeply until recently, when it became clear that the NSA is digging into your email, chats, and social networking activities. Edward Snowden appeared at South by Southwest Interactive to encourage tech companies to employ end-to-end encryption for their users, but don't expect major security overhauls anytime soon.

Facebook, Yahoo, Google, and the like use SSL encryption, which is simpler to use than end-to-end but doesn't go as far to protect your information. When you send an email using Yahoo, for instance, the message is encrypted on your end but then decrypted on Yahoo's server before being sent along to your intended recipient. End-to-end encryption means the message would remain encrypted on Yahoo's server, too.

But end-to-end encryption software isn't easy to use, as the Washington Post broke down in the wake of Snowden's early revelations, and little headway has been made to simplify the process. Until the day comes when you don't have to exchange public keys, a secure means of identity verification, to chat with people, don't expect social networks to offer full message encryption.

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