Elon Musk is infinite to attempt take over twitter has taken another odd turn as the social media platform appears to have granted an entrepreneur’s request for access to the “firehose” of internal data held by the company.
For weeks, Musk has been pushing for Twitter to provide data that would allow the South African entrepreneur to verify if a significant portion of the platform’s users are fake bot accounts – which he believes would lower the price he’s willing to pay for the company. Musk claims that bot accounts make up more than 5 percent of Twitter’s user base. Musk’s critics think it’s true— and wants the company to deny it.
Twitter reported fewer non-authentic accounts on its account. financial resultsand according to Washington Post, she’s willing to give Musk access to every tweet posted daily, along with detailed user information, to allow him to track misbehavior. (Informally, this data is referred to as a “fire hose.” Twitter denied WIRED’s request for confirmation or Mail report.) Twitter’s apparent willingness to grant Musk access to the data feed came days after plaintiff’s lawyers sent letter company, stating that it “actively resisted and obstructed [Musk’s] right to information,” and threatening to pull out of the deal.
The announced move to give Musk access to data is significant and raises two key questions: First, will Musk get what he wants from the data he’s been given? And second, what does it mean for them to gain access to the privacy and security of ordinary users?
For Axel Bruns, a professor at Queensland University of Technology, the move is what Twitter called Musk for bluffing. “By giving him access to a fire hose, Twitter can apparently say, ‘Then back up your claims about the abundance of bots,’” he says. Bruns thinks Musk and those he hired to hunt down the bots will have a hard time. But even for someone with the necessary skills to process this level of data, this is unlikely to be the correct method of answering the question. It’s unclear whether access to the social network’s 500 million daily tweets will help Musk answer the key question he claims is holding back his Twitter purchase: the proportion of users who are bots. “It seems a bit performative,” says Paddy Leerssen, an information law researcher at the University of Amsterdam. “I feel like this data is not the data you need to figure out who is a bot and who is not.”
Being able to pinpoint what makes a bot a bot has been a hotly contested topic in academia, to which experts have dedicated most of their working lives, so they are skeptical about being able to access all the tweets posted on Twitter. answer the bot’s question definitively enough to convince Musk to make a purchase. “I get the impression that people tend to overestimate the ease of detecting bots,” says Leerssen. “Such a tool [the fire hose] won’t let you do that unless you combine it with all sorts of other research methods. I don’t think Elon Musk will have that time in that timeline.” The person who could answer how this data would help him identify the bots, Musk himself, did not respond to an email request for comment.
Giving Musk access to the firehose of tweets is a relatively harmless move, says Christopher Busey, founder of Bot Sentinel, a service that monitors misbehaving on Twitter. “It doesn’t expose users’ personal data,” he says. “It’s just a stream of tweets.” From that stream, Musk could analyze the data to see if the accounts were sending the same message, or if a small number of accounts were responsible for the majority of the tweets on the platform—both could be potential warning signs of bot behavior. Asked if we should be worried about Musk getting access to fire hose data, Busi said no. “It’s just a huge amount of tweets,” he says. And it’s also an unmanageable amount of tweets for just about everyone but Twitter: Bruns notes that the Library of Congress once had access to a fire hose in an attempt to archive every tweet ever posted and gave up trying.
Musk’s interest in fire hose data is ironic, given that he reportedly refused an offer to look into Twitter’s data room — a collection of information and documents that companies collate when they advertise their business to potential buyers — back when its original takeover bid was filed in April. Twitter spokesperson Jasmine Basi declined to answer questions, including whether Musk had previously requested access to the data room. Basi also declined to answer direct questions about how many people outside of Twitter other than Musk have access to the firehose data, and whether Musk must sign a non-disclosure or use agreement to access it. This gives some cause for concern. “While I understand what Twitter is doing here, it is nonetheless very unusual,” says Bruns, who likens it to “giving away the crown jewels.”
However, the crown jewels are up for sale: about two dozen companies already have access to the vast amount of data that Twitter gave Musk access to. Twitter’s Basi declined to name the companies, but their data handling so far does not appear to have caused any known issues among the dozens of firms. Previously, Twitter provided greater access to fire hoses with problems: the company admitted that this leave money on the table providing access to third party data resellers while spy agencies previously obtained access to user data through Dataminr, a company that bought access to fire hoses. Google and researchers in Massachusetts Institute of Technology previously had access to the same data that Musk now has access to. “Sharing sensitive information is a key part of acquisition procedures,” says Leerssen, who has worked on data protection issues in due diligence data rooms before his career in academia. “When you go through the process of acquiring a company, you need to look under the hood,” he says.
However, the big unknown is Musk himself – one who has already shown in his acquisition bid that he is willing to ignore legal agreements. Many also see his apparent concern about the number of bot accounts as an excuse to pull out of the deal, despite the fact that the terms of the agreement he reached with Twitter ruled it out without hefty punitive penalties.
“Essentially, this looks more like Elon Musk’s attempt at psychoanalysis than Twitter data, almost,” says Midas Nuvens, assistant professor of digital rights at Aarhus University. Knowens has long been concerned about the extent of information available to employees of Twitter, the only tech company in a single jurisdiction in the world. “It’s a little difficult for me to separate the way social media platforms like Twitter work and Elon Musk’s fraudulent element,” he says. “Very quickly becomes an attempt to figure out what Elon Musk would do, and his behavior is sometimes quite erratic.”
Nuwens is one of those who has access to Twitter data through an API available to researchers that allows him to request 10 million tweets per month. Accessing the data stream was easier than expected, he said, given the amount of data he had access to. He had to write a description of the project for which he intended to use the data, as well as provide evidence that he was an active scientist. “Whether it’s Elon Musk or some other actor, I’ve always had issues,” Nouvens says. “Now for him, an additional element is his past behavior, of course, but also his commercial interests.” There are fears that even if Musk pulls out of the deal to buy Twitter, the information he was given access to by viewing the firehose of Twitter tweets for free could be used by him or his companies in the future. Bruns says the dataset could provide new insights into who uses Twitter and why, how usage patterns are changing over the long term, and what problematic behaviors users are engaging in—along with building detailed user and network interest profiles. “Unless I missed anything in the reports about how long Musk has been getting access to the fire hose, I’m guessing Twitter is betting on him and his team is giving up pretty quickly,” says Bruns. “Especially if he’s had a fire hose for months or longer, it really becomes a privacy and ethical issue for the user.”
Whether or not Musk gets access to the data is unlikely to help him overcome the biggest hurdle to buying Twitter. “I don’t know if there’s an answer to the question he’s asking on Twitter,” Nowens says. “Perhaps Twitter knows more than outside researchers currently know or can do. But it’s a really difficult question.”
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