Nov 6, 2019

Former Twitter employees charged with spying on behalf of Saudi Arabia

Photo: Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Justice Department charges were revealed on Wednesday against two former Twitter employees for spying on behalf of Saudi Arabia by obtaining information on dissidents who use the platform, the Washington Post reports.

Why it matters via the Post: This marks the "first time federal prosecutors have publicly accused the kingdom of running agents in the United States. ... The case highlights the issue of foreign powers exploiting American social media platforms to identify critics and suppress their voices," and it has escalated concerns over the tech industry's ability to protect user data.

The big picture: Ahmad Abouammo has been charged with spying on three users — one of which discussed Saudi leadership. Ali Alzabarah, the other former employee, allegedly accessed the private information of more than 6,000 Twitter accounts in 2015.

  • One of the accounts breached by Alzabarah belonged to a Saudi dissident Omar Abdulaziz, who had been close to slain Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
  • Prosecutors say a third individual, Ahmed Almutairi, has also been charged with spying, serving as an intermediary between Saudi Arabia and Twitter employees.
  • Both Alzabarah and Almutairi are believed to be in Saudi Arabia.

What they're saying:

  • “The criminal complaint unsealed today alleges that Saudi agents mined Twitter’s internal systems for personal information about known Saudi critics and thousands of other Twitter users,” U.S. Attorney David L. Anderson said, per the Post.
  • “We will not allow U.S. companies or U.S. technology to become tools of foreign repression in violation of U.S. law.”

Our thought bubble via Axios' Scott Rosenberg: This is a classic "insider risk" situation, illustrating how a company's public commitments to protecting individuals' data can fray if it's not also effectively curbing employee misbehavior.

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Twitter plans to purge inactive accounts

Photo: Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Twitter is warning its inactive users — those who haven't logged on in over six months — that their accounts will be deleted unless they sign in by Dec. 11, The Verge first reported Tuesday.

Why it matters, via Axios' Ina Fried: By deleting accounts, Twitter could hurt its overall metrics as well as the follower counts of individual users. Dormant user names could also become available to people who want to make more frequent use of the service.

Go deeperArrowNov 27, 2019

Twitter pauses plan to delete inactive accounts

Photo: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Twitter said Wednesday it was putting on hold a plan to delete inactive accounts amid concerns that accounts from deceased users would be swept up in the purge.

Why it matters: While it's great to see Twitter clearing out the accounts of living people who aren't using them, Twitter also represents an important record of those no longer here.

Go deeperArrowNov 27, 2019

CEOs' allergy to geopolitics

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

If CEOs are the new politicians, many of them don't seem to have thought carefully about foreign policy — particularly about working with autocratic regimes.

Why it matters: Corporate America continues to do business with the Saudi crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman, who allegedly oversaw the beheading of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and to court business in places like China and Turkey.

Go deeperArrowNov 12, 2019