Nov 282011
 November 28, 2011  Posted by  Business, Online

Amir Efrati reports:

Twitter on Monday announced the acquisition of a two-person startup called Whisper Systems, whose technology protected people’s mobile-phone calls and text messages from being obtained by third parties such as governments.

The deal terms weren’t disclosed. The acquisition led to speculation about what Twitter, an online-messaging service, might do with Whisper Systems founders Moxie Marlinspike and Stuart Anderson–who are well-known in computer security circles–and the technology they built exclusively for devices running on Google’s Android software.

Whisper Systems created a suite of services for human-rights activists or other privacy-conscious individuals, which were used by activists during the recent “Arab spring” actions. In a blog post, Marlinspike and Anderson said the services they created will “live on” though they had to temporarily shut them down.

Read more on WSJ.

Dan Goodin also covers the acquisition on The Register, and also covers concerns raised by privacy and security research Chris Soghoian:

Twitter’s acquisition of San Francisco-based Whisper Systems came on Monday, the same day Egyptian citizens participated in their nation’s first parliamentary elections since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, whose repressive regime ruled the country for three decades. That means Egyptian dissidents who relied on Whisper Systems RedPhone to encrypt voice calls made with their Android smartphones abruptly lost the ability to protect calls from government-controlled eavesdroppers at a time they might need it most.

It was only nine months ago that Whisper Systems said it was rushing out an international version of the encryption software to support the historic protests that were then sweeping the African nation’s populace.

“The timing is atrocious,” said Chris Sogohian, a privacy researcher with the Open Society Foundations. “Today is Egypt’s first election after it threw out its old regime, and the only encrypted voice communication tool for Android goes dark. This couldn’t have happened at a worse time for people in Egypt.”

I really wish Twitter would be more forthcoming about its timing and its plans. I tend to give them the benefit of doubt, but Chris has raised some pointed criticisms about them – and not just over Whisper Systems.  Chris has also publicly challenged Twitter to make HTTPS the default connection.  And again, no response from Twitter.  The same platform that fought to at least notify its users about a court order to compel production of their records seems to  be falling behind its competitors in terms of other privacy protections.

So, Twitter, because I use you and like you, how about you agree to make HTTPS the default connection by Christmas, and you explain how your acquisition of Whisper System and its talented founders are going to benefit human rights activists, privacy, and free speech.

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