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What does the Twitter hack mean for the future of social media trust?

Birmingham City Business School Professor Olinga Taeed questions "Is our data more valuable than our money?".

Twitter Hack 1200x450 - Keyboard with Data Breach written on it

The celebrity bitcoin scam on 15th July 2020 through Twitter lasted around two and half hours. The scam targeting Joe Biden and Barrack Obama lasted from 8.22pm through to 10.38pm, which resulted in just under US$ 100,000 from approximately 375 in-bound transactions into a particular digital wallet with the largest of which appears to be US$ 2500 and the smallest just 5 cents.

Nearly all the money had been cleared out in five transactions the largest of which was US$ 41,709. To be honest, this amount is no big deal compared to a myriad of previous similar frauds in this market, which have topped even US$ 500 million in a single hack. So what?

What is unusual is not the celebrity names that have often been used to con people, including targeting the use of cryptocurrency, but that it was undertaken through hacking official Twitter accounts which is a major breach of trust for us all in this popular social media platform. Only in this way is it novel and unusual as it seems a great deal of effort for a rather trivial financial return. It feels more like an internal joke aimed at embarrassing Twitter and these celebrities, rather than a serious theft attempt – anyone who could do this could have inflicted much greater political damage and financial theft it they wanted to.

What people must understand is that your data is more valuable than your money. It is the new currency of our lives, either used to nudge us into buying more or used to control us. In the US, you give your data in return for free services from Facebook, Google or Amazon. In Europe we think ‘my data my way’ when in reality all GDPR has done is slave us to cookie acceptance all day long. In China, data belongs to the government who believe they are responsible for the corpus of society ahead of individual rights. With cash, you can spend once, but your data can be spent over and over again.

This problem with double spend is, ironically, how bitcoin and cryptocurrency was born in 2008 to overcome the double spend trap of digital money by using a technology called block chain. We are moving into a world where this is no longer ‘a thing’ – streaming music, films, e-books, means we don’t own any of it but just briefly enjoy the content.

The greatest assets we own - our happiness, our love, our joy - are actually intangible and worth a great deal more than our money. When we smile at a homeless person as we walk on by does not mean we have lost any happiness but we have both gained some joy in our lives, and we can spend it again. Our data is the same. We move on in our lives, create more data, and can keep on spending it. We lose nothing in social media hacks, and must be grateful that this phenomenon has given us so much joy.

Look at TikTok - the US tells us it is a data-scraping hack but the subscribers are now over 800 million after a brief few years – it brings happiness to millions every day so what if we lose some data? It is not the same as the alleged Huawei 5G data scrape and future interventions, which presumably could stop your self-drive car at a touch of a button from Beijing. Yes a sovereign threat, but no more than Facebook influencing what jobs you get to see or promoting who you vote for. My advice? Get used to it, relax about your data, safeguard financial information but do share your sentiments and feelings fearlessly across social media, as it will lead to a better world.

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