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Wikileaks considers exposing verified Twitter users' data (Updated)

Burn it all down.

David Lumb
01.06.17 in Security
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Carl Court / Getty Images

WikiLeaks once claimed to stand for the people against the shadowy, truth-occluding governments of the world (primarily, the United States). But the last couple years saw the organization swerve into questionable territory as an Associated Press report revealed that its mass disclosures had included personal information on hundreds of innocent people, including two teenage rape victims and a gay man living in the homosexuality-intolerant Saudi Arabia. Today, Wikileaks' Task Force sister organization tweeted that it is considering revealing the personal, financial and occupational information of every "verified" Twitter account.

The move is bizarre: verifying "lets people know that an account of public interest is authentic," according to a Twitter FAQ. But other than affording a level of internet street cred, there's nothing universally tying verified users together. A 2015 report demographically split verified users as such: 25% journalists, 18% sports teams and athletes, 13.6% actors and entertainers, 12.7% companies and businessmen, 12% musicians and bands, 6.8% media outlets, 6.5% governments/NGOs, 3.1% shows and movies and 2.9% politicians.

Assuming @Verified follows every user as soon as they get the fabled blue check mark, that's over 237,000 users (or .07% of its 313 million-strong userbase) who will get doxxed by Wikileaks. Why they're targeting this sliver of the userbase is uncertain: Releasing "family/job/financial/housing relationships" information is typically done to highlight insidious or profitable hidden connections, but verified users are so diverse that publishing all that data is, at best, an invasive shotgun attack on dubiously-badged internet celebrities.

At worst, it's an incredibly creepy invasion of privacy. Even for Wikileaks' increasingly frayed justifications for disclosure of private information, this is an extreme measure. Full disclosure: This author's Twitter account is verified, and became so over a year ago back when the company secretly approved users according to its internal arbitrary criteria (Twitter finally let users apply for verification last July).

It seems like another madcap detour from an organization bent on burning the rest of its goodwill. Wikileaks spent the last year ramping up its politically-motivated leaks, releasing a trove of Democratic National Committee emails in July and Clinton Foundation donor data in October (along with Obama's old personal email address) but not dropping a shred of comparable information from the RNC or any Republican candidates. It's incredibly likely that Russian hackers had penetrated the DNC and fed their stolen goods for Wikileaks to publish, while the organization got the Clinton info from alleged lone wolf Guccifer 2.0, leaving evidential crumbs suggesting Wikileaks was used in a Russian campaign to influence the US presidential election.

But don't worry, everyone, Twitter's @Safety account has come out guns blazing to protect its users by vaguely, indirectly telling the world that a massive doxxing would be against its rules:

Update: Wikileaks has since deleted its tweet calling for doxxing database of verified Twitter users. But since nothing ever really disappears from the internet, here's a screencap of the offending tweet. So much for WikiLeaks' big talk of "radical information transparency".

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