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Should I delete my DMs? What Twitter has on you, and what you can and can’t do about it

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It’s not that easy to delete your direct messages on Twitter.

Private communications sent between individuals or to groups through Twitter’s “Messages” system, commonly known as direct messages, can only be eliminated if all the people involved in the conversation delete those messages, according to Twitter’s system. That means users looking to delete their DMs will need to make sure all of their counterparts do so as well.

And there’s a possibility that may not be enough.

One current and two former employees said that both senders and recipients deleting messages should completely remove them from Twitter’s internal systems — but there may be cases in which the system does not work as intended, or messages may not be deleted due to other circumstances. All three had direct knowledge of the company’s messaging system and data retention policies and asked to remain anonymous to speak freely about internal Twitter systems.

One person said direct messages should be gone from Twitter’s databases within a few weeks, while another said it normally takes just a few days. Twitter didn’t respond when asked about its direct messaging policies.

The lack of clarity regarding the deletion of private messages adds to broader concerns voiced publicly about Twitter’s data retention practices. Twitter holds a range of other types of user data, including phone numbers and the internet protocol addresses used to log in, which can reveal users’ location.

Pieter “Mudge” Zatko, a widely respected cybersecurity veteran and former security lead at Twitter, filed a whistleblower complaint in June accusing Twitter of poor cybersecurity practices, including concerns that it had not properly deleted the data of people who deleted their accounts.

“At the time of my employment it was not possible for Twitter to be compliant with a request that their user data be deleted,” Zatko said in testimony to the Senate in response to a question about the company’s ability to delete data in compliance with California and European regulations. 

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Direct messages, sometimes referred to as DMs, have long been a popular feature of the platform, allowing users to communicate away from Twitter’s public-facing feed. Those messages, however, are not as secure as those sent on apps like Signal, or Meta-owned WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

Twitter has never encrypted its direct messages, despite calls from cybersecurity activists to do so. That means that anytime anyone’s private messages are accessed they are immediately readable — whether by a government agency that asks Twitter to turn messages  over via a warrant or court order, a rogue employee who has permission to examine users’ accounts, or hackers who have gained access to individual accounts or to Twitter’s own systems.

Twitter provides no way to bulk-delete direct messages. Silas Cutler, the senior director of cyber threat research at the Institute for Security and Technology, a San Francisco think tank, said that the difficulty in deleting data from Twitter has become its own risk, as there’s been a surge of third-party Twitter apps that promise to delete user data but require access to a user’s account to do that.

“I think deleting DMs and old posts is more dangerous for general folks,” Cutler said. “There are a lot of sketchy services offering ‘verification’ and cleanups, and it’s only going to lead to account takeovers.”

Some service options like Semiphemeral, which claims it does not need access to a user’s account to work, have grown in popularity as people look for easier ways to delete tweets, favorites and DMs. 

Security concerns around Twitter’s private messaging service are newly relevant given that the company has either laid off or fired many employees since Elon Musk took over, which experts say substantially increases the chance that the company could be hacked or otherwise lose custody of users’ data.

Zatko said in his complaint that the company doesn’t actually understand its own retention of user data. Instead, he said, the company deliberately refers to deleted accounts as “deactivated” to cover for the potential that the data isn’t actually gone and because there just isn’t a good way for the company to track the data. Zatko declined to answer questions for this article.

Zatko also said in his whistleblower complaint that Twitter is breached far more frequently than the public is generally made aware, with about 20 major breaches in 2020 alone.

Cybersecurity experts and former Twitter employees say that a lack of a robust security staff makes the company more vulnerable to hackers who are constantly trying to find novel ways to break into software.

Musk announced plans to lay  off about half of Twitter’s staff shortly after taking over at the end of October. A number of both rank-and-file employees and those in leadership roles, some from Twitter’s cybersecurity and trust and safety teams, have since quit. Even more engineers were fired in recent days.

Cutler recommended that Twitter users proceed with caution.

“After the Mudge testimony from earlier this year, there’s really good reason to be careful on the social media platforms and as things play out,” he said. “This is a continued reminder.”


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Two children and two adults survive after Tesla plunges 250 feet off California cliff

View from the helicopter during a rescue operation after a vehicle carrying two adults and two children went over a cliff in Devil’s Slide, San Mateo county, California, U.S., January 2, 2023, plunging hundreds of feet, according to the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, in this still image obtained from social media video.

CHP – Golden Gate Division | Reuters

Two adults and two children were rescued from a Tesla that plunged 250 feet off a cliff Monday morning in San Mateo County, California, officials said. 

The car was traveling southbound on the Pacific Coast Highway when it went over the cliff at Devil’s Slide, south of the Tom Lantos tunnel, and landed near the water’s edge below, the Cal Fire San Mateo-Santa Cruz Unit said. 

The car flipped and landed on its wheels in the fall, CAL FIRE/Coastside Fire Incident Commander Brian Pottenger said. Witnesses saw the accident and called 911. 

As crews were lowered down, they were able to see movement in the front seat, through their binoculars, meaning someone was alive.

“We were actually very shocked when we found survivable victims in the vehicle. So, that actually was a really hopeful moment for us,” Pottenger said. 

Fire officials called for helicopters to help hoist the survivors to safety. As they waited, firefighters rappelled to the scene and rescued the two children.

Rescue teams are seen at the scene as a Tesla with four occupants plunged over a cliff on Pacific Coast Highway 1 at Devils Slide on January 2, 2022 in San Mateo County, California, United States.

Tayfun Coskun | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The California Highway Patrol shared video on social media showing helicopters lower first responders to the scene to extricate and rescue two adults inside. 

All four were hospitalized. The San Mateo Sheriff’s Office said the two adults suffered non-life-threatening injuries and the two children were unharmed.

It’s not clear what caused the car to go over the cliff. CHP is handling the investigation. 

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Tesla shares tumble more than 10% following deliveries report

Tesla vehicles are shown at a sales and service center in Vista, California, June 3, 2022.

Mike Blake | Reuters

Shares of Tesla dropped 13% on Tuesday morning, a day after the electric auto maker reported fourth-quarter vehicle production and delivery numbers for 2022.

Deliveries are the closest approximation of sales disclosed by Tesla. The company reported 405,278 total deliveries for the quarter and 1.31 million total deliveries for the year. These numbers represented a record for the Elon Musk-led automaker and growth of 40% in deliveries year over year, but they fell shy of analysts’ expectations.

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According to a consensus of analysts’ estimates compiled by FactSet, as of Dec. 31, 2022, Wall Street was expecting Tesla to report around 427,000 deliveries for the final quarter of the year. Estimates updated in December, and included in the FactSet consensus, ranged from 409,000 to 433,000.

Those more recent estimates were in line with a company-compiled consensus distributed by Tesla investor relations Vice President Martin Viecha. 

Some Wall Street analysts think Tesla’s deliveries miss spells trouble for the electric vehicle maker, but others see a buying opportunity for the company in 2023.

Baird analyst Ben Kallo, who recently named Tesla a top pick for 2023, maintained an outperform rating and said he would remain a buyer of the stock ahead of the company’s earnings report, which is scheduled for Jan. 25.

“Q4 deliveries missed consensus but beat our estimates,” he said in a Tuesday note. “Importantly, production increased ~20% q/q which we expect to continue into 2023 as gigafactories in Berlin and Austin continue to ramp.”

Analysts at Goldman Sachs said they consider the delivery report to be an “incremental negative,” and view Tesla as a company that is “well positioned for long-term growth.” Goldman reiterated its buy rating on the stock in a Monday note and said that making vehicles more affordable in a challenging macroeconomic environment will be a “key driver of growth.”

“We believe key debates from here will be on whether vehicle deliveries can reaccelerate, margins and Tesla’s brand,” the analysts said.

Shares of Tesla suffered an extreme yearlong sell-off in 2022, prompting CEO Musk to tell employees in late December not to be “too bothered by stock market craziness.”

Musk has blamed Tesla’s declining share price in part on rising interest rates. But critics point to his rocky $44 billion Twitter takeover as a bigger culprit for the slide.

Morgan Stanley analysts said they think the company’s share price weakness is a “window of opportunity to buy.”

“Between a worsening macro backdrop, record high unaffordability, and increasing competition, there are hurdles for all auto companies to overcome in the year ahead,” they said in a note Tuesday. “However, within this backdrop we believe TSLA has the potential to widen its lead in the EV race, as it leverages its cost and scale advantages to further itself from the competition.”

CNBC’s Lora Kolodny and Michael Bloom contributed to this report.

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Tesla makes China boss Tom Zhu its highest-profile executive after Elon Musk

Tom Zhu Xiaotong, Tesla’s current executive in charge of China, speaks as a new Tesla experience store opens on Aug. 18, 2015 in Hangzhou, China.

Visual China Group | Getty Images

Tesla’s China chief Tom Zhu has been promoted to take direct oversight of the electric carmaker’s U.S. assembly plants as well as sales operations in North America and Europe, according to an internal posting of reporting lines reviewed by Reuters.

The Tesla posting showed that Zhu’s title of vice president for Greater China had not changed and that he also retained his responsibilities as Tesla’s most senior executive for sales in the rest of Asia as of Tuesday.

The move makes Zhu the highest-profile executive at Tesla after Chief Executive Elon Musk, with direct oversight for deliveries in all of its major markets and operations of its key production hubs.

The reporting lines for Zhu would keep Tesla’s vehicle design and development — both areas where Musk has been heavily involved — separate while creating an apparent deputy to Musk on the more near-term challenges of managing global sales and output.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Reuters reviewed the organizational chart that had been posted internally by Tesla and confirmed the change with two people who had seen it. They asked not to be named because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

Elon Musk needs to go back to Tesla and have others run Twitter, says Jim Cramer

Zhu and a team of his reports were brought in by Tesla late last year to troubleshoot production issues in the United States, driving an expectation among his colleagues then that he was being groomed for a bigger role.

Zhu’s appointment to a global role comes at a time when Musk has been distracted by his acquisition of Twitter and Tesla analysts and investors have urged action that would deepen the senior executive bench and allow him to focus on Tesla.

Under Zhu, Tesla’s Shanghai plant rebounded strongly from Covid lockdowns in China.

Tesla said on Monday that it had delivered 405,278 vehicles in the fourth quarter, short of Wall Street estimates, according to data compiled by Refinitiv.

The company had delivered 308,600 vehicles in the same period a year earlier.

The Tesla managers reporting to Zhu include: Jason Shawhan, director of manufacturing at the Gigafactory in Texas; Hrushikesh Sagar, senior director of manufacturing at Tesla’s Fremont factory; Joe Ward, vice president in charge of Europe, the Middle East and Africa; and Troy Jones, vice president of North America sales and service, according to the Tesla notice on reporting lines reviewed by Reuters.

Tesla country managers in China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand continued to report to Zhu, the notice showed.

Zhu does not have a direct report at Tesla’s still-ramping Berlin plant, but a person with knowledge of the matter said responsibility for that operation would come with the reporting line for Amsterdam-based Ward. Ward could not be immediately reached for comment.

Zhu, who was born in China but now holds a New Zealand passport, joined Tesla in 2014. Before that he was a project manager at a company established by his MBA classmates at Duke University, advising Chinese contractors working on infrastructure projects in Africa.

During Shanghai’s two-month Covid lockdown, Zhu was among the first batch of employees sleeping in the factory as they sought to keep it running, people who work with him have said.

Zhu, a no-fuss manager who sports a buzz cut, favors Tesla-branded fleece jackets and has lived in a government-subsidized apartment that is a 10-minute drive from the Shanghai Gigafactory. It was not immediately clear whether he would move after his promotion.

He takes charge of Tesla’s main production hubs at a time when the company is readying the launch of Cybertruck and a revamped version of its Model 3 sedan. Tesla has also said it is developing a cheaper electric vehicle but has not provided details on that plan.

When Tesla posted a picture on Twitter last month to celebrate its Austin, Texas, plant hitting a production milestone for its Model Y, Zhu was among hundreds of workers smiling on the factory floor.

Why China is beating the U.S. in electric vehicles

Allan Wang, who was promoted to vice president in charge of sales in China in July, was listed as the legal representative for the operation in registration papers filed with Chinese regulators in a change by the company last month.

Tesla board member James Murdoch said in November the company had recently identified a potential successor to Musk without naming the person. Murdoch did not respond to a request for comment.

Electrek previously reported that Zhu would take responsibility for U.S. sales, delivery and service.

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