Twitter finally turns off SMS service, removes millions of accounts

JC Torres - Apr 28, 2020, 6:29am CDT
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Twitter finally turns off SMS service, removes millions of accounts

It may seem almost unimaginable but one of the world’s largest social networks was actually built upon SMS, that service we often refer to as old-school text messaging. That explains, for example, why tweets were limited to 140 characters up until recently. Twitter shed off the latter limitation last year and is now dropping the last traces of its true origin. But in dropping SMS support, it also reportedly dropped millions of accounts, most of them inactive, that relied on the technology.

SMS is almost like email in that it is one of the oldest communication technologies still in active use today. Unlike email, though, SMS was almost never designed to be secure and never became a secure medium. Ironically, it is still used for two-factor authentication or 2FA, much to the dismay of security experts.

Twitter was one of those tech companies that are unfortunately slow to protect itself against SMS vulnerabilities. If it weren’t for the high-profile and embarrassing hacking of CEO Jack Dorsey’s Twitter account thanks to SMS, the company may still have not moved an inch. Last year, it finally moved away from requiring users to submit a phone number to activate 2FA, even if they used a different 2FA method like an app instead of SMS.

Now it is fully shutting down its SMS service, which means users will no longer be able to send tweets via text messages. For the majority of Twitter’s users today, that may not even make sense anymore as they usually access the network from apps or web browsers. Twitter does assure that important notifications and functions, like 2FA, can still use SMS. But you should probably move away from SMS anyway.

One side-effect of this change is that millions of inactive accounts that were created via SMS have also been removed. This might cause follower numbers to suddenly drop but, being inactive, those followers would not have had any meaningful interaction with users anyway. Twitter did mention that its SMS service still works in a few countries but didn’t elaborate which ones those were.


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