Twitter hackers with ideas for hilarious stunts should get a move on

Twitter is finally on to you.

Last week I wrote about Twitter's upcoming hospitality to targeted advertising, and what this means for its users (almost definitely a dystopian nightmare). But Twitter is strangely inhospitable to advertisers in other ways - making a branded account something of a liability.

Branded accounts only have the same security as the rest of us - just the one username and password. As a result, a growing number of official accounts have fallen victim to hacking. Last week it was Burger King, which got taken over by Anonymous-affiliated hackers. It was soon branded with the Mcdonalds logo and issuing tweets like this:

We just got sold to McDonalds! Look for McDonalds in a hood near you @DFNCTSC

And then earlier this year there was the HMV clusterfuck, courtesy of some employees in the process of being fired. From the official account:

There are over 60 of us being fired at once! Mass execution, of loyal employees who love the brand. #hmvXFactorFiring,

Sorry we've been quiet for so long.Under contract, we've been unable to say a word, or – more importantly – tell the truth.

Just overheard our Marketing Director (he's staying, folks) ask 'How do I shut down Twitter?'

It's also happened, in various ways, to Jeep, NBC News, USA Today and Donald Trump, and all of those incidents were likewise funny. The thing is that official Twitter accounts are nigh on irresistible to hackers. There's something of the getting-down-with-the-kids about branded Twitter accounts, with their ulterior motivated chattiness and their thinly veiled desperation, and it's always tempting to remind them that they're still not really one of us.

So should Twitter be doing more to protect these accounts? At the moment it is running several paid options for advertisers - none of which include the option to up their security. But then why should it offer this? It would be a canny move to introduce it only later in the game, when more hacker attacks have increased the fear, and companies have accumulated more followers, raising the stakes.

The trouble is that at the moment this potential revenue is being siphoned off by third parties like Hootsuite, whose products let you manage your account a little more securely, and which get a boost everytime a company is publicly hacked. Unsurpisingly therefore, last Wednesday Twitter introduced a product facilitating ad promotion through third parties like this. It looks like the start of a move to finally get offical accounts a little safer. But is Twitter too late to the party, or too early? Either way, it's starting to twig, and potential hackers better get a move on with their hilarious stunts, before it's too late.

 
Twitter may be about to clamp down security. Photograph: Getty Images

Martha Gill writes the weekly Irrational Animals column. You can follow her on Twitter here: @Martha_Gill.

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A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear