All hail the Hexagon
A week ago, Twitter announced it is launching a service to showcase NFTs as profile photos. It is doing so by allowing Twitter Blue users to link an account to a digital wallet, which itself uses an API to access the Ethereum Blockchain, where information about a “minted” image is stored. The resulting profile picture takes the shape of an hexagon. If that sounds like convoluted techno-babble, trust your instincts.
Here’s why this new feature is problematic.
The Beginning of the End for Privacy
The Ethereum blockchain is fully public. However, what you might see when accessing it is nothing more than long strings of codes. With enough sleuthing using public information, it’s possible to link real people to wallets and transactions, but it takes some efforts. This is a key feature for blockchain technology.
Twitter is proposing to publicly link a person to an anonymous wallet. That means anyone will be able to see every transaction a person has made, as well as the current assets in their wallet. Twitter admits this publicly.
“This means your Twitter account will be associated with your current and historical crypto wallet transactions and holdings, including all other NFTs in that wallet, because this information is all available on the public blockchain.”
This is only a privacy worry if the person linking the NFT to their profile is using their real name on Twitter, from which a lot of information can be gathered. My issue is that people who have NFTs want to show them off. That’s a core feature of the NFT community, and there is no point in showing off anonymously. This is especially true for people who are giving Twitter money to use Twitter Blue. What would the ROI otherwise be?
The problems begin here, but it is certainly not where they end.
Scams & Cybersecurity insanity
NFT aficionados are primed for scams. They tend to be aggressively middle-class, with some disposable income. They often showcase poor judgment, low social literacy (if my DMs are anything to go by), high tolerance for absurd risks, and are highly persuadable. It makes them perfect targets for social engineering schemes.
Twitter just allowed these people to put a target on their backs. Not only that, but that target has their name on it. And with a name often comes an address, an email… Scammers must be squealing with glee right now.
Fans of the Hexagon will also have given their payment information to Twitter, to pay for the Blue features. If a user get scammed today, they stand to lose a lot more than a few megaBONK tokens. Twitter seems to be well aware of the risks. They warn against scams at least 3 times in their one-page note about the launch.
"Twitter will never request funds from your crypto wallet. Twitter will never request your private key or seed phrase."
It’s as if they can already see the writing on the walls.
The centralization has begun
Beyond privacy, another key feature of blockchain technology is decentralisation. No on platform owns or controls the blockchain. Plenty has been said on the matter, but it’s worth highlighting again in the context of Twitter’s announcement.
Only 6 wallets can to be linked to a profile today (Argent, Coinbase Wallet, Ledger LiveMetaMask, Rainbow and Trust Wallet). These wallets all access the Ethereum Blockchain through the OpenSea API. That’s one company, centralizing access. Some might agree to give up privacy for decentralisation, but giving it up to yet again be at the mercy of a few entities is a lose-lose situation.
Beyond this, Twitter ensures that only people who pay them monthly get to enjoy their NFTs in an hexagon. This pay to play model goes against the core values NFT enthusiasts claim to espouse. Yet… I’m not hearing much outcry. They have given up digital privacy, gotten nothing in return, and are even paying for that honour.
Let the bullying begin
NFT fans are… not the most likeable people (judging, again, from the DMs I receive). This, in part, has to do with the technology’s core concept. An NFT is little more than a bit of cultural value on top of hundreds of acres of forest burnt to make electricity to create the fancy puzzles enabling the technology.
This makes these people targets for bullying, which should not be wished on anyone. Case and point, a handful of tools have been created to automatically mute or block anyone with an NFT profile picture :
Better TweetDeck — a web browser plugin that lets you mute NFT avatars.
Hide in uBlock Origin — a filter line to hide NFT avatars in uBlock Origin.
More importantly, it’s possible to send anything to a digital wallet. They’re publicly accessible. So, if a Twitter user bothers me, I can pay 40$ in gas fees to send them horrifying images, which will stay in their wallet unless they pay to have them removed. Women, in particular, are sure to love that feature…
As discussed, this move from Twitter actively negates the few positives of Blockchain technology. Meanwhile, it does nothing to solve existing issues around NFTs. I can still right click on an image, save it, mint it, and have it as an hexagon on my profile. The solution would be to only allow verified collections to be approved but… what about decentralisation?
This feature is a great move for Twitter shareholders, and terrible news for everyone else. They are targeting proud, gullible people to get them to pay a subscription to show off images. Because they want to feel special. Because the world sucks and we’re too often reduced to a list of assets on hand. Is this what Jack Dorsey died for?
Good luck out there.