It's now been nearly a week since I lost the market. More specifically, it's been five days since Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) handed over the @market handle that I've been using for nine years to someone that hacked the email account associated with the username.
To be fair, some of the initial blame is mine. I should've been more careful. I shouldn't have used a leading free email provider to register for Twitter in early 2007. At the very least, I should've turned on the two-step verification process the email service offers at no additional charge for enhanced security. That's on me, and the fact that it took 10 hours to get the email account back after a few back-and-forth communications with the provider slowed the recovery process. However, five days later, Twitter itself continues to shoot down my requests to have the username returned. That's a problem for me, of course, but it could also be a bigger problem for Twitter and its investors down the line if it continues to be so easy to take over active accounts -- and so hard to get them back.
Let's start at the beginning. I was one of the early Twitter users. I wasn't early enough to get @Rick or @WallStreet, but when my third try -- @market -- was available, I pounced on it in March 2007. As someone that's been writing about the stock market online since the early 1990s, it was perfect. It's the stock market, of course. Investors also place orders "at market" when they want the trade executed immediately.
I was never a diehard Twitter user, posting just a couple of times a week. Despite nine years of posting through a common name as a Twitter handle, I had recently topped just 1,400 followers. I wasn't a rock star on the social hub, but I was happy to be a part of it -- until Wednesday happened.
The way things were
The first sign that I was going to have a long day came shortly after lunch when I received an email at an account I designated as an alternate email for the free one I had used on Twitter. There was a request to reset my password. I ignored it, figuring that would be the end of it. It wasn't. The next notification was that the password had been successfully changed. That was followed by a notification that the email account was being terminated.
As all of this was happening I got an email that my Twitter password was changed. I had to put out two fires at once. The clever hacker had found a way into my free email account, taken control of my Twitter handle -- gutting it of nine years of tweets and followers -- and I was powerless to get it back because I temporarily didn't have access to the email account.
By the time I had recovered the email account after jumping through several verification hurdles, I figured getting @market back would be the easy part. It wasn't. After going back and forth with Twitter's email support team, I was told that my account had been deactivated for 30 days and that I couldn't get it back.
Deactivated for 30 days? Had the hacker set the process in motion more than a month ago? If so, why wasn't a notification sent to any of the email accounts or phone number tied to the handle? Why was I still posting on the account -- down to what was my final tweet just hours earlier?
It's at that point that I realized that something was wrong with Twitter's support system. It didn't take long to find online stories of other early adopters with short and unique names -- like @N and @mat -- that had similar horror stories that took a long time to be remedied because someone wanted their usernames more than their own abilities to protect them.
It also didn't take long to see presumably the new owner of my Twitter handle put it up for sale using a different username with responses from others that seem to be active traders of high-profile or heavily trafficked Twitter handles. I wouldn't dare accuse that person of being the one that hacked my account. I respect the underbelly of hackers that are far smarter than I will ever be. It could just be someone that traded for the username, or perhaps someone that was able to stumble on it if Twitter was successfully tricked into treating it as an inactive or abandoned account by somebody else.
Pain is everywhere
The bottom line is that Twitter is vulnerable, and it comes at the worst possible time for its investors. The stock finds itself kicking off this trading week a brutal 78% off of its post-IPO high. Ad revenue is growing nicely, but user growth is decelerating. Monthly active users have actually stalled closer to home, as sequential growth in active domestic users has been flat in back-to-back quarters.
The stock is rallying today, but only because of buyout chatter. I'd have something to tweet about it, but I can't -- at least not through @market. As of Monday morning, I'm still trying to get it back. Without much of an incentive to tweet through the account I set up following last week's aftermath, knowing that nine years of work can crumble on me again, it's hard to view Twitter as value-buying opportunity, here.
I don't care if Twitter lifts the ban on 140 characters. It's making it a lot harder to get my name back than it was for someone else to take it, and I have other characters I need to worry about now.