Update (3:12 p.m.): Twitter actually introduced this feature in 2011 for Verified Accounts, allowing celebrities and brands to receive direct messages from users they do not follow. Twitter gave a statement to The Next Web at that time, and here's what the company said:
Contrary to news reports, Twitter has not changed the rules for how Direct Messages (DMs) work for Verified accounts. However, we have given a limited number of accounts the ability to receive DMs from accounts they don’t follow, in cases where having that capability may be beneficial (for example, enabling businesses to receive account information that users may not want to post publicly). We do not have plans for making this capability more widely available at this time. Accounts with access to this feature must opt-in to utilize it. We will continue to experiment with ways of helping people and companies get more value from Twitter. As with all of our experiments, we are listening carefully to feedback on this feature and will use that feedback to continue innovating and iterating.
Some Twitter users will notice a new option in their settings that allows them to receive direct messages from any follower, even if you don’t follow them back. It’s a strange and sudden change to the messaging policy that probably isn’t desirable for most Twitter users, but it could be beneficial for corporate Twitter accounts.
Twitter direct messages allow users that follow each other to send private tweets to each other. Some fear this new feature could leave inboxes vulnerable to predators, spammers and hackers.
Pocket-lint points out the feature could be useful for companies that maintain a corporate presence on Twitter. It could be used for customer service and address problems without making it an embarrassing public affair. Many companies already have Twitter accounts just for customer support and could make good use of this feature.
This makes even more sense considering Twitter’s plans to make an initial public offering in the near future. This is just one more feature Twitter can tout as a business tool.
Twitter hasn't yet made a public announcement of the feature. Not everyone can turn it on yet, so it’s likely that Twitter is still testing it out before a public launch.
Has Twitter activated the new direct-messaging feature on your Twitter account? Will you turn it on, or are you worried about spammers? Let us know in the comments.