The FTC’s Twitter privacy investigations have ramped up since Elon Musk’s takeover3 min read
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had its eye on Twitter since well before Elon Musk bought the outfit, but now we have a better idea about what questions it’s been asking lately. Not only have the investigations continued, but the FTC has been looking into the company’s abilities to keep user data secure, the development of the Twitter Blue subscription plan, and pulling together information on the actions of the company’s new owner.
As reported by the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government — part of the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee — revealed the requests in a new report (PDF), calling the FTC’s actions harassment and overreach.
According to the report, “the FTC has now sent Twitter well over a dozen demand letters since Musk acquired the company.”
The FTC is asking for these details according to a consent order Twitter first agreed to in 2011 to settle charges it hadn’t properly protected user information, and then expanded in 2022 for using people’s security phone numbers to target ads. That agreement (PDF) also required Twitter to create and document “a comprehensive privacy and information security program” to secure users’ information.
An FTC request to Twitter sent on January 23rd, 2023. Image: House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary
According to anonymous sources cited in the NYT report, after Musk’s takeover, he stopped making payments to a company, Collibra, which provided software used by the various teams impacted to help track Twitter’s compliance.
Last November, before Twitter started its many rounds of layoffs, a company lawyer sent a Slack message saying that Musk’s actions put Twitter at risk for “billions” in fines by failing to comply with the decree. At that time, Musk followed up with an email claiming, “I cannot emphasize enough that Twitter will do whatever it takes to adhere to both the letter and spirit of the FTC consent decree… Anything you read to the contrary is absolutely false.”
The requested information included emails, memos, and Slack conversations that either related to Elon Musk or were sent by him, messages about the FTC, information about former Twitter deputy general counsel Jim Baker, and details about Twitter’s sales of computers and office equipment.
The subcommittee’s report also focused on the “Twitter Files,” a series of reports by writers Musk allowed to have access to internal messages and information. The FTC requested the names of the journalists or other media members who were provided access to the company’s Slack logs, internal documents, or other resources, a request the subcommittee claims is inappropriate.
In a statement to the Wall Street Journal, FTC spokesperson Douglas Farrar said the requests were part of “conducting a rigorous investigation into Twitter’s compliance with a consent order that came into effect long before Mr. Musk purchased the company.” He said it requested the names of journalists because, with Twitter under a consent order, the FTC should have access to the same information shared with any third parties.