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The FTC’s Twitter privacy investigations have accelerated since the acquisition of Elon Musk

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had its eye on Twitter before Elon Musk bought the outfit, but now we have a better idea of ​​what questions it’s been asking lately. Not only have the investigations continued, but the FTC has also looked into the company’s capabilities to keep user data safe, developing the Twitter Blue subscription, and gathering information about the actions of the company’s new owner.

As reported by the Wall Street Journal And New York Timesthe federal government’s Select Subcommittee on Armaments — part of the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee — revealed the requests in a new report (PDF), citing the FTC’s actions as harassment and overreach.

According to the report, “The FTC has now sent Twitter more than a dozen summons letters since Musk acquired the company.”

The FTC is asking for these details under a consent order that Twitter first approved in 2011 to settle charges it had failed to properly protect user data, then expanded in 2022 to allow people’s security phone numbers to be used 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 sent to Twitter on January 23, 2023.
Image: House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary

According to anonymous sources in the NYT report, after Musk’s acquisition, he stopped making payments to a company, Collibra, which provided software used by the various teams involved to help track Twitter’s compliance.

Last November, before Twitter began its many rounds of layoffs, a corporate attorney sent a Slack message saying Musk’s actions put Twitter at risk of “billions” of fines for failing to comply with the decree. At the time, Musk followed up with an email claiming, “I cannot stress enough that Twitter will do whatever it takes to comply with both the letter and spirit of the FTC consent decree… Anything you reading the opposite is absolutely incorrect. ”

Information requested included emails, memos, and Slack conversations related to or sent by Elon Musk, posts about the FTC, information about former Twitter deputy general counsel Jim Baker, and details about computer sales and office equipment by Twitter.

The subcommittee’s report also focused on the “Twitter Files,” a series of writers’ reports that gave Musk access to internal messages and information. The FTC asked for the names of the journalists or other media members who were given access to the company’s Slack logs, internal documents or other resources, a request the subcommittee says is inappropriate.

In a statement to the Wall Street JournalFTC spokesperson Douglas Farrar said the requests were part of “conducting a thorough investigation into Twitter’s compliance with a consent order that went into effect long before Mr. Musk bought the company.” He said it asked for journalists’ names because, with Twitter under a consent order, the FTC should have access to the same information shared with third parties.

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