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FTC Taking Dim View of Musk Action Amid Twitter Turmoil

November 10, 2022 by Dan McCue
FTC Taking Dim View of Musk Action Amid Twitter Turmoil
Twitter headquarters is shown in San Francisco, Calif., on Nov. 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

WASHINGTON — A letter posted to Twitter’s Slack feed by a company lawyer, detailing the utter chaos the social media outlet has descended into since Elon Musk took control of it, has prompted a rare public rebuke from the Federal Trade Commission.

“We are tracking recent developments at Twitter with deep concern,” said an agency spokesperson in an email to The Well News.

“No CEO or company is above the law, and companies must follow our consent decrees. Our revised consent order gives us new tools to ensure compliance, and we are prepared to use them,” the spokesperson added.

In the letter, the existence of which was first reported by The Verge, an unidentified attorney working with Twitter’s privacy team suggests Musk, who closed his $44 billion deal to buy the social media giant on Oct. 27, has ignored state data governance processes as he sought to make changes to its services.

“Elon has shown that his only priority with Twitter users is how to monetize them,” the attorney wrote. “I do not believe he cares about the human rights activists, the dissidents, our users in un-monetizable regions, and all the other users who have made Twitter the global town square you have all spent so long building, and we all love.”

The line in the letter that no doubt inspired the FTC’s ire was a reference to an alleged statement by Alex Spiro, Musk’s personal attorney, who reportedly told employees that their new boss was willing to take on a huge amount of risk to achieve his goals for the company.

“Elon puts rockets into space, he’s not afraid of the FTC,” Spiro said, according to the letter writer.

The attorney then goes on to encourage employees to seek whistleblower protection “if you feel uncomfortable about anything you’re being asked to do.”

In 2011, Twitter agreed to operate under the provisions of a 20-year consent order with the FTC over its data security practices.

In May the agency fined the company $150 million after Twitter was caught using personal user data to target ads. The FTC also issued a more stringent modified order to cover the remaining years of the original.

If Twitter doesn’t comply with the new agreement, the agency, which has a well-earned reputation for not fooling around on such matters, could issue fines reaching into the billions of dollars, according to the lawyer’s note to employees.

Word of the attorney’s warning became public just as many of Twitter’s employees, former employees and users were finding out that the company’s chief privacy officer, Damien Kieran, chief information security officer, Lea Kissner, and chief compliance officer, Marianne Fogarty, had all resigned. 

Kissner later confirmed her departure in a tweet on Thursday.

“I’ve made the hard decision to leave Twitter. I’ve had the opportunity to work with amazing people and I’m so proud of the privacy, security, and IT teams and the work we’ve done,” she said. “I’m looking forward to figuring out what’s next.”

In an email to staff, reportedly his first since taking control of the company, Musk painted a dire picture of Twitter’s future.

“Sorry that this is my first email to the whole company, but there’s no way to sugarcoat this,” Musk is said to have written.

“Without significant subscription revenue, there is a good chance Twitter will not survive the upcoming economic downturn,” he wrote.

The Well News attempted to reach out to Twitter’s media relations department to get its comment on these developments, but it evidently no longer has one.

Dan can be reached at dan@thewellnews.com and @DanMcCue

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