FTC says it's tracking developments at Twitter with 'deep concern' after key security departures

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  • The Federal Trade Commission is closely watching Twitter's moves under new owner Elon Musk, a spokesperson said in a statement Thursday.
  • The agency has the power to hold the company to specific security and privacy standards under a recent settlement.
  • The statement comes after several key security and privacy executives resigned or were dismissed from the company following Elon Musk's acquisition of Twitter.
An image of new Twitter owner Elon Musk is seen surrounded by Twitter logos in this photo illustration in Warsaw, Poland on 08 November, 2022. 
STR | Nurphoto | Getty Images

The Federal Trade Commission is closely watching Twitter's moves under new owner Elon Musk, a spokesperson said in a statement Thursday. The agency struck a settlement with Twitter earlier, which granted it oversight of certain security and privacy practices at the company.

“We are tracking recent developments at Twitter with deep concern,” an FTC spokesperson said in a statement. “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 statement comes after several key security and privacy executives resigned or were dismissed from the company following Elon Musk's $44 billion acquisition of Twitter.

The Washington Post earlier reported on the FTC's concerns.

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As CNBC previously reported, Musk fired former Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal and legal affairs and policy chief Vijaya Gadde shortly after taking over the company. Since then, other executives have announced their departures, including most recently Chief Information Security Officer Lea Kissner. Musk also cut 50% of Twitter's workforce.

According to internal communications obtained by CNBC, three execs involved in information security, privacy and compliance all resigned in recent days, including Kissner. In the message, a worker warns that the FTC can and will fine Twitter billions of dollars if it breaches the consent decree. The author of the message advised peers they could reach out to Twitter's ethics helpline or the FTC if they felt uncomfortable with tasks they are assigned.

The message reminds workers that Twitter's former security chief Peiter “Mudge” Zatko reached out to nonprofit law firm Whistleblower Aid to go public with complaints about Twitter's security practices. Whistleblower Aid also represented Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen and received funding from a foundation run by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, who has been a major critic of the Big Tech firms.

The FTC's latest settlement with Twitter builds on a 2011 agreement binding the company to install reasonable privacy safeguards and be accountable for an information security program. In 2022, when Twitter agreed to pay a $150 million penalty for allegedly deceiving users about how their phone numbers would be used to sell ads, the FTC gained new concessions from Twitter about how the company would be required to protect user data. Under that order, Twitter agreed to install an enhanced privacy program and information security program with specific requirements.

Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the FTC statement.

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