June 05, 2023

Wyden, Colleagues Seek Answers from Twitter on FTC Compliance Following High Level Resignations

“Mr. Musk’s behavior reveals an apparent indifference towards Twitter’s longstanding legal obligations, which did not disappear when Mr. Musk took over the company.”

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Ron Wyden and Senate colleagues today asked Twitter to provide information regarding concerns that the company may have violated its consent decree with federal regulators and put consumer privacy and data security at risk.

The letter comes days after Twitter’s head of Trust and Safety and head of Brand Safety and Advertising Quality announced their resignations.

“Regardless of his personal wealth, Mr. Musk is not exempt from the law, and neither is the company he purchased,” Wyden and colleagues wrote to Twitter CEO Elon Musk and CEO-Designate Linda Yaccarino. “Twitter must meet the requirements it agreed to under the 2011 and 2022 FTC agreements. If reports about Mr. Musk’s actions are correct, it appears that the company may not be doing so.”

Twitter has a history of disregarding consumer privacy. In 2011, the FTC filed a complaint against Twitter, accusing the company of “misleading consumers about the extent to which it protects the security, privacy, and confidentiality of nonpublic consumer information.” The company then entered into a consent decree with the FTC, barring the company for 20 years from misleading consumers regarding privacy, among other conditions. In May 2022, the FTC filed another complaint alleging that the company had violated the existing agreement. 

After buying and becoming CEO of Twitter in October 2022, Mr. Musk made numerous hasty personnel and product decisions and in April of this year, confirmed that over 80 percent of the workforce had left Twitter since he became CEO. In November 2022, the day before the deadline to submit a report to the FTC, the Chief Privacy Officer, Chief Information Security Officer, and Chief Compliance Officer all resigned. Just last week, Twitter’s head of trust and safety, Ella Irwin, and head of Brand Safety and Advertising Quality, A.J. Brown resigned as well.

“These personnel changes, firsthand accounts from employees, and hasty launch of new products raise questions about whether Twitter is able to comply with its obligations under the FTC consent decree,” Wyden and colleagues continued. “In apparent dismissal of concerns regarding reducing his workforce, Mr. Musk’s team has said he is ‘used to going to court and paying penalties, and was not worried about the risks.’”

The May 2022 complaint from the FTC resulted in a new consent decree including a $150 million fine , and additional requirements for the company, including filing a sworn compliance notice regarding changes in company structure such as sales, mergers, and change of ownership, creating and maintaining a privacy and security program, conducting an assessment of privacy, security, confidentiality, and integrity risks before implementing any new products, and reporting any incident if 250 or more users’ personal information is exposed.

The letter was led by U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren D-Mass. Alongside Wyden, the letter was signed by U.S. Senators Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii.

As a leading privacy advocate, Wyden wrote the Mind Your Own Business Act -- a comprehensive bill that would create strong protections for Americans’ private data and hold corporate executives accountable for abusing private information.  

The text of the letter is here.