Twitter says FTC probe ‘has spiraled out of control’ and asks to terminate privacy settlement

SpaceX, Twitter and electric car maker Tesla CEO Elon Musk looks on as he speaks during his visit at the Vivatech technology startups and innovation fair at the Porte de Versailles exhibition center in Paris, on June 16, 2023. (Photo by Alain JOCARD / AFP) (Photo by ALAIN JOCARD/AFP via Getty Images)

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Twitter asked a federal court on Thursday to end or modify a Federal Trade Commission order that governs how the company stores and uses information about Twitter users.

The 2011 agreement originally resolved charges that the platform failed to adequately safeguard its users’ information. The order subjected Twitter to an independent assessment of its security program for 10 years and barred the company from misleading consumers about its security and privacy practices for 20 years.

Twitter is asking the court to determine whether the 2011 FTC order “is equitable in light of the FTC’s conduct,” according to the filing. The company said the investigation “has spiraled out of control and become tainted by bias.” As a result, the “misfit consent order … no longer can serve any proper equitable purpose.”

Twitter alleges the FTC has issued “unceasing demands” for “burdensome document protections,” particularly since Elon Musk took over the company last year. Since that time, X Corp., which owns Twitter, said it’s received 16 demand letters, compared with just about 28 from the agency in the last decade-plus.

“The FTC’s overreach has now culminated in a demand to depose Mr. Musk, who is not, and never has been, a party to the Consent Order,” the filing says.

In May 2022, before Musk took over, the company reached a $150 million settlement with the FTC and Department of Justice for allegedly violating the 2011 order by failing to adequately inform users about how their contact information would be used to target ads.

Shortly after Musk took over Twitter, the FTC made clear it was committed to upholding its orders after key privacy and security executives left the company.

“We are tracking recent developments at Twitter with deep concern,” an FTC spokesperson said in a statement in November. “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.”

As an alternative to terminating or modifying the agreement, Twitter said it would ask the court to direct the FTC to provide evidence to X Corp. and pause the enforcement of the agreement until it’s produced.

The FTC declined to comment.

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