F.T.C. Intensifies Investigation of Twitter’s Privacy Practices

In November, three senior executives responsible for overseeing security, privacy and compliance resigned from Twitter, a day before a deadline for Twitter to submit a response to an F.T.C. demand letter. The F.T.C., in an effort led by Reenah Kim, a longtime staff attorney who was involved in the agency’s earlier investigation of privacy issues at Facebook, has spoken with at least two of those executives, Damien Kieran and Lea Kissner, three people familiar with the matter said.

Mr. Musk’s mass layoffs have roiled the company’s legal department, which has drawn in support and lawyers from Mr. Musk’s other companies including the electronic car manufacturer Tesla and the rocket maker SpaceX. That has led to confusing directives and caused previously junior employees to take up new responsibilities for which they are not qualified, three current and former employees said.

Over the past several months, Twitter has asked the agency for more time to answer its questions about staffing and resources, saying its corporate structure and the appointment of top leaders are still in flux. The F.T.C. has the power to fine Twitter again, or to punish executives with criminal penalties if they mislead investigators about the state of the company’s privacy practices.

In addition to its investigation of Mr. Musk’s takeover, the agency is also scrutinizing claims raised by a former security executive, Peiter Zatko, who said in a whistle-blower complaint that Twitter, under its previous management, made false and misleading statements about its security practices.

Lina Khan, the chairwoman of the F.T.C., said during a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing in November that she was “extremely disturbed” by Mr. Zatko’s claims, particularly his assertion that Twitter had misled the F.T.C. about its compliance practices.

“There has absolutely been a problem with companies treating F.T.C. orders as suggestions,” Ms. Khan said. “We have a program underway to really toughen that up.”

Mr. Musk’s Twitter also faces potential challenges abroad. In November, Thierry Breton, the European Union’s internal market commissioner, said in a statement that the company had “huge work ahead” to become compliant with the bloc’s Digital Services Act, a wide-ranging set of laws set to come into effect in 2024 that addresses disinformation, targeted advertising and content moderation on social media platforms.


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