FTC says Elon Musk ‘may have jeopardized data privacy and security’ at Twitter

Karissa Bell

Court filings have revealed new details about the FTC’s investigation into Elon Musk over his handling of privacy and security issues at X. In newly public court documents, the Department of Justice says Musk fostered a “chaotic environment” at Twitter, now known as X, that prevented company officials from complying with their obligations to the FTC.

The FTC investigation stems from a 2022 settlement between the FTC and Twitter over the company’s use of deceptive ad targeting under the leadership of Jack Dorsey. Prior to Musk’s takeover, the company paid a $150 million fine and signed on to an agreement to implement specific privacy and security measures. It was those additional data protection measures that apparently fell by the wayside once Musk took control, triggering new scrutiny from the regulator.

In March, the FTC began investigating the rushed rollout of Twitter Blue, which reportedly launched without the privacy and security review required under the FTC order, as well as Musk’s handling of the so-called “Twitter Files.”

In the latest court documents, the Department of Justice details new information provided by a number of former top Twitter executives. According to the DoJ, Twitter’s former chief privacy officer Damien Kieran said Twitter Blue launched so quickly a “security and privacy review was not conducted in accordance with the company’s process for software development.”

It also details employee concerns over Musk’s attempts to grant an outside journalist unfettered access to the company’s internal systems. (The filing notes that “longtime information security employees intervened” and the reporter was ultimately given access to files and systems via an intermediary.)

The government also raises concerns over Musk’s rearranging of company servers between data centers. The company’s policy required that servers be wiped prior to being moved, but that didn’t happen, according to former Twitter employees. The government also notes that Musk’s rapid-fire layoffs resulted in deep cuts among the Twitter staff who could have helped the company stay in compliance with the FTC.

X didn’t respond to a request for comment. Musk has previously described the investigation as the “weaponization of a government agency for political purposes.”

Ultimately, the owner of X may end up having to answer to the FTC directly on these issues. The regulator argues that Musk should be deposed, though lawyers for X have sought to prevent the deposition. “Evidence the FTC uncovered during its investigation reveals that Musk has been deeply involved in the ‘fundamental transformation’ of X Corp.,” the government wrote. “Musk exercised granular control of X Corp., at times directing employees in a manner that may have jeopardized data privacy and security.”

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