What comes after the Twitter whistleblower
Good morning! Twitter’s reeling in the wake of yesterday’s whistleblower complaint about the company misleading the FTC and misrepresenting security flaws to its board, among other things. Where does it go from here?
What happens next at Twitter
There’s one thing we know for certain about Peiter “Mudge” Zatko’s bombshell whistleblower complaint against Twitter: It raises a ton of questions for everyone already keeping a close eye on the company, from Elon Musk to regulators. So many questions.
What do the allegations mean for Musk’s acquisition? Zatko accuses Twitter of “lying about bots to Elon Musk” and claims that a senior executive tried to shut down a tool for quashing bot and spam accounts. At the very least, it’s giving Musk more ammunition in his court battle with Twitter.
- Zatko alleges that Twitter doesn’t have incentive to count the actual number of spam and bot accounts, which could raise questions about Twitter’s claim that bots and spam make up less than 5% of monetized accounts.
- Twitter stood by that count in comments it made to The Washington Post. It also told employees yesterday it’ll combine the teams focused on spam and bots, Reuters reported.
- Experts told WaPo that Zatko’s accusation isn’t backed by concrete evidence. For instance, it doesn’t prove that Twitter intentionally lied about the number of bots.
- But the accusations could still give Musk a reason to further challenge Twitter as he attempts to back out of the deal. He tweeted a portion of the report highlighting the claim that the prevalence of spam was shared with Twitter’s board, adding that “the board chose not disclose that to the public.”
What about regulators? Zatko filed the complaint with the SEC, Justice Department and the FTC, and there’s something in the complaint for everyone.
- The FTC will be interested in Zatko’s allegation that Twitter didn’t comply with a 2011 settlement with the commission for risking user privacy, Protocol’s Issie Lapowsky told us. The FTC already fined Twitter for violating that settlement in May.
- The SEC will likely look into claims that Twitter made misrepresentations to the board, shareholders and Musk. Zatko claimed, for example, that a presentation for CEO Parag Agrawal’s first full board meeting was “deeply misleading.”
- Issie said the DOJ will want to know more about Twitter allegedly hiring agents of foreign governments and giving them access to sensitive data.
And what about Twitter’s security? Zatko paints Twitter as a cybersecurity nightmare.
- Zatko claims he warned Twitter that more than half of its 500,000 data center servers were running out-of-date software just to keep the company running, which left the platform open to “all manner of attackers” Protocol’s Tom Krazit told us.
- Zatko also claims that Twitter is riddled with internal security flaws, revealing the company’s seeming indifference to pitfalls that could leave internal systems vulnerable to hackers.
Agrawal has so far responded by going on the offensive, telling employees that Zatko is “inaccurately portraying” aspects of his work; that the complaint lacks “important context”; and that Zatko was fired for “ineffective leadership and poor performance.”
That’s a message Agrawal will likely have to repeat a lot in the coming months in Washington, on Wall Street and in Delaware’s Court of Chancery, as Twitter tries to explain itself to the government, its investors, its users and its would-be owner.
— Nat Rubio-Licht and Sarah Roach
When is it time to go home?
Leaving home can be difficult, and it certainly was for Brad D. Smith, the former CEO of Intuit. He left his small West Virginia hometown in search of economic opportunities after graduating from Marshall University. But after a 36-year Silicon Valley career, Smith decided to go back, give back and lead his alma mater. “I want to serve the next generation and help them understand that they and their peers can do amazing things right here in West Virginia,” Smith told Protocol’s Hirsh Chitkara.
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Have a good day — see you tomorrow!