Twitter To Pay $150 Million To Settle FTC, DOJ Charge It Handed User Data To Advertisers

Twitter has agreed to pay a $150 million to the Federal Trade Commission for what its chief privacy officer Damien Kieran called “a privacy incident” when email addresses and phone numbers users provided for account security purposes “may have been inadvertently used for advertising.”

The settlement followed a government complaint against the company filed today in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California for misrepresenting its use of consumer data “from at least May of 2013 through at least September of 2019.”

“Specifically, while Twitter represented to users that it collected their telephone numbers and email addresses to secure their accounts, Twitter failed to disclose that it also used user contact information to aid advertisers in reaching their preferred audiences,” violating FTC rules. It said more than 140 million Twitter users provided email addresses or phone numbers “based on Twitter’s deceptive statements that their information would be used to specific purposes related to account security.”

“As the complaint notes, Twitter obtained data from users on the pretext of harnessing it for security purposes but then ended up also using the data to target users with ads,” said FTC Chair Lina Khan. She noted that advertising is Twitter’s primary source of revenue.

“The Department of Justice is committed to protecting the privacy of consumers’ sensitive data,” added Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta. “The $150 million penalty reflects the seriousness of the allegations against Twitter, and the substantial new compliance measures to be imposed as a result of today’s proposed settlement will help prevent further misleading tactics that threaten users’ privacy.”

Twitter’s Kieran said in a blog post that the issue “was addressed as of September 17, 2019, and today we want to reiterate the work we’ll continue to do to protect the privacy and security of the people who use Twitter. Keeping data secure and respecting privacy is something we take extremely seriously.”

The settlement includes operational updates and program enhancements to “ensure that people’s personal data remains secure and their privacy protected.”

It’s the latest headache for the social media company that’s in the midst of a bizarre takeover dance with billionaire Tesla founder Elon Musk. The two sides agreed to a sale in late April but Musk appears to be walking it back, saying last week it was “on hold” until he received data regarding fake accounts.

Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal declined to discuss the status of the deal at the annual shareholders meeting early day, citing regulatory constraints.

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