FTC Twitter investigation searched for Elon Musk’s internal communications, names of journalists

WASHINGTON – The Federal Trade Commission has ordered Twitter Inc. demanded that internal communications related to owner Elon Musk be turned over, as well as detailed information about layoffs — citing concerns that staff cuts could jeopardize the company’s ability to protect users, documents viewed by the Wall Street Journal show.

In 12 letters sent to Twitter and its lawyers since Musk’s acquisition on Oct. 27, the FTC also asked the company to “identify all journalists” who have been given access to the company’s data and provide information about the launch of the company. the revamped Twitter Blue subscription service. show the documents.

The FTC is also trying to impeach Mr. Musk in connection with the investigation.

“We are concerned that these staff cuts will affect Twitter’s ability to protect consumer information,” an FTC official wrote to Twitter’s lawyers Nov. 10 after an initial wave of layoffs, according to a copy of the letter provided by the Journal was viewed.

The so-called demand letters were obtained by the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee, which published excerpts of them in a report Tuesday on the FTC’s investigation.

The letters indicate that Twitter responded to the FTC, but that in late January, the agency found the company engaged in a “disturbing pattern of continued delay” that raises “serious compliance concerns.”

Twitter and the FTC did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The investigations by the FTC, led by Democrat Lina Khan, follow mass layoffs made by Mr. Musk that have raised concerns within the agency about the company’s ability to comply with a $150 million settlement in related to alleged privacy violations.

In November, the FTC said its injunction on the 2022 settlement “gives us new tools to ensure compliance, and we are willing to use them … no CEO or company is above the law.”

The judicial panel report, the first by a new subcommittee investigating what Republicans call “weaponizing” federal agencies, accused the FTC of overstepping its authority at the urging of progressive groups dissatisfied with the company’s takeover by the United States. Mr Musk.

“For example, there is no logical reason why the FTC needs to know the identities of journalists who deal with Twitter,” the report said. “There is no logical reason why the FTC should, based on user privacy, analyze all of Twitter’s personnel decisions. And there is no logical reason why the FTC needs any internal Twitter communication about Elon Musk.”

The FTC, led by Lina Khan, is conducting an extensive investigation into Twitter.


Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images

Asked in December about the Twitter investigation in an interview with the Journal, Ms. Khan declined to discuss the details of the case, but said the FTC “wants to make sure that we fully implement the orders we have on the books” .

She said the 2022 Twitter order is “much more prescriptive, much more detailed” than a previous FTC settlement with the company from 2011.

Mr. Musk told Twitter employees in November that the company will make every effort to follow both the letter and spirit of the FTC order, the Journal reported at the time.

Musk said in December that the company’s workforce had been reduced to about 2,000 from 8,000, sparking discussions about whether tech companies are generally overstaffed, as well as questions about Twitter’s ability to comply with security practices and perform other functions. feed.

The FTC letters, which are dated Nov. 10 through Feb. 1, asked Twitter to estimate the number of layoffs and layoffs in its departments. The agency sought a detailed breakdown of new executives’ responsibilities, including who would oversee privacy and security issues.

A letter called for an explanation of the departure of Jim Baker, the former Justice Department official who until December was a senior Twitter attorney with responsibilities for ensuring compliance with the FTC order.

The FTC also requested all internal Twitter communications “related to Elon Musk,” or sent “at the behest of, or received by,” Mr. Musk.

Mr. Musk was scheduled to be impeached by the FTC on Feb. 3, but had a potential conflict regarding court testimony in a securities lawsuit, according to a Jan. 24 FTC letter. The statement did not happen, said a person familiar with the matter.

Elon Musk, who bought Twitter in October, said it could likely be in late 2023 to appoint a new person to take over day-to-day management of the social media platform. Government summit in Dubai. Photo: Kamran Jebreili/Associated Press

The FTC also urged Twitter to conduct in-depth privacy reviews before introducing product changes, such as the new version of Twitter Blue, as required under the 2022 order. The agency sought detailed data on how product changes were communicated to Twitter users .

It asked Twitter to explain how it handled a recently reported leak of Twitter user profile data, to account for changes in how users authenticate their accounts, and to describe how it scrubbed sensitive data from sold office equipment.

On Dec. 13, the FTC asked about Twitter’s decision to allow journalists access to internal corporate communications, a project Musk has dubbed the “Twitter Files” that he says sheds light on controversial decisions made by previous management.

The agency asked Twitter to describe the “nature of access granted to each person” and how allowing that access “is consistent with your privacy and information security obligations under the warrant.” It asked whether Twitter had conducted background checks on the journalists and whether the journalists had access to Twitter users’ personal messages.

The House panel report reflects the sharp partisan division over Mr Musk’s takeover of Twitter.

Republicans claim Twitter censored conservative views before the takeover — citing, among other things, the decision to ban former President Donald Trump from the platform, a decision Mr Musk reversed. Former Twitter executives have denied political bias.

Twitter’s new owner Elon Musk said in December that the San Francisco-based company’s workforce was being cut from about 2,000 to 8,000.


Shelby Knowles for The Wall Street Journal

The report from the GOP-led judicial panel says Mr. Musk has “reshaped Twitter to revive free speech online.”

Democrats, including President Biden, have raised concerns about Mr Musk’s ownership, saying it could potentially compromise the platform’s ability to secure its users’ personal data. Seven Democratic senators called the FTC on Nov. 17 to investigate, among other things, whether Twitter users might have been harmed by scam accounts created after the launch of a new version of Twitter Blue that month.

“We fear that the changes to internal reviews and data security practices reported by Mr. Musk put consumers at further risk and may directly violate the requirements of the consent decree,” wrote Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) and others.

Concerns about possible violations of the FTC order were also raised in August 2022 by a former Twitter security executive turned whistleblower. The company said at the time that the allegations were not accurate.

If the FTC concludes that Twitter has violated the 2022 order, the agency may seek financial penalties, business restrictions or sanctions against responsible executives.

Write to Ryan Tracy at Ryan.Tracy@wsj.com

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