FTC Twitter investigation searched Elon Musk’s internal communications and reporters’ names

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

In 12 letters sent to Twitter and its lawyers since Mr. Musk’s October 27 takeover, the FTC also asked the company to “identify all journalists” authorized to access company records and to provide information on the launch of the revamped Twitter Blue subscription service, the documents show.

The FTC is also seeking to depose Mr. Musk as part of the investigation.

“We are concerned that these staff reductions will impact Twitter’s ability to protect consumer information,” an FTC official wrote to Twitter attorneys on Nov. 10 following an initial wave of layoffs. , according to a copy of the letter seen by the Journal.

The so-called demand letters were obtained by the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee, which released excerpts from them Tuesday in a staff report on the FTC investigation.

The letters say Twitter has responded to the FTC, but the agency found in late January that the company was embarking on a “troublesome pattern of continued delay” that raises “serious compliance concerns.”

“Protecting consumer privacy is exactly what the FTC is supposed to do,” said FTC spokesman Douglas Farrar. He said the agency was “conducting a rigorous investigation into Twitter’s compliance with a consent order that went into effect long before Mr. Musk bought the company.”

The FTC routinely seeks information that companies under a consent order provide to third parties, including journalists, on the grounds that the company could not hide that same information from the FTC, Mr. Farrar said.

Twitter did not respond to requests for comment.

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

In November, the FTC said its order accompanying the 2022 settlement “gives us new tools to ensure compliance, and we’re ready to use them…no CEO or company is above the law.” .

The judicial panel report, the first of a new subcommittee examining what Republicans call the “militarization” of federal agencies, accused the FTC of overstepping its authority at the behest of progressive groups unhappy with the acquisition of society by Mr. Musk.

“There is no logical reason, for example, for the FTC to need to know the identity of journalists who interact with Twitter,” the report said. “There is no logical reason why the FTC, on the basis of user privacy, should analyze every decision made by Twitter staff. And there’s no logical reason why the FTC needs every 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 specifics of the case, but said the FTC wanted to “make sure we fully enforce the orders we have in books”.

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

Mr. Musk told Twitter employees in November that the company would do whatever it takes to follow both the letter and the spirit of the FTC’s order, the Journal reported at the time.

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

In remarks at a technology conference in San Francisco on Tuesday, Musk said Twitter would have gone bankrupt within months if it hadn’t taken steps to cut costs.

The FTC letters, which date from Nov. 10 to Feb. 1, asked Twitter to quantify the number of layoffs and resignations across its departments. The agency asked for a detailed account of the new leaders’ responsibilities, including who would oversee privacy and security matters.

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

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

According to a Jan. 24 letter from the FTC, Mr. Musk was scheduled to be filed by the FTC on Feb. 3, but had a potential conflict related to testifying in court in a securities lawsuit. The deposition did not take place, a person briefed on the matter said.

Elon Musk, who bought Twitter in October, said the likely time to bring in a new person to take over day-to-day running of the social media platform could be late 2023. expressed remotely at the World Government Summit in Dubai. Photo: Kamran Jebreili/Associated Press

The FTC also asked Twitter if it conducts thorough privacy reviews before implementing product changes such as the new version of Twitter Blue, as required by the 2022 order. searched for detailed records of how product changes were communicated to Twitter users.

He asked Twitter to explain how it handled a recently reported leak of Twitter user profile data, consider changes to how users authenticate their accounts, and describe how it erased sensitive data. office equipment sold.

On Dec. 13, the FTC asked about Twitter’s decision to give journalists access to the company’s internal communications, a project Mr. Musk has dubbed the “Twitter Files” and which he says puts highlight the controversial decisions of the previous management.

The agency asked Twitter to describe the “nature of the access granted to each individual” and how granting such access “is consistent with your privacy and information security obligations under the arrangement”. He asked whether Twitter conducted background checks on journalists and whether journalists could access Twitter users’ personal messages.

The House panel report reflects strong partisan divide over Mr. Musk’s acquisition of Twitter.

Republicans say that prior to the acquisition, Twitter censored conservative views, citing among other things its decision to ban former President Donald Trump from the platform, a move which Mr Musk reversed. Former Twitter executives have denied any political bias.

New Twitter owner Elon Musk said in December that the San Francisco-based company’s workforce had been reduced to around 2,000 from 8,000.


Shelby Knowles for The Wall Street Journal

The GOP-led judicial panel report says Mr. Musk “reshaped Twitter to revitalize 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. On Nov. 17, seven Democratic senators called the FTC to investigate, among other things, whether Twitter users might have been harmed by fraudulent accounts created after the launch of a new version of Twitter. Twitter Blue that month.

“We are concerned that the changes Mr. Musk reported to internal reviews and data security practices put consumers at greater 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 official turned whistleblower. The company at the time said the claims were not accurate.

If the FTC finds that Twitter violated the 2022 order, the agency could seek financial penalties, trade restrictions, or penalties from the executives responsible.

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

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