Twitter has agreed to pay a $150 million fine after federal law enforcement officials accused the social media company of illegally using people’s personal data over a six-year period to help sell targeted ads.
In court documents , the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice said Twitter violated a 2011 agreement with regulators, in which the company pledged not to use information collected for security purposes, such as users’ phone numbers and email addresses, to help advertisers target people with ads.
Federal investigators say Twitter broke that promise. “As the complaint indicates, the company obtained data from users on the pretext that it was harnessed for security purposes,” said Lina Khan, chair of the Federal Trade Commission. But I also used it to target users with ads.
The company requires users to provide a phone number and an email address to authenticate accounts. This information also helps people reset passwords and unlock their accounts when a company has blocked logins due to suspicious activity.
But until at least September 2019, the company was also using this information to further its advertising activity by allowing advertisers to access users’ phone numbers and email addresses. This contravenes the agreement the company has with the regulators.
More than 140 million users of the platform provided this type of personal information based on deceptive Twitter statements, according to federal prosecutors.
US Attorney Stephanie Hinds said: “Consumers who share their information have the right to know if that information is being used to help advertisers target customers.”
Perilous period on Twitter
The company’s chief privacy officer, Damien Keran, has acknowledged that users’ personal information may have been inadvertently used for advertising. He said the company no longer sells information it collected for security purposes to advertisers.
Kiran wrote : Maintaining data security and respecting privacy is something we take very seriously. We have cooperated with the Federal Trade Commission at every step.
Under the terms of the proposed agreement, the company has agreed to stop making use of the information it has collected for security purposes. The settlement still needs court approval. The settlement also limits employees’ access to users’ personal data.
This action reflects a sweeping settlement with the Federal Trade Commission that included a $5 billion fine against Facebook in 2019, in which the social media giant committed to stop sharing information it obtained for security purposes with advertisers.
Under the terms of the FTC’s deal with Twitter, regulators would oversee the company’s advertising practices for two decades.
The company has been in a state of crisis since Tesla CEO Elon Musk launched a $44 billion acquisition of the social networking site last month.
Musk recently announced that the deal is temporarily on hold, arguing that he must first determine the prevalence of bot accounts across the site. But merger experts note that the deal is still going ahead, because Musk is in a legally binding contract with the company pending regulatory and shareholder review.