Twitter Fined $150 Million for Allegedly Selling User Data Improperly

May 26th, 2022 7:07 PM

Twitter faced bad news this week after the Federal Trade Commission fined the platform $150 million.

The platform was accused of improperly selling user data without consent. The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed the complaint on behalf of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), saying Twitter collected user information for “security purposes” and then sold it commercially.

“Twitter asked users for personal information for the express purpose of securing their accounts, but then also used it to serve targeted ads for Twitter’s financial benefit,” a business blog on the FTC’s website reads. “It wasn’t Twitter’s first alleged violation of the FTC Act, but this one will cost the company $150 million in civil penalties.”

Twitter was first found to have violated the FTC Act in 2011 after a complaint alleged that the platform exploited user data for its own benefit.

The order that finalized the decision warned that Twitter faced substantial fines if it lied about “the extent to which [Twitter] maintains and protects the security, privacy, confidentiality, or integrity of any nonpublic consumer information.”

The most recent complaint contained similar allegations that user data was improperly used.

According to NPR, FTC Chair Lina Khan said Twitter targeted users with ads after selling user data originally claimed to be for “security purposes.”

"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,” she said per NPR.

Sam Levine, leader of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, told NPR that the tactics from the platform were purposely deceptive.

"If you're telling people you're using their phone numbers to secure their accounts, and then you use them for other purposes, you're deceiving them and breaking the law," he told NPR in an interview.

For its part, a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement that user data "may have been inadvertently used for advertising" and the platform was now “aligned” with the FTC to “ensure that people’s personal data remains secure and their privacy protected.”

“[W]e have aligned with the agency on operational updates and program enhancements to ensure that people’s personal data remains secure and their privacy protected,” Twitter Chief Privacy Officer Damien Kieran said.

“Moving forward, we will continue to make investments in this work, including building and evolving processes, implementing technical measures, and conducting regular auditing and reporting to ensure we are mitigating risk at every level and function at Twitter,” Kieran added. “We will also continue to partner with the FTC, and our security and privacy regulators around the world, on our shared mission of building useful products and services that meet our customers’ needs while keeping the information they share with us secure and respectful of their privacy.” 

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