Twitter to pay $150 million fine over charges of mis-selling user data: NPR

Twitter to pay $150 million fine over charges of mis-selling user data: NPR

Federal regulators on Wednesday announced a settlement with Twitter over the use of user privacy.

Matt Rourke/AP

hide caption

toggle caption

Matt Rourke/AP

Federal regulators on Wednesday announced a settlement with Twitter over the use of user privacy.

Matt Rourke/AP

Twitter has agreed to pay a $150 million fine after federal law enforcement officials accused the social media company of unlawfully using people’s personal data for six years to help sell targeted ads .

In court documents made public on Wednesday, the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice say that Twitter violated a 2011 agreement with regulators in which the company has 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 notes, Twitter obtained user data under the guise of mining it for security purposes, but then ended up also using the data to target users with ads,” the president said. FTC, Lina Khan.

Twitter requires users to provide a phone number and email address to authenticate accounts. This information also helps users reset their passwords and unlock their accounts when the company blocks login due to suspicious activity.

But until at least September 2019, Twitter also used this information to boost its advertising business by giving advertisers access to users’ phone numbers and email addresses. This went against the agreement the company had with regulators.

“If you tell people you’re using their phone numbers to secure their accounts and then use them for other purposes, you’re misleading them and breaking the law,” said Sam Levine, who heads the Bureau of Consumer of Consumer of the FTC. Protection, in an interview with NPR.

More than 140 million Twitter users provided this type of personal information based on Twitter’s “misleading statements”, according to federal prosecutors.

“Consumers who share their private information have a right to know if that information is being used to help advertisers target customers,” said U.S. Attorney Stephanie Hinds of the Northern District of California.

Twitter’s chief privacy officer, Damien Kieran, acknowledged in a blog post that users’ personal information “may have been inadvertently used for advertising purposes”.

He said the company no longer sells information collected for security purposes to advertisers.

“Keeping data safe and respecting privacy is something we take extremely seriously, and we have cooperated with the FTC every step of the way,” Kieran wrote.

Under the terms of a proposed agreement, Twitter has agreed to stop profiting from information collected for security purposes. The agreement, which still needs to be approved by the court, would also limit employees’ access to users’ personal data.

The action echoes a early settlement with the FTC that included a $5 billion fine against Facebook in 2019 in which the social media giant pledged to stop sharing information obtained for security purposes with advertisers.

Under the terms of the FTC’s agreement with Twitter, regulators and an independent monitor will oversee the company’s advertising practices for two decades.

Justin Brookman, director of technology policy at Consumer Reports, said as regulators continue to crack down on targeted ads, companies like Twitter that have long relied on tracking tools could be in trouble.

“We’re seeing a confluence of regulators, but also browsers and operating systems, reducing cookies and reducing many of the tools companies use to track people across services,” Brookman said. “I think in some ways a lot of these tools are going away and businesses are going to have to find new ways to generate revenue, that the days of just printing money from targeted ads are coming to an end. ”

The settlement comes during a precarious time on Twitter.

The company has been in crisis since Tesla CEO Elon Musk launched a hostile $44 billion takeover of the social media site last month.

Musk recently said the deal was “temporarily suspended,” saying he first needed to determine the extent of bot accounts on the site.

But corporate merger experts and members of Twitter’s chief executive noted that the deal is still progressing, as Musk is in a legally binding contract with the company pending shareholder and regulatory review.

Musk has yet to comment on Wednesday’s settlement.