The former security chief of Twitter accuses the social media platform of misleading the public about its security practices and spam-fighting efforts. Peiter Zatko, who was fired from the company in January, filed the whistle-blower federal complaint last month, which was made public on Tuesday. The accusations come at a time when Elon Musk is endeavouring to back out of a $44 billion deal to buy Twitter, claiming that he was misled about the number of fake accounts on the platform. On 30 August, Musk again filed paperwork to terminate the agreement, this time indirectly citing the information revealed in the whistle-blower complaint.
Zatko, also known as "Mudge" in the security community, is a renowned hacker turned cyber security expert. He joined Twitter in 2020 at the request of then-CEO Jack Dorsey, following the hacking of accounts belonging to prominent figures such as Joe Biden and Kanye West. Zatko stated that he became disillusioned with the company after current CEO Parag Agrawal refused to confront Twitter's security flaws.
Twitter has made "little meaningful progress on basic security, integrity, and privacy systems," according to the whistle-blower complaint, which was sent to the Federal Trade Commission and other agencies. According to the complaint, Twitter lied to Musk about the true number of the bot and spam accounts, and executives are incentivized with large bonuses to increase user counts rather than remove the fake accounts.
Musk agreed to buy the social media platform earlier this year. However, in July, he attempted to withdraw from the agreement, accusing Twitter of fraud for concealing the true number of inauthentic accounts, a problem that would affect ad revenue.
In retaliation, Twitter filed a lawsuit in an attempt to force the acquisition, accusing Musk of abandoning the deal due to stock market volatility. "Musk refuses to honour his obligations to Twitter and its stockholders because the deal he signed no longer serves his personal interests," Twitter cited in its lawsuit.
Twitter has consistently claimed that the percentage of its monthly daily active users who are spam, bots, or fake accounts is less than 5 percent. The whistle-blower complaint, however, claims that Twitter's method of calculating this figure is inaccurate and misleading. Twitter accused Zatko of being a disgruntled former employee who was fired for poor performance and ineffective leadership. According to a company spokesperson, Zatko is using the lawsuit with Musk to "capture attention and inflict harm on Twitter, its customers, and its shareholders.
Debra Katz, Zatko's legal representative, refuted the notion that he was out for revenge, revealing that he had repeatedly raised his concerns regarding security with the company and continued to do so even after he was fired. In an interview with The Washington Post, Zatko explained his decision to become a whistle-blower, saying, "This would never be my first step, but I believe I am still fulfilling my obligation to Jack [Dorsey] and to users of the platform."
Musk's lawyers had already served Zatko with a subpoena prior to his allegations being made public. “We found his exit and that of other key employees curious in light of what we have been finding,” Alex Spiro, a legal representative of Musk, said in a statement.
According to legal experts, the other allegations in the whistle-blower complaint about the inadequacies of Twitter's security and privacy provisions could provide Musk with new grounds to abandon the deal and strengthen his claims of fraud. In the new filing, Musk said that his legal team had notified Twitter of “additional bases” for ending the deal.
The five-day trial which will determine whether Musk must honour his agreement to acquire the company will take place in Delaware Chancery Court in October.
It is unclear whether the whistle-blower allegations will aid Musk's legal challenge at this time, but so far they appear to be helping in the court of public opinion.
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