Whistleblower accuses Twitter of hiding major flaws
Twitter misled users and U.S. regulators about “extreme, egregious” gaps in its online protections, the platform’s ex-security chief claimed in whistleblower testimony that could impact the court fight over Elon Musk’s buyout bid.
Peiter Zatko’s complaint, also accused Twitter of significantly underestimating the number of fake and spam accounts - a crucial point in Musk’s argument for trying to cancel his $44 billion deal to own the platform.
Zatko’s filing to authorities including market watchdog Securities and Exchange Commission accuses Twitter of “negligence, willful ignorance, and threats to national security and democracy.”
The ex-worker, who Twitter says was fired for poor performance, warns of obsolete servers, software vulnerable to computer attacks and executives seeking to hide the number of hacking attempts, both from U.S. authorities and from the company’s board of directors.
The hacker-turned-executive, who goes by the nickname “Mudge,” also claims that Twitter prioritizes growing its user base over fighting spam and bots, the filing says.
In particular, Zatko accuses the platform and its CEO Parag Agrawal of issuing untrue statements on account numbers because “if accurate measurements ever became public, it would harm the image and valuation of the company.”
His filing argues that because Twitter reports a tally of users based on who can be reached by advertising - not the actual number of accounts - the true magnitude of spam bots is effectively unknown to the public.
Twitter fired back at its former worker, saying Zatko was fired in January for “ineffective leadership and poor performance.”
The “opportunistic timing” of the allegations appears “designed to capture attention and inflict harm on Twitter, its customers and its shareholders,” the statement continued.
A redacted version of the filing was dated July 6, nearly a week before Twitter launched its lawsuit to try to force Musk to close the buyout deal and which is set for trial in mid-October.
Zatko’s legal team said he was fired after clashing with the new CEO Agrawal.
The issue of fake accounts is at the heart of the legal battle between Twitter and Tesla chief Musk.
The billionaire has repeatedly accused the company of minimizing the number of bot accounts on its platform, and he tweeted on Aug. 23 “spam prevalence *was* shared with the board, but the board chose not disclose that to the public...”
Musk is relying on the bot argument to justify abandoning his buyout deal and avoid paying severance, but Twitter’s lawsuit has asserted that it’s too late because the parties already have an agreement.