Updated Aug 23, 2022 - Technology

Whistleblower complaint alleges Twitter deceived regulators

Peiter Zatko, who is also known as Mudge poses for a portrait on Monday August 22, 2022 in Washington, DC.
Peiter Zatko, who is also known as Mudge, poses for a portrait on Aug. 22 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images

A new whistleblower complaint from Twitter's former head of security suggests the company misled regulators about its efforts to reduce spam and protect Twitter from security threats.

Why it matters: The complaint plays into the narrative from billionaire Elon Musk that Twitter has misled the public about the number of spam accounts on its platform, which he is using to try to end his $44 billion takeover bid in a Delaware court this fall.

Details: The complaint from Peiter Zatko, a well-known hacker who goes by the pseudonym "Mudge," was filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission.

  • Mudge was fired from Twitter in January, amid a broader shakeup of the company's security team by Twitter's then newly appointed CEO Parag Agrawal.
  • The complaint, which was first reported by The Washington Post and CNN, alleges that Twitter broke the terms of a settlement with the FTC by misleading regulators about its security protocols.
  • Zatko alleged that he warned colleagues about out-of-date and vulnerable software on the company's servers, adding that executives withheld important data about the number of breaches and insufficient protection for user data, per the Post.

What they're saying: A Twitter spokesperson said Zatko was fired "for ineffective leadership and poor performance," and alleged that his complaint is designed to "capture attention and inflict harm" on Twitter, its customers and its shareholders.

  • "We are reviewing the redacted claims that have been published, but what we've seen so far is a false narrative that is riddled with inconsistencies and inaccuracies, and presented without important context," Agrawal said in a message to staff on Tuesday obtained by CNN.
  • "I know this is frustrating and confusing to read, given Mudge was accountable for many aspects of this work that he is now inaccurately portraying more than six months after his termination," he said.
  • "Given the spotlight on Twitter at the moment, we can assume that we will continue to see more headlines in the coming days — this will only make our work harder."
  • "We will pursue all paths to defend our integrity as a company and set the record straight," he continued.
  • The SEC declined to comment.

The big picture: The complaint is a dramatic setback for Twitter, which has so far had the upper hand in its messy legal takeover battle with Musk.

  • On Monday, Elon Musk subpoenaed former Twitter CEO and co-founder Jack Dorsey for documents that could support his legal argument in a trial.

Go deeper... Elon Musk subpoenas Jack Dorsey

Editor's note: This story has been updated with a statement from CEO Parag Agrawal.

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