Elon Musk lawyers subpoena Twitter whistleblower in $44bn buyout lawsuit

Twitter’s former security head recently said the company does not know how many bots are on its platform

Vishwam Sankaran
Tuesday 30 August 2022 13:41 BST
Analysis: Twitter whistleblower claims

Elon Musk’s lawyers have subpoenaed a former Twitter executive-turned-whistleblower as part of the Tesla titan’s ongoing legal battle to back out of his deal to buy the social media company for $44bn.

Court filings revealed on Monday that Mr Musk’s lawyers are demanding to hear from Peiter “Mudge” Zatko, Twitter’s former security head, who recently said the company does not know how many bots are on its platform.

Mr Zatko’s claims were in line with the Tesla chief’s allegation that Twitter undercounted its spam “bot” accounts, and that he shouldn’t go through with the deal to buy the company as a result.

The former Twitter executive also said last week that the microblogging platform was riddled with vast and dangerous security problems.

In his document to US regulatory agencies, Mr Zatko said Twitter has not been honest about the platform’s privacy issues and data security.

He said the company has been subject to major breaches by foreign governments, adding that it even hired two people he believes were agents of India’s government at a time when the country was seeing widespread protests.

Mr Zatko claimed that before Twitter’s current chief Parag Agrawal became the company’s head, he had supported the platform’s expansion in Russia, despite censorship and surveillance in the country.

The document also claimed that Twitter has been “lying” to Mr Musk about bots on the platform, adding that the real number is far higher than the company acknowledged.

He said the estimation comes from a sampling of a subset of accounts called “monetisable daily active users” or mDAUs – a measure that tells advertisers how many people are looking at their ads.

Revealing the actual number of bots to the public, the former executive said, would “hurt the image and valuation of the company”.

Following the allegations, Twitter said in a statement to The Independent that Mr Zatko had been fired by the company for “ineffective leadership and poor performance”.

“What we’ve seen so far is a false narrative about Twitter and our privacy and data security practices that is riddled with inconsistencies and inaccuracies and lacks important context,” the company noted in the statement.

“Mr Zatko’s allegations and opportunistic timing appear designed to capture attention and inflict harm on Twitter, its customers and its shareholders. Security and privacy have long been company-wide priorities at Twitter and will continue to be,” it said.

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