New in the Twitter-Elon Musk tussle

A former Twitter official says the company doesn’t care about removing bots, which could help Elon Musk.

Twitter’s former security chief claimed in a complaint that the platform had major security flaws and prioritized user growth over combating spam, report the washington post and CNN.

Peiter Zatko (a former chief security officer who was formerly a successful hacker known as “Mudge”) filed his complaint with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) last month. The news came, coincidentally, a day after Elon Musk subpoenaed Jack Dorsey, co-founder and former CEO of Twitter, for information about bots and spam accounts, as he continues to try to backtracking on its $44 billion deal to buy the social network.

In an attempt to undo the deal he made earlier this year, Musk claimed that Twitter had made ” false and misleading statements on fake accounts. Twitter, in turn, has refuted those claims, instead saying Musk is trying to back out of the deal because Twitter’s (and other big tech companies, like Musk’s Tesla) stock price has fallen around a month after he agreed to buy the company.

The heaviest allegations in Zatko’s complaint relate to Twitter’s cybersecurity infrastructure, which Zatko said was outdated and vulnerable to hacks (Zatko himself joined Twitter in 2020 after a high-profile attack targeted important accounts like those of Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Musk). But when it comes to fake accounts, Zatko says Twitter’s obsession with growing user numbers far outweighed its interest in combating spam.

The company reportedly offered its executives bonuses of up to $10 million to spur user growth and nothing to tackle spam. Zatko even claimed that Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal, “ was lying when he tweeted in May that the company was ” strongly encouraged to detect and remove as much spam as possible “.

A Twitter spokeswoman, Rebecca Hahn, refuted Zatko’s allegations to the Postsaying he was fired from the company at the start of the year ” for his poor performance and lack of leadership (Zatko claimed he was fired after telling Twitter’s board that protections for sensitive user data were weaker than he thought). Regarding spam accounts, Hahn said the company ” sticks entirely to SEC filings, where less than 5% of monetizable daily users are estimated to be fake.

Musk’s insistence that there are more spam accounts on Twitter than his 5% estimate is at the heart of his new Dorsey subpoena (Dorsey quit as Twitter CEO last November , but remained on the company’s board until May, about a month after the Musk/Twitter deal was struck). His legal team is asking the former CEO for all documents and communications related to the merger agreement, as well as those “ reflecting, referring to or relating to the impact or effect of fake accounts or spam accounts on Twitter’s business and operations dating back to January 2019.

Elon Musk is also trying to get his hands on any information regarding the metrics Twitter uses to gauge user engagement with ads on the platform. This includes the company-specific metric and monetizable daily active users, another supposed sticking point for Musk, who claimed it’s not a good indicator of how much ad revenue the company is generating nor a sufficient indicator of future income.

The fate of the Musk/Twitter deal will be decided during a five-day trial in the Delaware Court of Finance, which begins on October 17.

Jon Blisten

Translated by the editor

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