Senators warn Twitter, Elon Musk over alleged 'disregard' for data privacy

The notice came after the reported resignation of two data security executives.

June 5, 2023, 10:49 AM

A group of senators are warning top officials at Twitter that actions taken since the takeover by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk threaten the social media platform's data security and privacy, according to a letter made public on Monday.

Mass layoffs, lax internal privacy reviews and the hasty revamp of the platform's subscription service may have undermined the company's commitment to data protection, four Democratic senators have alleged.

The letter, dated Friday, appears to have been sent soon after the reported resignation last week of two top executives in charge of data privacy: Head of trust and safety Ella Irwin and head of brand safety and ad quality A.J. Brown.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Ron Wyden, Ed Markey and Mazie Hirono voiced concern that Twitter may have violated a consent decree the company entered in 2011 with the Federal Trade Commission, which prevented the company from misleading users about the extent to which it safeguards user data over an ensuing 20-year period.

"Mr. Musk's behavior reveals an apparent indifference towards Twitter's longstanding legal obligations, which did not disappear when Mr. Musk took over the company," the senators said in the letter.

"Regardless of his personal wealth, Mr. Musk is not exempt from the law, and neither is the company he purchased," they added.

The letter was first reported by CNN. Twitter did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.

Last May, months before Musk acquired Twitter, the company paid $150 million to resolve an FTC complaint alleging that it had violated the consent decree by collecting user data for security purposes and using it to enhance targeted advertising.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren talks on her phone prior to a weekly Democratic policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol, May 31, 2023 in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong/Getty Images, FILE

"Twitter had a poor track record of protecting consumer privacy even before Mr. Musk's takeover," the senators said. "Despite the FTC's action, Twitter continued to disregard consumer privacy."

After acquiring Twitter in October, Musk made major changes to the company and its platform.

In an effort to significantly slash costs, the company has cut roughly 80% of its 7,500-person workforce, raising concerns about Twitter's capacity to maintain its platform.

Twitter suffered a user outage in February that lasted for hours and required an emergency fix, prompting an apology from the company.

Musk has also sought to rejuvenate the platform's subscription offering as a means of supplementing its advertising revenue. Under Twitter's new subscription, users gain access to the site's signature blue checkmark, giving rise to duplicate accounts that impersonate public figures.

Musk has defended his actions at Twitter as part of an aggressive effort to rescue the company from financial peril, which he described in a Twitter Spaces interview in December as an "emergency fire drill."

The senators addressed their letter to Musk and Linda Yaccarino, the company's incoming CEO and a former NBCUniversal advertising executive.