Twitter Fined Over $150 Million For Serious User Privacy Violation

Twitter is in serious trouble after it was found guilty of violating privacy laws pertaining to how it was handling user data.

By Charlene Badasie | Published


As Elon Musk’s purchasing deal hangs in the balance, Twitter is facing a different battle in court. Earlier this week, federal regulators announced that the social media company will pay a $150 million fine to settle some very serious privacy allegations. The company allegedly collected users’ personal data, like email addresses and phone numbers, over six years to help sell targeted advertising. It is one of the largest privacy settlements lawmakers have reached with a tech giant in recent years.

In public court documents, the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice say Twitter violated a 2011 agreement in which the micro-blogging site vowed to not use information gathered for security purposes to help advertisers target people with adverts. According to The Washington Post, Federal investigators say the company broke that promise. “As the complaint notes, Twitter obtained data from users on the pretext of harnessing it for security purposes but then ended up also using the data to target users with ads,” said FTC Chair Lina Khan.

The California-based company requires users to provide a telephone number and email address to authenticate accounts. That information helps when folks need to reset their passwords. It also comes in handy when an account that has been locked due to suspicious activity, needs to be reactivated. But until September 2019, the tech giant was also using that information to boost its advertising business by giving third parties access to users’ phone numbers and email addresses.

Speaking to NPR about Twitter’s shady actions, Sam Levine, who leads the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection said, “If you’re telling people you’re using their phone numbers to secure their accounts, and then you use them for other purposes, you’re deceiving them and breaking the law.” Approximately 140 million people willingly provided their personal information based on the social media company’s deceptive statements. Folks have the right to know if that information is being used to help advertisers target them as potential customers.

Additionally, the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department said Twitter will be banned from profiting off the illegally collected data. The company will also be required to notify users who were affected that it used their phone numbers and email addresses for advertising. Moreover, the social media site has been tasked with implementing and maintaining a new privacy program that will require the company to review the security risks of new products. The fine amounts to around 13% of Twitter’s revenue for the first quarter of this year.

Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta qualified the fine in a release via The Washington Post. She said the hefty $150 million penalty reflects the seriousness of the allegations against Twitter. And the substantial new compliance measures to be imposed as a result of the proposed settlement will help prevent further misleading tactics that threaten users’ privacy in the digital space and beyond. Interestingly, the fine is significantly smaller than the $5 billion fine Facebook received in 2019. But it is slightly higher than the 2018 settlement reached with Uber over a 2016 data breach.