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Former Twitter Exec Blows Whistle, Says Company Misled Elon Musk Regarding Bot Accounts

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OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author’s opinion.


A former Twitter security executive turned whistleblower has dropped some bombshells regarding the company’s interactions with billionaire SpaceX and Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk regarding his offer to buy the platform.

Peiter “Mudge” Zatko, the company’s former head of security who was personally hired by Twitter founder and then-CEO Jack Dorsey, said in an explosive interview that current management has not been upfront and honest with Musk regarding the number of fake, bot, and spam accounts on the platform.

In addition, Zatko, a former formidable hacker with a reputation in Silicon Valley who was fired by Twitter in January, also said that the platform’s security is so poor it has become a national security risk.

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“Mr. Zatko was fired from his senior executive role at Twitter for poor performance and ineffective leadership over six months ago,” a Twitter spokesperson said. “While we haven’t had access to the specific allegations being referenced, what we’ve seen so far is a narrative about our privacy and data security practices that is riddled with inconsistencies and inaccuracies, and lacks important context.”

Musk has maintained for months that Twitter officials were not being straight with him regarding the number of fake accounts, which is why he tried backing out of the $44 billion deal weeks ago. Twitter filed suit against Musk to complete the deal, but Musk filed a countersuit to force Twitter to reveal bot and spam account numbers.

“Zatko further alleges that Twitter’s leadership has misled its own board and government regulators about its security vulnerabilities, including some that could allegedly open the door to foreign spying or manipulation, hacking and disinformation campaigns,” CNN reported.

“The whistleblower also alleges Twitter does not reliably delete users’ data after they cancel their accounts, in some cases because the company has lost track of the information, and that it has misled regulators about whether it deletes the data as it is required to do,” the report continued. “The whistleblower also says Twitter executives don’t have the resources to fully understand the true number of bots on the platform, and were not motivated to. Bots have recently become central to Elon Musk’s attempts to back out of a $44 billion deal to buy the company (although Twitter denies Musk’s claims).”

Insider noted as well:

In his complaint, addressed to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Federal Trade Commission, and Department of Justice, dated July, Zatko broadly paints Twitter’s security practices as inadequate and dangerous.

In a section entitled “Lying about Bots to Elon Musk,” Zatko, a famous hacker known as “Mudge,” accuses Twitter of misrepresenting how robustly it measures and combats bots and spam accounts.

Some lawmakers have already responded to Zatko’s allegations.

“Take a tech platform that collects massive amounts of user data, combine it with what appears to be an incredibly weak security infrastructure and infuse it with foreign state actors with an agenda, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster,” Sen. Chuck Grassley said.

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“The claims I’ve received from a Twitter whistleblower raise serious national security concerns as well as privacy issues, and they must be investigated further.”

Last week, Musk scored a major victory against Twitter when a Delaware judge ordered Twitter to hand over its information on bot accounts to him.

The documents are from a former Twitter executive who Musk said was critical in calculating how many fake accounts were on the Twitter platform. At the time, it was not clear that the former executive was Zatko.

Chancellor Kathaleen McCormick of the Delaware Court of Chancery said that Twitter had to collect the documents from former General Manager of Consumer Product Kayvon Beykpour, review them and give them to Musk’s team, Reuters reported.

In his legal filings, Musk has claimed that Twitter officials have not provided him with an accurate count of false or bot accounts on the platform. He and his legal team have suggested that the number may be as high as 33 percent, far more than the 5 percent Twitter has claimed.





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